St Catherine’s House of Hospitality, a ministry of the Mercy Sisters located on Tyler St, Tuart Hill, recently offered a silent retreat weekend in the tranquil surrounds of their 17 single-room facility – with its spacious chapel and well-appointed conference room with an option of catering services and overnight accommodation.
During the retreat, four key topics were explored. Each topic offered a “how to pray or deepen one’s inner journey”. These were punctuated with periods of silence when the retreatants could wander in the quiet grounds, rest or read and reflect on material which supplemented the input.
“Exploring Learning to Live in the Present Moment”, a talk that used the following centuries old texts, “The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection”, “The Way of a Pilgrim”, and “Abandonment to Divine Providence” by Father Pierre de Cassuade SJ.
Their intent was to complement St Paul’s injunction in 1 Thessalonians 5:17; “pray unceasingly”. St Paul encourages us to “pray unceasingly or pray constantly” and be present to “the God within”.
While such terms as “mindfulness” and “conscious living” seem to have crept into our modern parlance, they have been part of our Catholic tradition for centuries with perhaps different “names”.
The retreat offers a concrete method of how one might “train” ourselves to interiorly learn to “pray unceasingly”.
Prayer, through a non-discursive and discursive meditation method, is also taught and applied during the retreat.
The former can be traced back to the writings of John Cassian (fourth to fifth centuries).
Cassian, with his friend Germanus, travelled finally to the desert monks of Egypt. There they sought the counsel of Abba Isaac who taught them the one-word or one-phrase prayer as a key form of “how” to pray.
Cassian, on his return to Gaul, used this as a basis for his teaching with the beginnings of Western monasticism. St Benedict adopted this form of prayer for his followers. It seems to have been “lost and re-found” over the centuries.
Fortunately, it has re-found its way back into mainstream Catholicism today. Scripture is a key pointer for this form of prayer in passages such as Mt 6:6 and Mk 4:26-29 (as two examples).
St Ignatius of Loyola (the 16th century founder of the Society of Jesus: the Jesuits) is a credited with introducing what we know as Discursive meditation. This form of prayer also uses Scripture (especially the Gospels) as its basis. St Teresa of Avila encouraged her followers to “always return to the Scriptures”.
When asking the question “how does one know that they are on the right path?”, a clear response may be found in the words of Fr Thomas Green SJ, the author of Opening to God (a Guide to Prayer), when he states: ‘”But the principal proof of the genuineness of our prayer – the evidence that we are on the right track despite the darkness – will be the growth in us of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23)”.
St Paul writes to the Galatians about the nine “fruit of the Spirit”: Love, Peace, Joy, Kindness, Patience, Trustfulness, Self-Control, Gentleness and Goodness.
If we are growing in these, says St Paul, we are on the right path and our inner prayer life is bearing good fruit. An exploration of the “fruit of the Spirit” formed the final key within the retreat experience to encourage and enable each of the participants to “continue their own journey within”.
Practical “tools” were a key pointer explored on the weekend to enable each to know “how” they might follow their own inner journey.
For more information, contact Sister Elizabeth RSM at 08 9443 9020.