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SLU Community Begins Retreat with 'Spiritual Exercises'

09/13/2019

More than 20 students, faculty and staff members from across the University came together to begin a retreat focused on embracing a deeper, more intimate experience with God and spirituality in daily life. 

Christopher Collins, S.J., introduces the Spiritual Exercises

(Left) Christopher Collins, S.J., assistant to the president for mission and identity, leads the first session of a retreat for SLU staff, faculty members, and students based on the Spiritual ExercisesPhoto by Amelia Flood

Guided by the Spiritual Exercises and led by Christopher Collins, assistant to the president for mission and identity, the retreat goers began a journey together, guided by the words of St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus.

"The Spiritual Exercises are about readying one's heart for God," Collins told those who gathered for the retreat on Wednesday, Sept. 11, in Jesuit Hall. "It's not some secret knowledge. It's not us on a path to perfection. It's not a matter of  'me learning the secret thing to find God, who is hiding.'"

Readying to Embrace God Every Day

The Sept. 11 retreat was the first session of a four-part series, "Introduction to the Spiritual Exercises," a guided journey offering SLU community members the chance to take time out of the day, to gather, and to learn Ignatian techniques for developing a more personal connection to God.

Collins urged the retreatants gathered to embrace a sense of "great eagerness," one that inspired St. Ignatius to seek greater knowledge of the spiritual in his own life, and to ultimately found the Society of Jesus. Ignatius, Collins continued, rejoiced in the "graces God offered him, and that he offered the Church.

"All of the Spiritual Exercises and the Gospels deal with moments of action," Collins said. 

Imagining and Creating Moments of Connection

As they embarked on the retreat journey, Collins invited the retreatants to use imagination as part of their prayer experience and urged them to thoughtfully construct their prayer spaces, down to the placement of the chairs they would sit on while in contemplation. The experience could be as intense as imagining the way the breeze would feel on one's face, if the person praying were standing on the shores of the Sea of Galilee as Christ and the apostles fished.

"You get all of your senses going and you use your imagination before you ever get to the narrative moment," Collins advised. "This is really uniquely Ignatian contemplation - there is a unique ability to imagine."

Using all of the senses and imagination in prayer, he continued, involves risk and one can rightly be concerned about lapsing into fantasy.

"I mean, are there going to be dragons and unicorns now?" he joked. But the risk is worth the spiritual connection one can achieve by engaging humans' ability to think beyond the tangible.

"The imagination can be crucial and useful in this experience of prayer," he said.

The retreatants also studied the "First Principle and Foundation" of St. Ignatius Loyola and spent time in fellowship with one another.

The First Principle and Foundation*

The goal

The goal of our life is to live with God forever. God, who loves us, gave us life. Our own response of love allows God's life to flow into us without limit.

The gifts
All things in this world are gifts of God, presented to us so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more readily.
Appreciation and joy
As a result, we appreciate and use all these gifts of God insofar as they help us develop as loving persons. But if any of these gifts becomes the center of our lives, they displace God and so hinder our growth toward our goal.
Balance in all things

In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance before all of these created gifts insofar as we have a choice and are not bound by some obligation. We should not fix our desires on health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one. For everything has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God.

The desire and the choice
Our only desire and our one choice should be this: I want and I choose what better leads to God's deepening his life in me.
*St. Ignatius as adapted by Joseph Tetlow, S.J. in Choosing Christ in the World

Want to Join the Retreat?


Saint Louis University’s Office of Mission and Identity ensures that the principles and traditions of Catholic, Jesuit higher education, and the mission and core values of SLU are integrated into operations, structures, programs and practices, and the formation of its students, faculty, staff, administration and board members.

To further its goals, the Office of Mission and Identity sponsors several programs, on and off campus, each dedicated to the intellectual and spiritual growth of the participants, and all in the Jesuit tradition. Faculty, staff and students have numerous options as well, with mission programs, opportunities to present their own experiences and reflections, retreats and conferences year round.