In the “Resources” section of this site, under “Places,” I talk about Loyola Jesuit Center, in Morristown, New Jersey, where I had made ten weekend men’s retreats. I returned there this past April for my eleventh such retreat. I was joined by my brother, Pat, who was making his twenty-fifth. Neither of us had been to Loyola since 2011.
This is how the calendar works at Loyola: every time there’s a weekend men’s retreat, it comprises men from or sponsored by different organizations, usually a parish or some other related group. When I made my first retreat in 1983, it was with my father, my uncle (Dad’s brother), and Pat. They were all part of the “St. Christopher” group. As it happens, that weekend, many members of the group decided to break off and form their own group. The new group was named the “Dineen” group, after three brothers who, I believe, wanted to honor their recently deceased father, a long-time retreatant at Loyola.
Every group makes its annual retreat at the same time of year. “My” group meets on the first weekend of April, which often coincides with Palm Sunday, as it did this year. So, every year, in addition to familiar surroundings and familiar rituals, I am comforted by seeing familiar people at my annual retreats. But sometimes, because of scheduling conflicts, I have gone on retreat on other, “non-Dineen” weekends. Our previous retreat, in 2011, was on such a weekend.
Loyola recognizes certain anniversaries of its retreatants, and the promoters for each group make a presentation at Sunday’s Mass. There I received my ten-retreat certificate, but it was presented to me by a group promoter I had never met before. This year Pat and I scheduled our retreat for the usual Dineen weekend, and we were delighted to see some familiar faces at Friday evening’s dinner.
When I started attending retreats at Loyola there were about eighty men in the house every weekend. This year it was closer to forty. With declining attendance, the Loyola House of Retreats has expanded its mission recently to include other groups, events, and activities, and has changed its name to reflect that: Loyola Jesuit Center. For the first time in my experience, our men’s retreat weekend had another event going on, at the same time, in the same large facility, that included both men and women, one of whom carried her infant with her. Ours is always a silent retreat (to aid in our reflection of God’s word and hearing God’s voice); theirs was not. For example, I could hear a presentation being given and discussion following it as I wandered the halls of the great mansion.
Enough preamble. The retreat itself was led by Joann Heaney-Hunter, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at St. John’s University in New York City. She was excellent.
Dr. Heaney-Hunter gave four talks, or “reflections for prayer.” These reflections focused on the Gospel readings from the first, second, and third Sundays of Lent, followed by that of Palm Sunday. After each talk, she gave us a handout for further study in private. These were pamphlets containing a famous work of art, the three readings for that Sunday, and reflection exercises on both the readings and the artwork.
Reflection 1 — The Temptation of Jesus, who rejects physical gratification, fame, and power. How do our own temptations keep us from God? How does God keep us from submitting to our temptations?
Reflection 2 — Jesus’ Transfiguration. On that mountaintop, as on retreat, we see Jesus in a new way, as truly divine. As much as we want to, we can’t stay there physically; we must come down from the “high” of the mountain and get back into the reality of our world. But we are strengthened for the journey and inspired to live the Good News.
Reflection 3 — Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well. Jesus goes against convention and accepts this woman, who opens up to him and, despite her lowly stature, succeeds in convincing her neighbors she has met the Messiah.
Reflection 4 — The Passion of Jesus. “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” Jesus forgives his executioners. “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Jesus forgives the “good” thief. Jesus forgives everybody, including me. Who do I forgive? “As we forgive those who trespass against us.”
As I was sitting on a bench in a large garden behind the retreat house, a cardinal flew into view from over my shoulder and lighted onto a branch of a nearby tree. I don’t see cardinals very often, so I really appreciate them when I do. I took the sighting as a sign that my late father was nearby, having made many retreats at this very place. I also decided, as a baseball fan, to acquire a St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap, just because. And so I did.