Jesuit Father Rodney Kissinger has been a Jesuit since entering the Society of Jesus in 1942. At 96 years old, Fr. Kissinger still finds the time to help those who are interesting in experiencing the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.
In February 2004, Kissinger wrote an article for the print version of National Jesuit News explaining his idea of conducting retreats using the power of the internet by having the retreatant and the spiritual director conduct the retreat all via email communications. Since that time, Kissinger has had much success in conducting these very kinds of retreats and now shares with us his experiences and those who have come to him for spiritual guidance and direction. You can find out more about Kissinger’s approach to the Spiritual Exercises by visiting his site at www.frksj.org.
Most of my priestly life of over 60 years has been spent giving the Spiritual Exercises. I have given the preached retreat, the guided retreat, the personally directed retreat, the 19th annotation retreat and now I am giving, with great joy and much success, a type of retreat of which Ignatius could never have even dreamed. And a type of retreat that I am sure the author of the “tantum quantum” and the “magis” would have joyfully embraced. It is the email retreat.
Email is the ideal vehicle for doing the 19th annotation because it is least intrusive into the daily life of the retreatant. My edition of the email retreat runs for 14 weeks. I suggest that the retreatant do at least half an hour of prayer daily and make the exam of consciousness each night. This time frame, however, is flexible and adaptable to the retreatant. One may want to spend another week on one of the meditations; others may have to interrupt the retreat for a medical or business emergency. No problem, I just withhold the next meditation until they are ready. How foolish to try to corral the Holy Spirit into a certain time frame.
Most of the requests for these retreats I have received have come from the laity. We should not be surprised at all of this since Ignatius was a layman when he wrote the Spiritual Exercises and it was as a layman that he gave the first retreat to laymen. He also did a lot of counseling by letter. In fact, it is said that he was one of the most prolific letter writers of his day. How enthusiastically would he have embraced email!
What sparked the idea of an email retreat was the delight and gratitude of friends when I would attach a homily to one of my email letters to them. It was not exactly a leap of faith then to go from a homily to the 19th annotation. Last June, I gave my first email retreat to two of these friends who volunteered to be guinea pigs. Since that time I have given 40 of these email retreats. The retreatants include a friend in Fulda, Germany, a biology professor at Lakeland College in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, an appellate judge in Bradenton, Florida, a married couple in Stafford, Virginia, a candidate for the Society in College Station, Texas, a director of adult spirituality at St. Ignatius High School in San Francisco, a Missouri Synod Lutheran in Adair, Iowa, the Dean of Humanities in Our Lady of the Holy Cross College in New Orleans, a hair stylist in Eugene, Oregon, a sophomore at LSU in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a Permanent Deacon in the Archdiocese of Kansas City, a senior recruiting consultant in Plano, Texas, and a disciple of the Legionnaires of Christ in Tampa, Florida.
Since most of my retreatants are first-timers I give a lot of material in my presentations. All of the key meditations of the Exercises are given so that they see the big picture and get the thrust and dynamic of the whole of the Exercises. A thrust and dynamic which unfortunately, is often missed today when what are given are spiritual exercises but not the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. I suggest that they download or print out the presentations and keep them all together so that they can see the psychological and spiritual progression from the Principle and Foundation to the Contemplation to Obtain Love.
During the rest of the year and for years to come they can go over them again and again, and concentrate on specific meditations which are relevant for them at that time. Repetition is important because these truths are so rich and so deep that they cannot be absorbed at one time. And whatever is received is received according to the disposition of the recipient which is constantly changing. What is repeated is not the whole meditation. When you find the needle in the haystack you do not go through the haystack again. What is repeated is the part that moved us either with consolation or desolation. Therefore, it is important to write down these movements, in a journal if possible.
The retreat takes place on two levels: what happens here and what happens between the retreatant and God. The important level is the relationship with God. Personal relationships demand knowledge and love. We cannot love what we do not know but it is the knowledge that comes from love which is the wisdom of the mystics.
The email retreat, of course, loses the personal contact which is found in the other types of retreat. But this is not an unmixed evil. It stimulates more initiative, responsibility and independence on the part of the retreatant. St. Ignatius in the annotations exhorts the director to allow “the Creator to deal directly with the creature, and the creature directly with his Creator and Lord.”
It is also true that sometimes in a personally directed retreat a conflict of personalities puts an added onus on the retreatant. It is a lot easier to express embarrassing questions in writing than in person. And the necessity of conceptualizing and expressing in writing our thoughts has a way of clarifying difficulties and often of revealing the solution. At the end of the retreat there is none of the jolt of re-entry when the rubber hits the road and the ideal meets the reality.
What a wonderful apostolate the email retreat offers to our future senior Jesuits who have been using their personal computer throughout their lives to record and store their inspirations and insights into the Spiritual Exercises. Now they can share all of this practical wisdom through an email retreat with anyone in any part of the world by a simple “click of the mouse.” And in doing so, they will discover, just as I have, that the Lord once again has saved the very best wine till last.