March 1, 2020

“…the sheep follow him, for they know his voice”
In Gratitude for the 30-day Spiritual Exercises

On January 1, 2020, as we started another decade of the Third Millennium, forty Servidoras along with two married women began the 30-day Saint Ignatius Spiritual Exercises. These were held at the Saint Joseph Novitiate in San Rafael, Argentina. We were three sisters from the Province of the Immaculate Conception who traveled to make the retreat in Argentina: one sister came from Our Lady of Peace in Santa Clara, California, another from Charity, Guyana, and I came from Washington, D.C. We met on December 29th in Brooklyn, New York, and flew together to Buenos Aires. On the 30th, we arrived and made a day-long Marian pilgrimage to the basilica of the Queen of our Religious Family, Our Lady of Lujan, entrusting to her our many intentions, especially praying in gratitude for our vocation and asking for the fruits of the Spiritual Exercises. After Holy Mass, Rosary, confession, and a visit to the shrine, we drove over the Lujan River to visit a monastery of Carmelite sisters who make exact replicas of the original statue. Later we brought one back to the United States for our new convent which will open this spring in Baltimore, Maryland. That night, we traveled across Argentina to arrive in San Rafael in time to celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, and ring in 2020 before beginning our retreat the evening of January 1st, a notable beginning to the new year!

“Spiritual Exercises” are what the name says: spiritual work, repetition in the exercises, acts of perseverance, and with the focused purpose: “to conquer oneself and regulate one’s life without determining oneself through any tendency that is disordered.” That is, to live the key Gospel principles: “deny yourself” and “take up your cross.” The goal is to fix our heart solely on God in order to learn to better love and serve Him, seeking only what is for his greater glory.

A month has passed since we completed the retreat, and it can be summarized in this thought: during the exercises, we learn to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd so that in daily life we can recognize His voice. In our fast-paced world of constant exterior communication, we listen to countless voices in one day; on the Spiritual Exercises, we are in exterior silence so that we can learn to listen directly to God’s voice. This helps us to realize that we are creatures made for dialogue and union with our Creator: “Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.” Also, Saint Ignatius gives the aid of the “Discernment of Spirits” in order to perceive the various movements in the soul, such as consolation and desolation. Finally, the Spiritual Exercises show us not only how to listen to the voice of the Shepherd but also how to imitate His way of life; each meditation or contemplation allows a deep, loving intuitive look into the Gospels, especially Christ’s most pivotal actions. In each day of the retreat we examined in-depth mysteries such as the Incarnation, the birth of Christ, his hidden life, his miracles, temptation, passion, death, and resurrection. A typical day included five hour-long meditations—four during the day and an optional one at midnight.

It was an unexpected grace to do the Exercises in San Rafael, Argentina, where our Religious Family began in 1984 (for the Institute of the Incarnate Word) and 1988 (for the Servidoras). The Saint Joseph Novitiate, where we made the retreat, has a large chapel painted with scenes of the life of Saint Joseph. This chapel has the first tabernacle of the Servidoras, the one the sisters used when we were founded. The Novitiate entrance begins with the typical water canals, which run throughout San Rafael to irrigate the desert area. The dusty dirt driveway is lined with rows of olive trees, the Carrodilla mountains can be seen in the distance, and the property is surrounded by miles of vineyards and tall noble poplar trees. All these visible elements contributed to our entering into the “composition of place” in the meditations.

After the retreat concluded, on February 2nd, we celebrated the gift of consecrated life with the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord at our St. Teresa of the Andes Monastery in San Rafael. Then we visited and prayed at the various houses of our Religious Family, including the St. Catherine of Siena Juniorate; the first IVE parish, St. Maximillian Kolbe; the IVE monastery, which has a shrine to St. Rita; the Our Lady of Sorrows parish, next to the IVE Seminary; and the cemetery of our Religious Family which is located in a field behind the seminary. Finally, we spent our last day in beloved San Rafael with our sisters who serve the disabled at the Divine Providence home; we went with them for an outing to Valle Grande, a beautiful canal and mountain area.

We give thanks to God for the gift of the Saint Ignatius Spiritual Exercises, and especially we thank those who made our retreat possible. We ask for the grace to listen and follow the voice of the Good Shepherd, to be faithful to our resolutions, and to always live the Ignatian spirit of generosity and magnanimity in order to simply seek the glory of God, for the salvation of our own soul and the souls of many others.

Maria Aeiparthenos, SSVM

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