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Kathryn Jean Lopez reveals what happened to her on a 30-day retreat

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A consummate news hound and political commentator discovers something about God... and herself

Give us some particulars. Where was it, and who conducted it? Where there other people on the retreat? What was the set-up like? How does it work?

Mine was little more customized than most—the time I could get away was the end of the year, which happens to be off-season for tourism in Assisi. I was on my own and stayed at a Bridgettine house there (that’s a longer stay than they usually accommodate but their charism of hospitality led them to say “yes”) and was directed by a diocesan priest for whom Ignatian spirituality has become second nature.

It was a remarkable opportunity God carved out for me, with time alone in many cases in places where St. Francis and St. Clare spent days and nights, and where their earthly remains rest. Holiness is palpable there. I cannot do it justice with words, but you smell it in the smoky late-Fall/early-winter air, you see it in the sky, you feel it in the walls of the basilicas and churches.

At the heart of the Exercises are five hours of prayer a day with Scripture. Ignatius tells you the verse or gives you an image for a deeper encounter with Christ. God does the rest. In 30 days, you experience deluges of grace where the hour feels like 30 seconds and struggles where the day seems like it might never end.

It’s a little like being on an operating table. You know you’re in need of healing and you know the Divine Healer is at work. You feel His hand mending. He gives you prescriptions. He shows you what you need to do differently and how He’s going to make it possible. And that the only thing you need to remember going forth is to trust Him completely.

Ignatius’s Exercises and rules for discernment are being rediscovered by priests who find themselves at the Institute for Priestly Formation in Omaha as well as the Cenacle. And the Oblates of the Virgin Mary are a community whose charism is this: Ignatian formation and direction—giving and teaching the Spiritual Exercises and all of Ignatius’ practical guideposts for spiritual direction, a toolkit for identifying the movements of the spirits in one’s life. Father Timothy Gallagher’s books and talks (I know he just filmed a new series this fall to air on EWTN) are a treasure trove of practical applications and familiarity with some of the best and most needed of Ignatius.

What sorts of challenges did you have to overcome, and how did you work through them?

There were a ton.

There’s a book that is a great preview of the Exercises called Stretched for Greater Glory that sorta says it all in the title. There is no such thing as a “comfort zone” during the Exercises. If you let Him, He leads you to confront everything you wouldn’t otherwise. Because He wants nothing holding you back from living in the freedom that is the true Christian life. When you’re done, you realize you’re only beginning. And beginning again every minute of every hour of every day, to be truly His in the world.

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