I helped out on a retreat for St. Louis University High School (St. Louis, MO) seniors, called Manresa, last week. Seven of our students took a few days away from their Senior Project work sites to spend some time in silence with the Lord.
In a time when our senses are constantly over-stimulated and over-saturated, they made the difficult but mature decision to fight against the cultural norm and just sit with themselves and God. This was not a completely silent retreat, but there were a few hours a day dedicated to silent prayer after a short talk leading them into either Ignatian Contemplation or Lectio Divina. I was extremely impressed by their dedication to the silence and commitment to working at the prayer.
Something that keeps popping up in my thoughts, though, is why is this a less popular retreat than Kairos? Surely there is something to be gained by a semi-silent retreat based intensely from the Spiritual Exercises that the father of our Ignatian identity wrote? Would I have chosen to attend this retreat my senior year if I had known about it?
Ever since GC 32, Jesuit schools have been working to improve justice and service aspects of the school, which I agree should be done. However, there is a trend in our culture towards that already. The people of the generation of our students (and myself) are more likely to spend time working in a service capacity than those of our parents. We have been losing the spiritual aspect though. We have theology classes, but do we give our students an honest chance at an intimate encounter with the Lord? Academic Christianity is not going to satisfy the spiritual need to be in relationship with God.
It could be argued that the Spiritual Exercises are the greatest gift of the Jesuits to society. They have influenced the charisms of other orders, and they have given us lay collaborators of the Society the opportunity to serve the apostolates with the intimate reality of knowing God; knowing that we ourselves are beloved sinners and then being able to empathize with the struggles our students face.
Our schools are great at analyzing the academics and working to raise money to build curriculum, improve facilities, and improve the student-to-teacher ratio. What are we doing to adapt to our students losing touch with silence? They are faced with challenges a lot of our faculty didn’t have to deal with in their time of adolescence. What “standard” are we fighting under?
I am not going to presume that I know the paths of our different campus ministry and theology departments across the board. And I do not think that the spiritual aspect of the Catholic schools should only be present in these departments. These are just the questions and musings of an ASC volunteer. I do not have any answers, and honestly, maybe our faculties are working to meet the students spiritually where they are. I see the love our staff has for the students. Do they love them enough to bring them to the face of God?