An Introduction to the Individually-Directed Retreat



Thank you for choosing to make your retreat at El Retiro. We appreciate your presence on our beautiful campus.


Expressing gratitude is an excellent way to begin prayer and a retreat—for gratitude is always a sign of spiritual growth, according to Ignatius Loyola. And expressing gratitude is one of the many ways of expressing love.


A person decides to make a retreat in order to listen to the Lord’s personal and intimate communication to us. How does God communicate? What ‘language’ does God use to communicate intimately with each person? The language of God is always the language of love: loving desires, loving feelings, loving thoughts, and loving actions. This is the experience of what Ignatius Loyola meant by the term ‘consolation’. Ignatius identified ‘consolation’ as a movement toward God, i.e. every increase of faith, hope, and love. Ignatius does not identify ‘consolation’ as a ‘feeling’, which is how ‘consolation’ is usually described in our common use of this term. But ‘consolation’ is always a movement, a deepening of faith, hope, and love.


Consolation is one of the three movements by which God guides our retreat by setting the pace, subject matter, and style of our prayer. Whenever you receive consolation in prayer, stay with that movement for as long as the experience lasts, because God wants you there. The other two movements frequently encountered in prayer are ‘desolation’ and ‘dryness’. Desolation is the opposite of consolation—i.e. a decrease of faith, hope, and love which is generally experienced as an unclear, nagging, or unsettling feeling or thought. In prayer, desolation is an indication to pause because God is inviting us to pay attention to the cause of that feeling or thought, and at the same time to deepen our trust in God’s wisdom and care. Dryness is also a movement through which God communicates that the previous movement of consolation or desolation is finished, and urges us to move on to another subject.


In an individually-directed retreat, the ‘human director’ assists the retreatant to discern, interpret, or notice the movements within prayer—i.e. how God, who is the ‘true director’, is pacing one’s prayer. To help the ‘human director’ in effectively performing his or her ministry, the retreatant must be attentive to the ‘movements’ that are experienced in prayer as indicated by changes or patterns in subject matter ,in distinct desires that may emerge, or by specific themes or memories that become part of one’s prayer.


To notice how the Holy Spirit is guiding one’s prayer, the retreatant should be ever attentive to the various phases that prepare and form our prayer. The retreatant should be familiar with, and be faithful to, the preparatory prayer and the various preludes, especially the colloquy or ‘intimate conversation as friend with friend’ at the conclusion. Although a colloquy is generally formulated at the end of prayer as an expression of praise, gratitude, and petition, one is welcome to make a colloquy at any time during one’s prayer.


To help the human director to notice movement in prayer, the retreatant should reflect on his or her experience soon after the prayer concludes. The retreatant should notice what happened in prayer--.e. patterns in feelings, thoughts, subject matter, and movement. The retreatant should write down these experiences to remember them and to facilitate the noticing of patterns in how in God is guiding one’s prayer.


When speaking to the human director, the retreatant is invited to communicate from these notes the highlights of what he or she experienced in prayer. What is not helpful to the human director is the reporting of excessive detail or a general synopsis of the entire day. Rather, the retreatant should communicate how he or she perceived movements, themes, feelings, and thoughts within each distinct prayer period. In this way, the human director is not overwhelmed by too much detail or presented with too broad of an outline.


In response to what the retreatant disclosed, the human director will generally make suggestions for future prayer, depending upon what is perceived as what the retreatant needs or desires. The retreatant is not expected to pray with all the suggested themes or Scripture selections, but to use them only to the extent that one is drawn to them through Spirit-driven consolation and desolation. In this way, the retreatant and the human director are both able to see clearly how the Spirit is the true director of this and every retreat, always laboring to deepen each person’s faith hope and love.


In his Autobiography, Ignatius used this analogy: that God deals with us “as a school master has care for one’s pupils”. It is the hope of all those who work in retreat ministry that retreatants will discover how God personally cares for us through choosing the prayer style, subject matter, and pace that God desires for us each time we devote ourselves to prayer.


Fr. Kevin Leidich, a native of San Francisco is an experienced Spiritual Director and has been a member of the JRC Pastoral Staff since August 2014.

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