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“God’s Grandeur” …a sabbatical glimpse

15 March, 2023

I was grateful to have time in the UK for study and professional development. It was a period of renewal, reflection, and spiritual accompaniment. There were many challenges, surprises and opportunities which I continue to reflect upon and journey with and will for a long time into the future.

A significant period was spent in Wales at the St Beuno’s Jesuit Spirituality Centre where people from all over the world spend time doing retreats, courses and renewal programs. It is in the north west part of Wales not far from Manchester and Liverpool near the Welsh coastal communities of Llandudno, St Asaph and Rhyl. These places seemed very foreign as I embarked but now have a very special place filled with sacred memories and joy.

St Beuno’s has a long history for the Jesuits in their training of priests and more recently lay people from all walks of life in the spirituality of St Ignatius. They have had connections to the area for nearly 500 years and it has been a seminary and training ground for Jesuits for over 175 years where the current location and grounds are. It caters for around 55-60 guest retreatants/course participants and is set in the Welsh countryside which is picture perfect.

In recent times it has also been a highlight for English literature and poetry enthusiasts as the famous poet Gerard Manley Hopkins sj, spent his days of seminary training here. During his time, he wrote many of his works and this is where his most famous ‘God’s Grandeur was written.  It speaks of the beauty of the surrounds and lands of Wales and creation.

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And where man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor foot can feel being shod.

And, for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastwards, springs-
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings

The spectacular area has many walks and spaces for contemplation and reflection, as Hopkins tries to put to words. The Centre offers over 220 individually guided retreats and courses throughout the year. At the heart of these are the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, which is a 30 day silent retreat experience which extends to 36 days including days of preparation and conclusion.

As soon as you mention this to people, they gasp in fear at the impossibility of this. Not true. It was the most surprising and extra-ordinary experience. To be given time to simply be with God in prayer, walks, reflection, writing, Eucharist, and with somebody who accompanies you on the journey, was blessing and gift. The person who accompanies you doesn’t ‘tell you what to do’ but guides you in that journey with God as you uncover the mystery of relationship with God, self and others. Discovering how to praise, reverence and serve God, as St Ignatius puts it.

One of the essential elements of Ignatian Spirituality is taking time to reflect upon the day, life and way of living. Now this may not sound very unusual, but they have with the writings of Ignatius put some structure and discipline around how to do this and use what is called the examin’ as a way to do this.

There are many books and ways of doing this, but three simple words given by one of our course leaders may sum it up: thank-you, sorry & please.  These I found very helpful. They said use 5 minutes at the end of the day for your examin, to say: thank-you, sorry & please! Specifically, they gave time frames of: 3 ½ minutes to thank God, 30 seconds to say sorry and 1 minute to say ‘please’ for tomorrow. It was a simple way to see the blessings and where God was in the day, to acknowledge the moments of needing forgiveness and to ask to do better.

These few words are a fraction of my time and blend into so many other times of blessing and gift that these days were. After the retreat there was an extended 3 months for a course in Spiritual Accompaniment which reflected on the Spiritual Exercises and how they can be integrated into life. It was a time of listening, noticing, responding and accompanying both self and others along the way.

In the discussions and reflections, one of the Jesuit’s was asked, ‘Why would you do a 30-day retreat?’ We thought his response was going to be a long theological point of this and this. However, he simply replied: ‘Because it could change your life’. I continue to discover the gems and blessings of those days and will give thanks as I uncover the mystery of the ‘Grandeur of God.’

Fr Matthew Moloney