Retreats offer unique connection to Christ’s life

Complete The Circle
By George Evans
I am writing this after recently returning from what has become my annual retreat at Manresa Retreat House in Convent, Louisiana, located on the River Road between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Manresa is a Jesuit retreat house on the banks of the Mississippi with great facilities including an antebellum main residence building, a beautiful chapel, and wonderful new conference center, not to mention several avenues of oaks. It is a magnificent retreat setting on many acres.
Being a Jesuit institution, our retreat was based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, the Jesuit founder. Although these kinds of retreats have been conducted for 500 years, there always seems to be something new or different in the annual sojourn, at least by way of emphasis. This year was no different for me among the 16 from St. Richard Parish who joined the 95 from Baton Rouge for the retreat.
The retreat master was terrific. One of the distinguishing things he stressed was truly pondering different scriptural passages in the manner of lectio divina and putting oneself in the scene of particular gospel passages. St. Ignatius stressed this exercise, and though I had previously been encouraged to do so it had always been difficult for me to benefit from it. For some reason, perhaps the Holy Spirit, it worked better this time.
Let me share a couple of scenes we entered into on retreat and see if they are meaningful to you. Be with Jesus as he walks into the Jordan river to be baptized by John the Baptist. Feel the chill and wetness of the water. Sense the Spirit descend upon you with Jesus and hear the Father tell Jesus and you that you are His beloved Son along with Jesus in whom He is well pleased.  When we leave with Jesus we are ready to follow him. (Mt 3:13-17)
We then go into the desert with Jesus and become hot and hungry and we withstand, with Jesus, the devil’s temptation to do it his way and the world’s way by pleasing the crowd, grasping at political rule or by seeking religious power. We resist our culture’s enticement to greed, to things, to rampant pleasure and luxury. (Lk 4:1-13)
We go back home with Jesus to Nazareth where he stands  up in the Synagogue and reads from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”( Lk4:16-19) Jesus has set forth his mission and his father’s will for him and therefore for us as his followers.  He has given his inaugural address and asked us to help him complete his work.
We later go with Jesus when he sees Zacchaeus, a short man who had climbed a tree in order to see Jesus in the pressing crowd. We experience Jesus reaching out to this rich, sinful, hated tax collector asking, to the astonishment of everyone in the crowd, to stay in his house. We see and hear Zacchaeus’ conversion and promise to give half his possessions to the poor and repay four times over anything he has extorted. We are excited about the celebration we will experience with Jesus at Zacchaeus’s house that night.(Lk 19:1-10)
As time goes by we hear many parables and stories from Jesus. One is the Last Judgment in which Jesus separates the sheep on the right from the goats on the left and we hear him tell those on his right that they will inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world and those on his left to depart from him into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. And like those on the right and left we are anxious to know the reason and he tells us along with the others there:
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me. When asked about doing or not doing these things he replied, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me…..what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ (Mt 25:31-46)
We leave this scene struck by its directness and simplicity. We resolve to act in accord with what we have heard. We ask to be forgiven. We go to confession at the retreat. We experience a freedom and liberation. We understand its not enough just to pray and go to Mass. We have to reach out to others in charity and justice by making the system better.  We ask for the grace to enter gospel scenes with Jesus again in the future. We invite you to join us. We go home in peace and with joy.
(George Evans is a pastoral minister at Jackson St. Richard Parish.)
Editor’s note: see retreats on page 6