Retreat brings deeper perspective

Authenticity, identity and appreciation for the value of silence were all valuable touchstones during the recent Jesuit Education Australia Combined Boards retreat at Sevenhill.

 FINDING GOD IN ALL THINGS 

Over the weekend of 19 to 21 May, some 50 College board directors, partners, JEA directors and staff descended upon the Sevenhill Retreat Centre in the Clare Valley for the JEA Combined Boards retreat. This was the first time the retreat could be held since 2019 and it was with great anticipation and warmth that directors renewed many friendships with their counterparts across state borders.

We were graced with the presence of many Jesuits at the retreat, including our Provincial Fr Quyen Vu SJ and the many Jesuits who serve on our College boards. Fr Brendan Byrne SJ, scripture scholar, led the retreat and we were treated to four thought-provoking talks from him over the weekend, all united in the theme of Partnership with Christ in Mission. 

Fr Brendan started with the theme of “Finding God in all Things” and invited us to reflect on why we were there.  A simple question, you may think, but one which caused profound reflections to emerge once we considered the context of our shared mission of Jesuit education.

Our next theme was “Discernment” with an instructive journey through the concepts of consolation, desolation, the good spirit, the bad spirit and inordinate attachments which can obstruct our freedom to respond generously to God’s will.

Fr Brendan Byrne SJ. Photo: Australian Jesuits

Fr Brendan then changed pace with a deep theological exploration of “Trinity and Mission”, inviting us to ponder, among other things, Henri Nouwen’s writings on True Identity and seeing ourselves and our work  through the eyes of the Trinity.

On our final day, we heard Fr Brendan’s thoughts on “Living in the Christian Community Today”. This spoke authentically to the realities of teaching in Catholic schools within an increasingly secular world. We examined the three main stages of human development of Infancy, Adolescence and Adulthood and, through Friedrich von Hugel’s theory, their link to the three stages of religious instruction:

  • Institutional instruction and the importance of ritual and sensory experience in childhood
  • A critical and analytical stage, corresponding to the questioning and sometimes robust and challenging time of adolescence
  • The mystical stage inviting wonder and awe as an adult, continuing to explore and grow in faith

I jotted down in my notebook many gems from Fr Brendan over the time of the retreat:

  • The irruption of the spirit impels us in the world.

  • A sound of sheer silence, or a sound of silent stillness; the sensation of gentle calm is so palpable as to be virtually audible. Those from the city often hear in the country an audible absence of sound.

  • Consolation isn’t being always on a spiritual ‘high’ (a ‘Wow’). For the most part, it’s like the oil that keeps a machine going along smoothly and peacefully.

  • Coals around the edge of a fire may be black and dull; however, when they are raked back into the centre again, they show their red and gold glowing colours.

  • Holding a treasure in clay jars, the Church has always carried this treasure through the ages but done so in human vessels that are breakable and fragile.

JEA Combined Boards Retreat

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Attendees of the Jesuit Education Australia (JEA) Combined Boards retreat at Sevenhill, SA. Photo: Jennie Hickey.

Through these metaphors and many other examples, Fr Brendan was able to keep our attention closely and we balanced our deep listening with personal time, prayer and conversation. We were grateful for the experience of spending such valuable time in the company of our colleagues.  Many stories emerged over mealtimes, with much laughter and assistance from the fruits of the Sevenhill winery.  

Over the weekend, we also had the opportunity to tour the magnificent Sevenhill grounds with Director Fr Rob Morris SJ and learn more about the origins of the Jesuit ministry in Australia.  On Saturday evening we rejoiced in Mass in the historic St Aloysius’ Church with Fr Brendan as presider and assisted by the Parish Priest, Fr Kieran Gill SJ, in the company of Sevenhill parishioners.

Our most heartfelt thanks are expressed to the Sevenhill Retreat Centre and staff and all our board directors, who continue to make such a significant voluntary commitment to the mission of our Colleges. A very special time of re-connection, renewal and refreshment.

By Nicki Patten, Executive Director, Jesuit Education Australia

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