The Spiritual Exercises then and now

A window arrangement at St Beuno's

Sunrise

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Hooked by the experience

In 1973 CLC members were invited to a course which would include ‘doing the Exercises’. I took two and a half weeks off work and turned up to find out what it was all about. The retreat occupied the first eight days and followed the pattern of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. We meditated on sin, and the gospel narrative of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ but also addressed two ‘key’ exercises - the kingdom meditation and the two standards. I was hooked by the experience and begged for more a year later. My guide suggested that one Gerry Hughes might have me at St Beuno’s. He did indeed make me welcome even though St. Beuno’s was the home of the Jesuit tertianship (the last stage of Jesuit training) at that time. 

I still felt that something should be happening that wasn’t

I went on with annual eight day retreats for a total of seven years. They were always wonderful experiences but I increasingly had the feeling that I was not getting anywhere in particular. I did not expect increasingly heavenly visions and knew that I was not going to make one of those big decisions, like becoming a nun or going on the missions, but I still felt that something should be happening that wasn’t. I got married, moved from London to Aberdeen and did not make any more retreats until my partner died 30 years later and there was a strong sense of ‘what next’.

Look – no Exercises!

Like Rip van Winkle I found that much had changed in the meantime. St. Beuno’s had become a full time retreat centre that I could book on the web, choosing from a range of retreats and courses. I picked an eight day retreat and turned up to find more surprises. That part of the house which had been full of tertians (and out of bounds for me) was being thoroughly upgraded for the comfort and convenience of retreatants. 

Gerry had been so tactful in showing me how to get to the places I needed without invading tertian territory that I had not even realised that that part of the house existed. I spent a lot of time finding my way around all the staircases, and doors to the different levels of the garden, but this time my retreat guide had a much simpler programme for me. It was just as joyful and exhilarating but look – no Exercises!  What stood out for me was the amount of energy released during the meeting with the guide and a very strong desire to be at St. Beuno’s.

God is the God of surprises who, in the darkness and tears of things breaks down our false images and insecurities. Image: sunsetTerritory that had not even been seen, let alone explored.

I now had to find a way of getting back there while avoiding any simple repetition of the joyful experience I had had. I joined Friends of St. Beuno’s and was back for a weekend the same year and the following spring but again, I did not want repeat performances. After careful study of the website I decided in favour of a 30-day retreat.

Now I had hurdles to jump. I spent hours filling out a very long application form and had to persuade a busy Parish Priest to do the same with an equally long reference.  I then had to cope with three days of pre-training before the retreat proper could start. When I could finally get going I discovered in the retreat, as in the building, there was much territory that had not even been seen, let alone explored.

I’m on a mission now to get everyone praying 

Those early retreats saved my spiritual life. I would not have survived the ups and downs of the life of a female lay person in a small parish without them. I explored ideas foreign to the church with joy knowing that in the rules for discernment I had tools that would keep me on track. I lived my own faith in my own inner world without worrying about the fate of others. During the long retreat the tricks I had learned in my youth stood me in good stead, I was well able to ride out the difficult bits. Now that I have the full kit, as it were, I can start to take more responsibility for others, I can work creatively with all the material, finding out what to use and when so that I can help people to pray however much or little time they may have. I’m on a mission now to get everyone praying one way or another, and building on the foundations they have laid already.

Teresa McCaffery

Go Deeper

Try a retreat, there are many options but St Beuno's have different lengths and styles to choose from:

The residential individually guided retreats, which last from a weekend to eight days, follow the inspiration of Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius Loyola, drawing on some of the approaches, methods of prayer and ways of reflection they suggest. Try a residential retreat

Watch this video by a young Anglican Sister about what she remembers of St Beuno's before she leaves to attend her second individually guided retreat.

 Read a bit more about what to expect on a retreat before finding one for you. WHAT TO EXPECT >>

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