‘Seekers and confused’ welcomed at Knock

August 21, 2023 in Featured News, News

“Nourishing, enriching, a Spirit-filled week.” Just some of the feedback received by the team who led the Jesuit Week in Knock July 23-30, 2023 (see photo). Brian Grogan SJ and Charlie Davy SJ were the two Jesuits in a team of ten. The remaining eight members included a wide spectrum of occupations and professions, five lay people, and three female religious who all shared in common an expertise in Ignatian spirituality. (Phyllis Brady, John Farrelly, Rosemary Gallagher, Helen Grealy, Patricia McCarthy, Colette McCarthy, Stephanie O’Brien, Sean O’Rourke.)

The Week attracted between 25 and 50 participants in person with several hundred more online, and as Brian Grogan SJ notes below, “anyone who felt the need for faith nourishment could attend for as long as they wished: believers, searchers, alienated and confused were equally welcomed.”

All involved, participants, the Jesuit team and the overall Knock team, agreed it was a ‘wonderful week’ and there are plans afoot already for next year. Read Brian’s full reflection on the event below.

Getting started
The idea of a Jesuit Week in Knock originated in 2015, and has since taken the form of a rereat.
Given the current emphasis on synodality, we tried to allow ourselves to be guided by the Spirit in our project. Hence the many preparatory meetings, but also our growth as a working community, our mutual trust, our capacity to adjust when someone became unavailable, and our commitment to owning what we had agreed on.

Facilitated by Terry Howard SJ, this group began work in January 2023 to discern the shape of the Week and its content. We finally offered a ‘Faith Fest’ titled Nourishment for a Hungry Heart. A central Christian theme was chosen for each day (Father, Son, Spirit, Faith Hope and Charity), to give participants the sense that despite the Church’s current turmoils, the Christian faith is still attractive, intelligible and enriching.
Participants numbered between 25 and 50, with several hundred more online. Spiritual direction was also availed of, with some participants using this to make their retreat. Anyone who felt the need for faith nourishment could attend for as long as they wished: believers, searchers, alienated and confused were equally welcomed.

Daily Order
Each day began with a short guided Morning Prayer, followed by a presentation of the day’s theme, and then time for silent prayer. The themes presented were: Father, Son, Spirit, Faith, Hope and Love—the core realities of Christian faith.

Facilitated break-out groups through the day helped participants to integrate the theme of the day into their own lives. Each Eucharist included a short Reflection on ‘What Mass means to me’, given by the team or by persons working at Knock, such as the Shrine’s musical director and the leader of the local Cenacolo community, which works on the rehabilitation of drug addicts. The grounded witnessing of the various speakers was much appreciated. This feature of the Eucharist was prompted by the fact that though Knock is now not only an international Marian Shrine but a Eucharistic one, the meaning of this needs to be unfolded.

An afternoon session illuminated the daily theme from an Ignatian perspective through brief input, followed by prayer, sharing and discussion. In the evening participants were offered the choice of the Evening Prayer of the Church or Group Reflection/Examen on what participants had experienced during the day, especially in regard to the day’s theme. Here the scriptural model was from Mark: ‘The apostles gathered around Jesus and told him all they had done and taught’ (Mk 6:30). We learnt that while God deals with each person directly, a communal dimension is present also: we are not isolated bubbles; the one Spirit blows through every life.

As the Week progressed, our sense of team engagement came across to the participants, who in their turn tried to listen attentively to one another and, as Ignatius proposed, put a good interpretation on what others were trying to articulate. People became reluctant to end the three sharing sessions built into the day; these mirrored the proposed structure for synodal discussion–personal prayer on a topic, followed by group sharing and then plenary discussion. We hoped that the process we modelled might be of help to participants when they come to engage synodally in their parishes.

Jesuit or Ignatian Week?

Feedback on the Week was sprinkled with positive words such as ‘marvellous’ ‘enriching’ and ‘Encore!’ so we have been commissioned to return next year. But this has raised the question as to whether the 2024 Week would better be named ‘IGNATIAN’ than ‘JESUIT’ given that there were only two Jesuits on our team!
But why change? Fundamentally, it is because Ignatian spirituality is the patrimony of the whole Church, not of Jesuits alone. Ignatius wrote his Spiritual Exercises and worked out his spirituality by trial and error at Manresa and later, while he was a lay pilgrim (he was ordained only in his mid-forties!). He crafted his spirituality long before the Jesuit Order was even thought of; and had he died at fifty without ever founding the Society of Jesus, Ignatian spirituality would still have stood the test of time. This is why Ignatian spirituality resonates so well globally with ‘ordinary’ people: lay person to lay person.
Ignatius was fifty years old when he founded the Jesuits, and of course much of what he had learnt through hard experience over his pilgrim years became embedded in the new Order and gave life to its emerging structures. Naturally, the first Jesuits used what they understood as ‘their’ spirituality to help lay people; hence IGNATIAN spirituality became identified with JESUIT spirituality. But in reality Jesuit spirituality denotes how Ignatius’ vision colours every aspect of his Order: selection of candidates, formation, vows–especially that of obedience; governance, obedience to the pope in regard to being missioned, etc. Likewise the structures and dynamics of CLC are imbued with Ignatian spirituality.
We can thus helpfully think in terms of a species and its sub-species; and following up on the botanical metaphor, we can think of the wonderful variety of spiritualities in the Church, all growing from the same soil of the Gospel! Cross-pollination is enriching: each can learn from the others. Personally, I find in Benedict and John of the Cross congenial companions. And since we live in an evolving and changing world, today we have to integrate creation spirituality into our unique ways of relating with God—Pope Francis is critical of those who treat it as a distraction from their preferred task of finding God somewhere in the ‘Beyond’ (Laudato Si 217). Defensiveness about one’s spirituality misses the point, since God is already everywhere available!

Sharing the Ministry of Consolation
Non-Jesuits have a right to expect that Jesuits should have a good level of expertise in matters concerning the Exercises, but that treasure is open to anyone, and happily today many people–women and men, religious and other– use the Ignatian toolbox to interpret what goes on in the hearts of those who come to them, and so to foster their growth. This development enriches Christians and others everywhere, and offers a key mode of evangelisation, as is highlighted in the current (July 2023) issue of the WAY on Spiritual Conversation.
For the good of the Church, and also given the sobering fact that the number of Jesuits in these parts of the world continues to decline, is it time to reinstate IGNATIAN spirituality to its rightful place? I think Ignatius would raise a cheer for whatever enables qualified women and men to combine their experience and expertise in order to bring the ‘ministry of consolation’– as it was called in the early Society–to all who need it.

Brian Grogan SJ
17 August 2023.