In Los Altos Hills, I found myself sitting on a bench watching three deer lying hillside and Christ, crucified, peering down at me. I was tired. So, I sat there until the deer left. More than an hour had elapsed. I was at peace there.
That was two weeks ago. I had gone on a three-day weekend trip to the Bay Area for a silent retreat hosted by the Jesuits at El Retiro San Iñigo. The theme was “A God of Tenderness and Mercy.” Mercy is something with which Pope Francis concerns himself and the Church. During 2015 and 2016, he had proclaimed it a year for the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.
The primary focus for me was to find peace—to get away from the rush of the day- to- day, from the duties of work and school and from the deluge of media alerts. It was not a vacation, though. I knew that it would be work of a different kind, but had failed to foresee the emotional labor involved. It is a spiritual exercise, after all. By Saturday evening, just 24 hours in, I was emotionally drained. Father Russ, one of the Jesuits at El Retiro, had told me that these retreats are worthwhile so long as you manage to get out alive. And by the grace of a tender and merciful God, I survived.
I encourage other students—Catholic or not—to go. If you are from the Bay Area, El Retiro is a great choice. If you are not from there, there are plenty of retreats around the United States throughout the year. It may not seem like your thing—it may seem an inconvenience for you—but it is, as Fr. Russ said, worthwhile.
There were multiple gatherings where we read scripture. The Gospel of Luke was the primary focus as his is filled with examples of mercy and tenderness. The hours in between each session were spent on personal, silent reflection.The silent reflection is meant to permit one to explore one’s self. Everyone there is supportive, knowing all of our journeys with and to God areis unique. I was the youngest one there. Whereas the older visitors had profited from prayer, I do not find praying to be particularly fruitful, especially outside of Mass. For me, the labyrinth was the most conducive for my spiritual exercise.
As I paced the turns of the labyrinth, I steadily inhaled and exhaled. With longer legs, my stride is quick and long. So, I had to be conscientious of my rhythm: I needed to go the way of the tortoise rather than that of the hare to find His mercy and tenderness. By taking these three days, I was able to resolve some personal matters. I even realized where I fail at being tender and merciful to others.
As students at a Catholic school, we have the privilege of having the responsibilities to strengthen our mind, body and soul. If you need some direction, I recommend that you spend a weekend in reflection and attend a silent retreat.
— Stephen Brantzeg, Graduate Student of the Institute of Public Service 2020