Matt C. Abbott
March 16, 2010
'Consoling the Heart of Jesus: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat'
By Matt C. Abbott

The following is a significant portion of the Introduction to the recently-published book Consoling the Heart of Jesus: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat, authored by Brother Michael Gaitley, MIC. Many thanks to Brian O'Neel, Michele Sylvestro and Michael Strub of CatholicWord.com for allowing me to reprint this material.


INTRODUCTION

A Retreat That's Easy to Make

Few things help one to grow in holiness more quickly than the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Unfortunately, Ignatius's famous retreat isn't so easy to make. I say that because the full experience of what he intended requires 30 days of silence and prayer — but who's got 30 days? While there's a shortened, eight-day version of his retreat, many people don't even have that much time to spare. Still, those who do have the time don't always have the money. (Ignatian retreats can be expensive.) Moreover, even when time and money are no problem, finding a retreat director often is.

I wrote Consoling the Heart of Jesus to help those who are serious about growing in holiness but who have neither the time nor the resources for making the Spiritual Exercises. Unlike the Exercises, my retreat is easy to make: It doesn't require a director, doesn't cost much, and best of all, it only takes one weekend. Of course, such a short retreat can't possibly give the full experience of the 30-day version — but it's a great alternative. Why? Because it communicates the most essential principles of the Spiritual Exercises, the very principles that have made Ignatius's retreat such a powerful instrument of conversion for nearly 500 years.

I said my do-it-yourself retreat takes one weekend. That's true. However, it would certainly need to be a full weekend dedicated to the prayerful reading of the text. The time it takes to make the retreat equals the time it takes to read it, and most people can do so in a weekend. Still, this doesn't prevent those who like to read more slowly from making it, nor does it exclude those who can't get away for a whole weekend. For my retreat can also be prayerfully read over the course of several weeks or even months. In fact, I know many people who have profitably gone through it by reading it during a weekly Holy Hour over a few months. Then again, I know even more people for whom a weekly Holy Hour seems like an impossible luxury yet they, too, have managed to make the retreat, even while keeping a hectic schedule. Obviously, that's not the weekend ideal, but even under such stressed circumstances, the retreat still seems to yield spiritual fruit.

So, Consoling the Heart of Jesus is a retreat almost anyone can make no matter how busy he is. In fact, that was one of my main goals in writing it. I specifically wanted to make the most effective principles of the most powerful retreat, the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, easily available to the busy people of today.

A Retreat with a Bold Claim

Yet, if people are so busy, why would they want to spend their precious time reading this retreat, especially when there are so many other books they could profitably use for spiritual reading? For instance, why not simply spend time with Scripture or the life of some saint? Of course, Scripture and spiritual books can be of great profit to our souls. However, my do-it-yourself retreat is just that: a retreat — but not just any retreat. As I mentioned, it's inspired by the Spiritual Exercises, and like the Exercises, it contains a built-in order that can help us grow in holiness in a short period of time. Ordered meditation and prayer, a hallmark of Ignatian spirituality, greatly assists the process of conversion. Scripture alone and most spiritual books don't provide such ordered material for meditation.

Although Consoling the Heart of Jesus doesn't offer the full array of meditations found in the Exercises, it does claim to help bring about the same abundant spiritual fruit. In other words, like Ignatius's famous retreat, it claims to give us everything we need to become great saints and in a short period of time. Does this sound impossible? Too good to be true? To help us understand how a brief, undirected retreat can make such a bold claim, we need to get to know Fr. Lanteri.

Venerable Fr. Pio Bruno Lanteri (1759-1826) was a man on fire with the desire to become a saint. At first, he tried to attain his goal by joining the most rigorous religious congregation in the Church, the Carthusians. After just eight days, however, the silence, prayer vigils, and fasting became too much for him, and he had to leave. Though deeply disappointed, Lanteri didn't give up his goal. Because of his weakness, however, he figured he'd have to find a particularly powerful way to the heights of holiness. Sometime later, he went on an Ignatian retreat for the first time. To his great joy, he found exactly what he'd been looking for: an extraordinarily powerful way by which even someone like him could become a saint.

Lanteri was so overjoyed at discovering the Spiritual Exercises retreat that he dedicated his life to sharing it with others. With ardent zeal and enthusiasm, he invited people to make his version of it, telling them it provides everything a person needs to become "a saint, a great saint, and quickly." He also made the bold claim that one could get all he needed to become such a saint not in 30 days (the "long" retreat) but in just eight. He had such confidence in the power of his Ignatian retreats because he gave them with a particular emphasis, what one might call his "secret weapons." What were Lanteri's secret weapons? The very same things that later saints would emphasize in their "quick" and extraordinarily effective ways to holiness, namely, Divine Mercy and Mary.

This retreat is written in the spirit of Fr. Lanteri today. Since his death more than 180 years ago, there's been more insight into the inestimable treasures of Divine Mercy and Marian devotion. I'm thinking in particular of the writings of holy men and women such as Sts. Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-1897), Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938), Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941), Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997), and the Venerable Servant of God Pope John Paul II (1920-2005). I'm convinced that with the insights of such experts behind us, we now have even greater spiritual ammunition for Lanteri's secret weapons, thus making his manner of giving the Exercises even more effective. Divine Mercy and Marian devotion today are truly powerful means for all to grow in holiness.

Having looked at Fr. Lanteri's threefold strategy for attaining great sanctity — Divine Mercy and Marian devotion within the context of the Spiritual Exercises — and having further seen that now there's even deeper insight into his secret weapons, at this point, I can repeat my earlier claim without it sounding impossible or too good to be true. In this do-it-yourself retreat, you can find everything you need to become "a saint, a great saint, and quickly" not just in Ignatius's 30 days, nor even in Lanteri's eight, but in one Consoling weekend.

A Retreat for Little Souls

I mentioned earlier that in his zeal to become a saint, Fr. Lanteri tried to join the Carthusians but then had to leave because he was too weak. Now I'd like to focus on the idea of "weakness" and how it relates to the bold claim I just made, namely, that this weekend retreat can give us everything we need to become great saints. To bring all this into focus, it'll be helpful to reflect on two considerations. The first has to do with St. Louis de Montfort (1673-1716).

Like Lanteri, de Montfort had a burning desire to become a saint. Also like Lanteri, he saw himself as a weak soul who needed to find an extraordinarily powerful way to sanctity. He believed he found such a way in a new form of Marian spirituality he famously describes in his classic work, True Devotion to Mary. De Montfort predicted a couple of interesting things about his book. First, he said that after his death, angry demons would come to hide the unpublished manuscript so no one could ever read it — and, in fact, the manuscript was lost for over a century after his death. He went on to say that it would eventually be discovered and published and that its Marian spirituality would help form some of the greatest saints in the history of the Church.

The last part of de Montfort's prediction — that his book would form some of the greatest saints — contains the heart of what I'd like us to consider. Obviously, it's a rather bold prediction, especially when we think about the great saints who lived before True Devotion was published. Still, if we take his prediction seriously, we might begin to think: "Well, Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II were pretty holy. Perhaps they're the saints de Montfort was talking about."

This makes sense, especially if we consider not only that both of them intensely lived the Marian spirituality of de Montfort's book but also that they were deeply formed by Lanteri's other secret weapon, Divine Mercy.

Yet there's a problem. De Montfort's prediction wasn't just about a few people. In fact, he had in mind a whole army of the greatest saints. Perhaps this gets us thinking, "Wonderful. So where are they?" I suggest that we are supposed to be those saints, that we are the ones meant to fill the ranks of that army, and that we truly can be those saints. When I put it like this, it probably sounds ridiculous, especially when our weakness and littleness come to mind.

Well, if it does sound ridiculous — good. It means we're ready for the second consideration. Before we get to it, I should first say something about what I mean by our "weakness" and "littleness."

What's our weakness and littleness? Let me put it this way: Does the idea that you can become a great saint seem more like a joke than a real possibility? If it seems like a joke, is that because you think of yourself as being too (take your pick) selfish, sinful, prideful, lazy, busy, greedy, rich, poor, mean, jaded, cold, indifferent, fun loving, lustful, gossipy, angry, uninterested, bored, confused, distracted, envious, smart, stupid, sophisticated, stylish, unfaithful, uncaring, wounded, brokenhearted, rebellious, rational, addicted, worldly, wimpy, normal, scared, aggressive, superficial, modern, old fashioned, good looking, ugly, plain, twisted, loud, quiet, famous, unknown, violent, vindictive, passive, depressed, crazy, imbalanced, inconsistent, insincere, young, or old to be a saint? If so, if you think you're too something to be a saint (let alone one of the great saints de Montfort mentioned), then, like me, you're probably a "little soul." If this sounds depressing, don't worry. It's not. In fact, it's good news. We'll see why as St. Thérèse of Lisieux gives us the second consideration.

According to St. Thérèse, it's precisely the little souls who will become the kind of great saints de Montfort foresaw. For Thérèse taught that Jesus wants to work some of his most marvelous miracles of mercy in our day, miracles in which he takes the littlest of souls and forms them into the greatest of saints. Thérèse could teach that because she understood three things exceedingly well: our modern times, God's amazing mercy, and the teaching of St. Paul.

According to St. Paul, where evil and sin seem to prevail, God sends his grace in ever greater abundance (see Rom 5:20). This Pauline principle applies especially to our day that, in many ways, is marked by unprecedented evil. Because of such unprecedented evil, God graciously offers unprecedented mercy. Thus, our time truly can be called a "time of mercy," a time when God especially wants to demonstrate that his "power finds perfection in weakness" (2 Cor 12:9), a time when it's easier than ever before to become a saint. We'll hear more on this topic from St. Thérèse later. Until then, I'd like to offer for our further consideration one nun's prayer:

I will not profit from exercises designed for strong souls. O my God, show me the exercises designed for feeble souls. Would the saints have forgotten or disdained them? Yet even if the saints did not think of these poor souls, who are nevertheless most numerous, you, Lord, my mercy, have not abandoned them. You yourself, Good Master, have burdened yourself with them. I know that better than anyone. I am one of those souls and I bless you for having revealed to the weak and the little ones what you do not always accord to the valiant and the strong.

Bless the Lord, for we're about to begin spiritual exercises designed for "feeble," "poor," and "little" souls. Relying on the little giants of the spiritual life (Fr. Lanteri, St. Louis, St. Thérèse, and company), I'm proposing a short way for such souls to become great saints. If you think you might be one of these little ones, if you want to become a saint, and if you have neither the time nor the resources to make the Spiritual Exercises, then enjoy a retreat made just for you.

A Retreat with a Schedule?

Before we begin the retreat, I have some advice for those who plan on making it over the course of a weekend. If this describes you, then please continue reading. If, however, you plan on making the retreat over a longer period of time, then feel free to skip this section and begin Part One  but before you go, I have one practical suggestion. (Don't worry weekenders, this will be short.)

Some people find talking things out to be a helpful way of absorbing spiritual insights. If you're one of those people, you might want to consider making this retreat with others — a group retreat. This can be done when everyone in the group reads the same sections of the retreat and then gets together regularly to discuss what they've read. (If the group becomes larger than, say, 12 people, then you might want to think about dividing up into smaller groups.) People who've made this retreat in a group tell me they found it to be very fruitful. (Okay, all those who aren't making this retreat in a weekend can go now.)

So, you want to make this retreat in a weekend. Well, then you're probably interested in hearing some suggestions as to how you might schedule your time. That's what I'll be offering in this section. As you read my suggestions, please keep in mind they're simply that, suggestions. They're not set in stone. Still, if you've only got a weekend, following them will help you to finish the retreat in that amount of time. Speaking of time, I don't recommend dipping deeply into the "References and Notes" section if you want to finish in a weekend.

Before presenting my suggestions for scheduling a Consoling weekend, I should make one general recommendation: Try to keep distractions to a minimum. People who make a Consoling weekend are often surprised at how many distractions suddenly come out of nowhere. Don't be discouraged by this. Distractions will happen. Having said that, there's a lot you can do to prevent a good number of them. For instance, you might want to schedule your weekend at a retreat house. Or, if you make the retreat at home, you might want to prepare a relatively quiet place where you won't be distracted by the phone and where those you live with will know not to disturb you....

© Matt C. Abbott

 

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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication, Media and Theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He has been interviewed on MSNBC, NPR and WLS-TV in Chicago, and has been quoted in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. He can be reached at mattcabbott@gmail.com.

(Note: I welcome thoughtful feedback from readers. If you want our correspondence to remain confidential, please specify as such in your initial email to me... (more)

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