September 14, 2020 – Fr. Philip Shano, SJ
On a beautiful August summer day, I witnessed three of our team at Manresa Jesuit Spiritual Renewal Centre sitting in the shade of trees, engaged in spiritual direction with individuals who came to meet for their regular conversations. Safe and physical distancing is easy to arrange on the spacious and quiet atmosphere of our property in Pickering, ON. The scene that Saturday afternoon seemed almost idyllic. I wondered how we would cope in the cooler months. But then I recalled our indoor spaces where we are able to provide safety and protection for our retreatants and team members. It was great to see the grounds being used for the ministry of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola, but it was sad to see that retreatants could not benefit since March, from their usual time away for spiritual renewal. But that is changing!
Manresa is getting ready to re-open after several months of suspension of programming because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While we have not been offering our usual hospitality, our team of women and men has been trying to be creative and safe in preparing to welcome visitors, striving to maintain the quality spiritual offerings we are known for. We promise that we will be trying our best to care for the spiritual and physical health of those who join us for retreats and spiritual direction and conferences. This requires some adjustments to our customary way of proceeding. You can find more information on our website: https://manresa-canada.ca. While there, you may want to enjoy a beautiful video produced by Salt & Light: https://manresa-canada.ca/about-manresa/photo-gallery/. It includes drone shots of our property. If you have been here, you know all about the beauty, quiet and safety of our property and its proximity to the Rouge Valley Conservation Area. The video does a great job of describing what happens both interiorly and exteriorly.
Our centre is also known for its peacefulness. That is a natural gift of our sheltered and quiet location in the north of Pickering. But it is also an interior gift on our retreats. Many retreatants comment on the gift of peace they experience at Manresa. That gift may be discovered through a prayer experience, a word from a spiritual counsellor, spiritual movement at the celebration of the Eucharist, or a walk around the land. We cannot predict or limit the ways we will discover the peace that Jesus offers so often in the Gospels.
Retreat ministry is changing, but St Ignatius recognized that the care of the spiritual life is always being adapted to adjust for the person and the situation. We have changed personally and every structure around us is shifting. The adaptations here are designed to protect all of us and to maintain a quality experience of closeness to God, whether in the number of fellow retreatants, the cleanliness of our buildings, the dietary service, the celebration of the Mass or the encounter with your spiritual director. Check our website for a detailed look at our offerings. If you decide that you want a retreat, make sure to register. Numbers will have to be lower in this new world.
Most retreatants have heard a reading from the First Book of Kings. Elijah is in a cave on Horeb, the mountain of God. Those coming on retreat are in their own cave, though one hopes that it is a comfortable room in a retreat house. God was not in any of the dramatic or obvious places – wind, earthquake and fire. God was in the sound of sheer silence, or as some translations have it, the sound of a gentle breeze.
I don’t necessarily have to be physically silent to hear that gentle sound of God, though that usually helps. I can hear that voice of God in a noisy situation – on a busy city street or a living room with the TV blaring or in a noisy coffee shop as people chatter and the music plays and the beans are ground and as the door opens and closes. But Manresa and other spirituality centres make it a little easier to be attentive to that sound of sheer silence because of the environment we provide. We have always offered that gift and we will continue to do so, even in the face of COVID-19.
Remember to visit our website. Let us know if you would like to receive our occasional newsletter: https://manresa-canada.ca/newsletters/. There we provide information about what is happening. We also offer some food for your souls.
Even in the emerging new normal of our unpredictable and ever-shifting world, Manresa continues to offer peace. Come visit us!