As helps and guides for our prayer this year, we join the company of Ignatius of Loyola and Mary Ward. A sixteenth-century Spaniard and a seventeenth-century English woman, Ignatius and Mary are often depicted in pilgrim dress, walking on the road. Jesus made pilgrimages to Jerusalem with his family and friends and would have recited psalms on the road. Psalm 84 says, ‘Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.’ (Ps.84:5). Genesis chapter 3 speaks of God walking with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening. Retreats help us to start each day afresh getting to know the God who longs to be our companion on life’s road. Making a retreat in Lent is a special opportunity for us to walk with Jesus and build an intimate friendship with him on his pilgrim way to the cross in Jerusalem, and to the glory beyond.
As you pray with the material presented here, we hope that you will encounter God in a new and closer way that has a transforming effect on you and helps you come to a deepened awareness of God at work in your everyday life. This may be the first time you have made a retreat or tried to develop a regular prayer life. Ignatius teaches us that prayer is not some spooky secret skill developed by special and holy people. The longing for God is part of our DNA as human beings, made in God’s image. We all have a capacity to pray and faculties of feeling, imagination and desire to help us develop a friendship with Jesus. In this retreat we are encouraged to pray as we can, not as we can’t. The 14th century English mystic Julian of Norwich says that God is grateful when we remember him. Even if our prayer feels meagre and distracted to us, God is happy when we just show up, and will bless us with unexpected graces.
We start with some practical suggestions that might help you if you haven’t made a retreat like this before, or act as reminders if you have. The first thing to consider is: how long do you feel that you are able to devote to each session of the retreat? It’s good to decide this in advance, and try and spend the same amount of time on each reflection. Don’t give up too soon if you struggle with the prayer, or continue too long if it seems to be going well. The material presented in each session lasts about 15 to 20 minutes, but you might want to take more time than this to prepare yourself, or to revisit ideas that arise from the retreat throughout the day. If you want extra resources to further prepare yourself for the prayer time, there are breathing and stillness exercises on the Pray as you go website and app.
You might give some thought to what time of day is best for you to pray. Everyone is different, some people prefer to pray at the beginning of the day, or in the evening, or as a break in the middle of the day. It’s also important to think about where you are going to pray this retreat – the aim of this retreat is to enable you to pray anywhere you want – on the way to or from work, out on a walk, at home, or with others. Try and work out what is best for you.
Finally, ask yourself what you are making this retreat for. What are the gifts and graces you hope to receive from God during these times of prayer? Make sure that you start the prayer by asking God for these, or for whatever else God wants to give you.
Before you begin, just become aware of God welcoming you to meet him in this way, and of all those around the world who are praying this retreat alongside you.