Two weekends ago, I had the grace to preach my first Spiritual Exercises retreat to 18 men in Southern Maryland. Truthfully, from the outside looking in, it was an overall great weekend. The location of the retreat was ideal—Camp Maria Retreat Center nestled on the banks of Breton Bay. The weather was excellent—it felt like spring rather than winter. The retreatants were “de primera”—the majority of them were young men between the ages of 17-26 (all but three), and all of them were ready to hear what God wanted from them in their lives.
And yet, the true value of this experience, for me, is more profound. For many reasons I have always cherished the Spiritual Exercises. They were there when I needed to discern my vocation at the young age of 19. They were there also at the end of my novitiate year, challenging me to detach myself from what was preventing me from truly giving everything to God in my religious vocation. They were there once again heading into my ordination, preparing me for the most unforgettable day of my life. And I cannot fail to mention the fact that they constitute a “non-negotiable” element of what it means to be a priest of our small Religious Family.
I write this short chronicle to say, that after my experience this weekend, I must add another stanza to the litany of my indebtedness to St. Ignatius and his Spiritual Exercises. I would like to explain myself more, but I don’t think that words would do it justice; and regardless, I am still absorbing the grace that this weekend was for me. Honestly, in my short time as a priest, it is certainly one of the best priestly moments thus far.
If the Lord would receive my offering, I would give my entire life and priesthood to know them more, penetrate their bounty of grace, and preach them across this nation of mine, which is so in need of saints from among her very own. Outside of the sacraments I can name no better means of sanctification here on earth—save true devotion to Our Lady. Why? Because all three lead a faithful Catholic to true conformity with Christ; all three prolong the Incarnation of Christ in an entirely unique but unified way.
If anyone wants to be a saint I would tell them to receive the sacraments faithfully and often, consecrate their entire lives in true devotion to Mary, and make the Spiritual Exercises annually.
May the Spiritual Exercises—knowledge of them, praise for them, and recourse to them—continue to grow within our small Religious Family.
St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Cura Brochero,
Pray for us!
Fr. Christopher Etheridge, IVE