John O’Callaghan tells of some of the fruits he has found in the Lay Retreat Association of St. Ignatius (LRA).
In 1921, Rathfarnham Castle Retreat House, became in all probability, the first retreat house in the world designated for working men’s retreats. The men arrived on Saturday evening and departed before 7 a.m. on Monday, making great sacrifices to have time with God.
It wasn’t until 1945 that another man of vision, Fr. Eugene Ward, organized the Laymen’s Retreat Association (LRA). As director of retreats at Rathfarnham Castle Retreat House, he gathered a group of men, drawn from various trades, crafts and organizations, to promote retreats.
The LRA was concerned that no one be deprived of a retreat because of lack of money, and set about raising funds to defray any shortfall in retreat offerings. The members of the LRA were so convinced of the importance of their voluntary apostolic work that they were able to survive even when the Jesuits had to withdraw from Rathfarnham in the mid-1980s. They were to see their role change from being purely promotional and supportive, under Jesuit directorship, to being organizational.
The Jesuit Provincial undertook to supply a Spiritual Director and priests to give the retreats, and provided the LRA with an office at Milltown Park. A constitution was agreed and the LRA undertook all the other aspects of running retreats.
This writer made his first LRA retreat in 1969. The retreat affected him so greatly that he was anxious to get home and share his experience with his wife. He had enjoyed it but was not sure if it was right to enjoy it, thinking that religion was supposed to be a serious matter. On reflection he remembered that Jesus himself had taken His disciples away for a break. The following year he brought two neighbours and they became regular retreatants.
He really looks forward every year to his retreat; it’s a day away from life’s merry-go-round. Even these days in retirement, he spends much of the day chasing the next item on the agenda. If the priest saying 10 a.m. Mass is going on a bit with his homily, his mind races ahead: will he catch the 10.35 a.m. bus, do the shopping, get lunch and still be in time for Bridge at 2.15 p.m.?
None of that happens on retreat because he is off the merry-go-round from 10 a.m. till 6 p.m., and all is calm and peaceful. He can listen to the priest’s talk and even have time to think about how it applies to him.
He remembers on one retreat looking through a window and giving out to God for not answering his prayer that a situation would change for the better. As he turned back into the room the first thing he saw was a poster on which was written, ‘Give God Time’.
He doesn’t think that those words would have registered in the way they did if he hadn’t been on retreat at the time. Instead of seeing them as a call to prayer, for him they were an answer to his prayers.
It is marvellous how this apostolic retreat movement has grown and developed. In 1989 the Laymen’s Retreat Association became the Lay Retreat Association of St. Ignatius, welcoming women to membership. In 1993 the LRA elected Anne O’Hanlon as its first female president. The following is her testimony:
`I first came in contact with the Lay Retreat Association in 1989 when I noticed a poster in Beaumont Church advertising retreats. At the time I was a married stay-at-home mother with two school-going children. This sounded like an opportunity not to be missed – a little bit of heaven. Imagine, a day away to myself: time to gather my thoughts, rest, prayer, and meals handed up to me.
`The whole day was a marvellous experience: a joyful silence, prayer, talks, meditation, the sacraments, Mass and glorious food! It was a heavenly oasis in a busy, noisy life.
`It restored for me the magic of life. In this modern world we seem to lose perspective quite easily, without that sense of wonder our souls thirst for. I was ignoring the love of God in my life; I was out of balance. I did not notice the little everyday miracles that I was surrounded with: my two little angels, the love and friendship of my husband, family and friends, the kindness of a neighbour, the smile from a stranger, the birds’ song, the sun, or the rain; all reminders and messages to me of God’s love.
`The wonder that was unleashed in my heart invited me to step outside the boundaries and live life to the full. After that my life changed in simple ways with wonderful results, so much so that I went on another retreat with the LRA some months later.
At one of the meditations sessions Fr. Ted McAsey said, ‘Now ask Jesus, “Jesus what can I do for You?” This was alien to my mindset. Those words hit me like a bolt of lightning and have been engraved on my mind ever since. I prayed those words every day since.
I joined the LRA some time later when I got comfortable with my new relationship with Jesus. The LRA is a group of men and women who encourage everyone they meet to come on retreat with them. Not an easy task in this day and age, but they are convinced, as I am, that all who come on retreat go home with the graces they most need. We all need to touch base now and then.
Consider this an invitation, an opportunity knocking on your door. Join us on a lay retreat in the near future.
This article first appeared in The Messenger (September 2008), a publication of the Irish Jesuits.