Last August, Jesuits and colleagues of the Province of Canada were invited to make a retreat entitled “Pilgrims Together: In Mission with Jesus.” Retreatants were given the opportunity to pray with and deepen their personal appropriation of Pilgrims Together, the apostolic planning document of the province, and the four Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs).
Scholastics Brook Stacey, SJ, and Frantz B. Georges, SJ, made their retreat with their Jesuit companions. Their colleagues, André Courchesne (Lac Simon Summer Camp) and Camille Legaspi and Fannie Dionne (Province Communications Office), however, were unable to go to a retreat house because of the pandemic and had to journey with “Pilgrims Together” in their everyday lives. Here they share about their experience of the retreat, including their deep passion for the UAPs, the moments of consolation, and the sense of having become more truly pilgrims with the other members of the province.
Pitfalls and desolations
The beginning of the retreat was not easy for some retreatants. André and Fannie had to put aside the distractions of home life, and afterwards, there were some desolations. André explains:
During the retreat, a sense of desolation quickly came over me and stayed with me for a long time. I was often overwhelmed by the feeling that we would never be able to accomplish the mountain of work that faces us. The times of prayer during the day often led me to reflect on the harvest and the labourers, recognizing that the labourers are present and active. Through this experience, I gained a sense of hope that all together we will succeed, as Pope Francis says, “… by the small, noble actions of everyday life.”
Fannie experienced similar moments:
The beginning of the retreat was difficult, both because I wasn’t very familiar or even comfortable with Ignatian and Catholic terminology and also because I didn’t know exactly what to do or what to be attentive to. Trying to carry out the agenda of the UAPs is a vast undertaking! I certainly wanted to do better, at home and at work, I wanted to walk with, to accompany, and to care for… but the magnitude of the task and the limits of time and energy seemed to me to be two incompatible realities in my life, and that gave me a sense of desolation.
Frantz was concerned about the situation in Haiti:
I am aware of the efforts of some Jesuits in Haiti to implement the UAPs. The practical aspects of the work, however, remain to be seen. In other words, this collaboration with young people as the bearers of a hope-filled future remains a challenge. This is what lies at the root of my desolation. Our young people continue to lose hope. They no longer have a sense of purpose. The sociopolitical situation is deteriorating. I prayed in a special way for the young Haitian men and women. I know that the Society of Jesus in Haiti has a lot to do through the UAPs to be able to help our young people. It is a long journey of hard work.
Fruits of the retreat
The retreat has also borne much fruit and has led to a greater commitment to the UAPs through working with others, as Frantz describes:
I desire to collaborate with and help those who are weakest, excluded, and disadvantaged. My meditation on this brings me back to the unique name of grace that I have had since the long retreat when I was in the novitiate: Serving the poor Christ among the poor. This experience has allowed me to reflect on my present situation with regard to this name that I chose.
I give thanks to God for my experience with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). I have discovered just how much the refugees with whom I work communicate the love of Christ to me. They too are on pilgrimage with me. And all this characterizes the love of the poor Christ who has given us the example of living together.
Another theme that was also central to my prayer is listening. We are called to a deeper kind of listening that has many dimensions. I asked God for the grace to be more attentive to what is happening around me. I also asked for the grace to engage in active listening that allows me to respond in a concrete way to what I am living.
All this has allowed me to understand and show solidarity with those who are suffering as I try to discover how to accompany them in my own way, with the grace of God.
This experience of consolation during the scholastics’ retreat was shared by Brook as well:
The Pilgrims Together autumn retreat was an experience I will not soon forget. As with many retreats, I felt a sense of consolation just being with my companions and sharing the space and silence together. Praying together about our common mission gave me a sense of solidarity not only with my companions but also with those we will be missioned to serve.
André also put into perspective his relationships and work with others:
In the turmoil of everyday life, with our plans and activities, this moment to stop and spend time in relative silence has allowed me to reflect, to look at my journey thus far, and to get a glimpse of the road ahead of me.
The many prayer periods allowed me to take the time to thank the Lord for all that He has allowed me to discover along the way, to recognize the grace He has offered that enables me to be at the service of others.
It was a moment to realize that serving others continually enriches my life. Remaining rooted in Christ the Servant, as the introduction to the retreat so well illustrated (Jn 15:1,5,8a), strengthens my faith and allows me to re-evaluate my loving actions towards the other. The retreat was an invitation to let myself be guided by the Spirit in following the example of Christ and engaging in Christian service for others through all the dimensions proposed by the UAPs.
For Fannie and Camille, spiritual accompaniment was a great help. Fannie explains:
After one or two meetings where I was more than uncomfortable with my spiritual accompanier (since I’m not used to this type of sharing), the situation improved. I realized that I didn’t have to do it all; I already have certain gifts that allow me to reach out to others. I can move forward little by little, grounded in who I am. I can’t wait to see what will be given through working with the communications team.
On a personal level, a few weeks after the retreat, when I felt once again that my journey with the UAPs was of little importance in the grand scheme of things, Manon (at Bellarmine House) gave me a great grace by showing me how even a small, simple gesture can have a significant impact on a person’s life.
This retreat reminded me that talking to God, setting aside time for him, is an important tool to have on this pilgrimage of life. This practice allows me to see myself, others, and the world through the eyes of God, even if it is only for an hour a day. I think that having a spiritual director to talk to after “a day” of reflection also helped me. It pushed me to reach deep into what I was feeling during those prayer periods and dive into different ways of praying.
The retreat led me, through Ignatian prayer, to realize that in order to better understand the UAPs, I have to experience what Jesus and his apostles experienced when they were spreading the good news, healing, and helping people along the way.
For me, it is an invitation to leave my comfort zone and explore with Jesus the complex realities of this world.
Special moments of consolation
The Pilgrims Together retreat brought its share of consolation. Here are a few examples, starting with those shared by Camille, who at the beginning of the retreat saw God as a silent and somewhat distant friend, busier with others than with her:
I believe that God saved the best consolation for the last day: He revealed to me how Jesus was, is, and will be with me on my journey.
He revealed to me that during the difficult moments of my past, present, or future, Jesus was and is there, suffering with me… to the point of dying for me… only to give me new life, new hope, like a new beginning or a reset.
He showed me how he shared his own Mother when I knew deep inside that he was the one crucified because of the bad decisions I have made, am making, and will make. Out of guilt and shame, I turn to our Mother for my needs and prayers. Now I know better. It was such a beautiful moment that I was moved to tears. I felt so loved.
Brook also took solace in looking at his past and his future:
Every fall retreat ends with a renewal of vows. This year, the renewal of my vows gave me a powerful sense of consolation. I realized that the vows were not something I was taking or doing, but they are a means of becoming who I am. I have learned that it is by embodying these vows in my life that my Jesuit vocation can bear fruit for those whom I am called to serve.
For André, who delved deeper into the meaning of magis, the consolation was to understand that this word does not mean to do more but to “do less, with more depth”:
Prayer allowed me to deepen this affirmation, and it is with renewed energy and hope that once again Pilgrims Together invited me to action that is humble, authentic, turned towards the other, and conformed to the best of my true abilities (“with what we are and with the means at our disposal”). The distinction is important: MAGIS does not necessarily mean greater quantity but rather greater depth.
The consolation offered was an appreciation of the real significance of the WHOLE of the Christian community. This community perseveres and, through its actions towards others, following the example of Christ, must continue to build the Reign of God guided by the UAPs.
Fannie was ultimately able to take advantage of the present moment:
Two special moments of consolation marked my path during the retreat. The first was to find in my (very) old Bible, which I hadn’t opened since my first retreat the year before, a passage that had once made me cry… and made me cry again with gentle tears. I still don’t know why exactly, but it is a beautiful psalm.
I experienced another consolation during the afternoon breaks in the sun as I sat in my courtyard (the only place allowed by COVID) to listen to nature and really empty my mind. I couldn’t remember feeling so calm. In the whirlwind of trying to adapt to the pandemic with my family during the last few months, this was my salvation.
Let’s give the last word to Camille:
After having received so much love, I guess the only way to express it or give it back is to share my experience and spread this love to those around me.