June 13, 2019 — Last May 31 to June 2, 50 young professionals took part in an Ignatian retreat at the Manresa Jesuit Spiritual Renewal Centre. These young people, between the ages of 19 and 39, came from all walks of life: airline pilots, lawyers, accountants, physiotherapists, business people, students. The purpose of the retreat was to provide participants with some discernment tools in order to find greater clarity in their lives. According to Fr. John O’Brien, SJ, who directed the program, the entire event was a success and he is “grateful to God for the outpouring of grace that occurred.”
How can one connect with young professionals? In this case, Fr. O’Brien utilized very current and down-to-earth references (like the Toronto Raptors) along with everyday stories and videos. However, the core of what he used was Saint Ignatius’ language, therefore explicitly Christian.
"I refer to God in Trinitarian terms, and to the revelation of God through Jesus Christ. I speak about the way we were born within the drama of the narrative of salvation which preceded us historically, but in which we are all involved. The incarnation of Jesus, his passion, his death and his resurrection are at the heart of this drama. By being introduced to Ignatian meditation, they are linked to God’s personal nature and to his desire to unite with his beloved daughters and sons. God is not indifferent!"
One of the images most employed by Fr. O’Brien was that of the “heart” and of God’s promise to give us a “heart of flesh,” just like him. This language connects with the realities experienced by young people today.
According to the comments he received, the participants enjoyed the retreat. They especially liked the silence and the discussions, the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and the fact that they had a quiet space to pray in. Several of them mentioned that Saint Ignatius’ 14 Rules for the Discernment of Spirits were a great discovery to guide them and serve as a model in their spiritual lives. Fr. O’Brien also highlighted that the retreatants were quite moved by the experience.
Many of them had strong emotional reactions to the Scriptures that were suggested to them and some cried a lot during the weekend as they renewed with God. Near the end of the retreat, they had the opportunity to attend confession, which was a decisive turning point for some.
The type of retreat offered in Pickering last week was the 5th of its kind hosted in Canada this year and the most important one. In order for the event to be successful, Fr. O’Brien had to reach out to potential participants. Simple and efficient posters along with social media were used, however it is the personal invitations (individuals, chaplains and groups from southern Ontario) that worked best. The costs related to the event could have been a serious problem for some, but the Knights of Columbus (Toronto) provided several sponsorships.
According to Fr. O’Brien, young people do not need much incentive to register: there is a great thirst for God in our culture. In fact, for the next retreats, Fr. O’Brien intends to ensure the presence of a greater number of spiritual directors for the young retreatants, perhaps more than the other groups, wish to have the opportunity to speak to someone.
Combining the spiritual exercises and work with youth, the retreats for young professionals thus respond to a real necessity in our society, as shown by their success.