One retreatant's report on her Ignatian Retreat Experience at St. Césaire
"You should make an Ignatian Retreat. It will change your life!" I had heard words to this effect from so many friends and clergy over the previous twelve months, that I finally believed them. I had converted from a major Protestant denomination over ten years ago, and have been a Traditional Catholic for the last two. Over the years, I had often wondered about these Ignatian Exercises, which had formed the lives of countless Catholics over the centuries. What could a retreat like that do for me? Would it deepen my faith?
My spiritual curiosity got the better of me and I went online to register for the next available women's retreat. Since the location closest to me was booked solid, I decided to make an adventure of it, and signed up for a retreat at St. Joseph's Centre in Saint-Césaire, Québec. So, on Monday, October 10, 2016, I packed my bag, grabbed my chapel veil, and headed to the SSPX retreat house of St. Césaire.
Arrival at Rue Notre-Dame
When I arrived at the red brick building on Rue Notre-Dame, I was greeted warmly by a SSPX Oblate Sister, who gave me a tour of the newly-renovated facility, and showed me to my room. Things got started promptly at 11:30 am. Some practical advice: bring lots of notebooks and pens. There is a great deal of information, and you will be taking copious notes. Also, bring a wrist watch. If you are anything like me, then you normally use your cell phone to keep the time. Since this is a silent retreat, cell phone use is prohibited. Most importantly, get a good night's sleep before the retreat. You will hit the ground running, and the schedule for each day is densely packed. The Exercises were designed to last for thirty days, but have been condensed into five days, so your time is structured to utilize every moment. I brought some knitting with me, thinking I would have plenty of down time. I never even touched it.
Our retreat group consisted of eight women, who ranged in age from young adults to an octogenarian. The two Retreat Masters, Fr. Dominique Boulet and Fr. Richard Vachon, were very knowledgeable and experienced in teaching the Ignatian Exercises.
Getting to Work
The first two and a half days of an Ignatian Retreat are quite intense. We were guided through a series of meditations designed to mentally and spiritually prepare us for our General Confession on Wednesday, which entails confessing all the sins that we can remember from our life. The best advice I could give anyone who is considering doing this retreat is: COMPLETELY IMMERSE YOURSELF IN THE MEDITATIONS. Utilize all of your senses and make them as real as possible for yourself. This may result in some unexpected physical symptoms. For instance, after I finished my meditation of what hell is like, I broke out in hives. Later, I felt waves of nausea when I thought of all of my sins and the price Jesus paid to remit them. I was concerned I might be making myself sick. However, in my daily consultations with the priests, I was assured that these symptoms are fairly common.
The meditations are interspersed with a full schedule of morning and evening prayers, Mass, Rosary prayers and Benedictions in the beautifully transcendent St. Joseph's Chapel. Allow yourself to be enveloped by every moment of the experience. Savor every spiritual consolation. Follow the lead of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and ponder all of these things in your heart. You won't regret it.
Turning the Corner
Wednesday is the big day: the General Confession. And what a glorious day is was! If true beauty is a soul in a state of grace, then Miss Universe pales in comparison to the unburdened women who emerged from those confessionals. You genuinely feel like a brand new person, filled with awe and gratitude for the sacrament of penance and its effects. Words cannot fully describe it.
But this is only the beginning! After Confession, the real retreat experience begins. With the help of our Retreat Masters, we advanced in the wisdom of St. Ignatius with a vengeance; learning the skills to arm ourselves in the spiritual warfare in which we must all engage as disciples of Christ. The battle lines between good and evil are irrevocably drawn, and the Ignatian Exercises are designed to provide you with the tools necessary for battle and spiritual discernment.
Back to Life: a New Normal
Reflecting on my time at the St. Joseph Retreat House, I realize I still feel like myself, but a happier, more content version of myself. I feel I am better equipped to live my Traditional Catholic Faith. The retreat has given my prayer life more structure. Also, I am able to meditate and visualize the Mysteries more vibrantly when I pray the Rosary. (This upgrade alone was worth the cost of the retreat.) However, I am mostly filled with gratitude. I am grateful for such a loving and glorious God. I am grateful to St. Ignatius of Loyola for sharing his Spiritual Exercises with the world. Lastly, I am grateful to the priests and religious sisters in Saint-Césaire for taking such excellent care of us. Deo Gratias!