So my colleagues at Charis Ministries in Chicago have asked a rather provocative question:
Why Should Pope Francis attend a Charis Retreat?
And so I would like to offer the Top 10 reasons why a Ignatian Retreat and specifically a Charis Retreat would benefit the likes of Papa Francisco.
1) A Transition is a Great Time for a Retreat: Pope Francis is in the midst of an unexpected transition. Moving from Argentina to Italy alone has got to be jarring, never mind the move from his simple quarters to the Papal Suite in the Vatican (reportedly, the Pope said it was too large for him and said “You could fit 300 people in here). So I’d like to recommend that he attends a What’s Next Retreat–which is based specifically on the experience of making transitions. You should join him if you’ve gotten a new job, moved to a new city, graduated college or graduate school, entered the job force for the first time, just gotten married or divorced or are expecting a child. Transitions are crazy! And Ignatian spirituality focuses us on the principle of indifference—trying to have the faith that says that no matter what befalls us and no matter how scary things are, God will get us through anything.
2) The Value of Silence: Each Charis retreat really values silence and the opportunity to take time away from the noise that often constantly surrounds us. Do you remember those first moments on the Papal balcony? The Pope actually asked for silence and you could hear a pin drop in the square as people prayed for our new Pontiff. Perhaps we all need just a few moments in our lives to cultivate silence for even just a short time.
3) Simplicity: If nothing else, the new Pope loves being with people and sharing stories of his own. That’s precisely what Charis retreats are based on. The experience of finding God in everyday life is where we all are. So the retreats meet us firmly on that ground and then moves us to consider where God might be in that experience. I read today where the Pope called the newsstand where he got his morning paper and cancelled his subscription. Can we find God in the simple moments of the day like buying the morning paper or riding the bus. It seems to me that the Pope can help others understand this well.
4) For the Least of Our Brothers and Sisters: Charis Retreats always center on the experience of the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. The Pope has seen much suffering in the slums of Buenos Aires and the experience of the global south certainly knows poverty much better than we do in the United States. Do we have the ability to see God in these experiences of poverty and how are we poor ourselves? For the least provides an opportunity to reflect on the experience of serving others who are in need instead of merely doing a good deed and then going on our way. Have we been able to name where we find Christ in these experiences?
5) Ignatius and Francis: Why would a Jesuit take Francis as his name? Well, it’s actually quite appropriate! Ignatius was a big admirer of Francis. During his period of convalescence he read all about Francis and placed himself in the stories of Francis and in his imagination he discovered that he enjoyed imitating the life of Francis much more than the gallant knights that he had tried to become like before. On Charis retreats, you’re able to use these imaginative exercises where you place yourself in the stories of Francis, Ignatius and Jesus and other imaginative scenes. By putting our creative imagination at the service of our faith we find that we meet God more clearly in these experiences and are able to more readily integrate our deepest desires about who we most want to be into action.
6) Contemplative in Action: Ignatius implores us to be people in the world but not of the world. To be contemplative in action, to not merely experience our lives by living them but also by reflecting back on our experiences. With the number of stories we’ve already heard from Pope Francis, I am certain that he shares that value and has reflected deeply on his more than 75 years.
7) Forgiveness: Charis retreats always center on the experience of being a “loved sinner.” And Pope Francis has clearly talked about a God who always forgives us in the early days of his Papacy. I often lead the reconciliation service on the retreats that I coordinate with one of our team members. And it’s always a moving experience to see people come back from the sacrament of reconciliation renewed and refreshed in the forgiveness of God’s love. Imagine being able to go to confession to the Pope?! And imagine being a priest and hearing the Pope’s confession?!
8. Servant Leadership: Charis retreats are run by young adults for young adults. They are based in peer leadership where we serve the needs of one another. We now have a Pope who is doing that with his brother priests and more importantly, brother Cardinals. His spirit of collegiality would fit in well on a Charis retreat and while he’s not a young adult, I could see him leading us as spiritual director and showing other priests the importance of being with young people.
9) Magis: The great Cardinal Tagle of Manilla once reminded us that we don’t just work for the glory of God, but rather we work for the GREATER glory of God. We stretch ourselves beyond our usual modes of participating in life, to become somewhat uncomfortable, to reflect on matters we often have no time for in our busy lives. We do so in order to define what the Magis is for each one of us. We discern, rather than simply decide who we are to be. The Pope has been echoing those words in the early days of his papacy and it’s pretty clear that he’s working not only to fulfill the demands of the Papacy, but also to show each of us where greater glory resides in the experience of fulfilling our roles in life. Sitting on a weekend with Charis Retreats, we hope to find that greater glory that calls to us, that helps us become all that God calls us to be.
10) Open to Questions: Don’t you get the feeling that you could just ask Pope Francis anything and he’d answer you with love? That’s a great principle of Ignatian Spirituality, being open to the questions and exploring all facets of them. We come to God with all of who we are: our hopes, our dreams, our gifts…but also our fears, our doubts, our insecurities. Charis retreats offers a non-judgemental sacred space to explore those aspects of who we are.
Lastly, the Pope should come and join Charis Retreats in the great spirit of Ignatius, not merely because he’s a Jesuit and not merely because Charis expresses much of his own personal spirituality and not even because the Pope needs to be around young people. Rather, the Pope should be able to take some time for himself and renew his own sense of where God is calling HIM! Young people in their 20s and 30s are eager to share their journey of faith and have been moved by the Pope sharing much of how he sees God working in his life even in the simplest of ways.
Be it a bus ride, a morning paper, a visit to the slums, a phone call or even a simple kiss and hug, Papa Francisco is able to share with his actions and his words just how vibrant God is working in his life.
And that’s exactly what happens on a Charis Retreat.
So I’m conducting Charis’ What’s Next Retreat in the Buffalo area on June 7-9…that’s the one focused on transitions. Perhaps the Pope will need a mini-break from this whirlwind tour he’s been on and I would love to provide him with an opportunity to be with us….even if just in spirit. (Email me for information: firstname.lastname@example.org)
After all, he is and always will be a son of Ignatius. That spirit has made him all that he is.
And now it inspires all of us as well. Seeing God in all things is our challenge and taking just a bit of time to examine that in our lives is something we all should do and need to do.
And if that’s good enough for the Pope, than it’s good enough for all of us.