By: Anthony Beltrame
Deserts are incredible places. Few sights rival an uninterrupted landscape as far as the eye can see, or a clear night sky teaming with stars too numerous to count.
But deserts have a darker side too, they can be deeply inhospitable; with heat, cold, and dryness all conspiring against the renewal of life. Beyond this though, deserts hold a special significance for the Christian making his way to God. For it is in the desert that we most palpably confront Satan and all his works; and it is in the desert that we most clearly hear the voice of God and are free to receive the graces He desires to give us. The Israelites knew this, Christ himself experienced it, and so it was only fitting that the 5th year seminarians would also venture into the desert. Although it would be one of a spiritual kind and based upon the teachings of the 16th century Saint, Ignatius of Loyola.
For 30 days we would abandon ourselves to silence and the structure of prayer set out by Ignatius. Based on his personal experience, we spent 5-6 hours each day in prayer along with meeting our spiritual director and Holy Mass. The prayer was structured across four "weeks", not literally weeks, but more like stages along the spiritual journey. The first week consisted of reflecting on our lives in response to God's merciful love for us. This meant acknowledging and coming to terms with all our sin, both past and present. Certainly, this was not an easy thing to do, but in the Lord's hands even the most undesirable parts of us can be made beautiful. In the second week we prayed with Scripture passages from the Annunciation through to Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Here we were invited to consider the life of Christ and how we can respond to his love more profoundly in our lives. The third week focused on Christ’s passion and death, his ultimate expression of love for us. Finally, in the fourth week we shared in the joy of Christ's resurrection and re-committed ourselves to a more fervent response of his command, to go out and make disciples of all nations.
Like the real desert our existence was quite spartan. It lacked the comfort of technology, communication with the outside world, and spontaneous activities. Like the desert there were days of spiritual sunshine, but also times of biting cold and blistering heat as our souls were purified of all that obstructs our union with God. I can only speak to my own experience, but what I would like to say is this: these 30 days were a time of incredible closeness to our Lord and his Blessed Mother and I will forever remember them. Many battles were fought with the evil one but also many wounds were healed by Christ. I learnt that I am a sinful man and yet deeply loved by God. I learnt that God is relentless in his pursuit of me and never seems to tire of labouring for my salvation and is always ready to embrace me when I return with a repentant heart.
These are not groundbreaking revelations I know. But then again, the truths of the faith are always simple. Sometimes we can be slow learners though. Sometimes it can take a while spent in the desert for the truth about ourselves and God to sink in. Not all of us will have the opportunity to spend 30 days on retreat, but certainly each of us can find some time each day to meet God in the silence. Whether in an adoration Chapel or kneeling by the corner of our bed, God is always waiting for us, eager and ready to fill us with His great gifts.
Photos: Jaycee Napoles