Fr. Stephen Dyas, LC, shares his Spiritual Exercises Experience
Before sunrise I paced up Mt. Arbel for the last time and was getting ready to do my last meditation. On the way, I promised the Lord that I would not take any pictures that morning, despite how beautiful were the sky, mountain and sea. I only wanted to be fully with the Lord for those last hours, and just take it all in. I have to confess that there was one picture I just had to take! This was one of my favorite pictures, but it wasn’t my favorite place.
My pilgrimage to the Holy Land was closely connected with several of our dear consecrated sisters in Regnum Christi. In September this year Emanuelle Pastore invited me to accompany her group from France. This was something I have been longing to experience, so I agreed without too much delay. Then Lauren Hawkesworth, a Consecrated Woman of Regnum Christi, suggested that I do my annual silent retreat while there, and that Celine Kelly, another Consecrated Woman, would be a good director for me. Celine lives in Magdala and has a Master´s degree in the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, from the Loyola University Chicago. God proved himself faithful once again by giving me an incredible experience!
Freedom was the key attitude and spirit that lead me throughout the whole retreat. One of my main inspirations was to see how freedom and grace are intimately connected. The more we use our freedom, on one hand, the more dangerous it can be, so God also accompanies us with more of his grace. Celine was very good at truly allowing the Holy Spirit to do His work in my soul. I felt that she totally listened to and understood what God was doing in me. She especially suggested Bible passages that would enhance the experience of God that I was already having. She also showed a solid knowledge of the spiritual exercises.
The archeological discoveries on our Magdala property are astounding, especially the first century synagogue. Since I was moved by the Temple in Jerusalem during the pilgrimage, I liked remembering it while at the synagogue on the property. Celine tactfully used these features and the surrounding locations to help me have a deeper experience of Jesus. I loved the bench area by the Sea of Galilee, the Boat Chapel with the pillars of the twelve Apostles, and the entrance to the main chapel, with the seven pillars of different women in the New Testament. Capernaum, the Primacy of Peter, the Mount of the Beatitudes are only about an hour walk away, and I jogged to some of those places to pray. The House of Peter in Capernaum, right on the shore of the Lake of Tiberias, was one of my favorite meditations.
After a good breakfast by myself, Celine and I met once per day at 9:00 am when she offered meditation points for the rest of the day. We either met in the side chapel of Peter walking on the water and Jesus saving him, or in the Mary Magdalene side chapel. Once we met in the Calling of the Apostles side chapel, or other times outside at one of the sites. From there I scheduled my five one hour long meditations throughout the day, and the theme for each one. I said Mass in one of the chapels or in the St. Joseph Chapel at the entrance of the Guest House, sometime in the morning. I was also able to say Mass for the volunteers, and for the consecrated women, in the side chapel dedicated to the daughter of Jairus. There are plenty of beautiful places in the center or on the property to pray the breviary and rosary, along with our other usual acts of piety. I also just liked praying or reading on the balcony of my room.
A few occasional encounters with people, like hearing a confession or two, were not a distraction to my prayer or the exercises, but rather a moment to be Jesus for souls in that very moment, and to allow Jesus to enter into the real exercise of my daily life. One day I wore my New York City Marathon shirt while running up Mt. Arbel. After passing cows and seeing some deer on the way, I ran into a woman who saw my shirt and noticed she had celebrated her 70th birthday on the very same date as the Marathon!
God allowed that Fr. Simon Devereaux , LC, and Lauren Hawkesworth would be visiting Magdala with a group while I was there too. Their visit coincided with the day of my baptismal anniversary, the 22 February, Feast of the Chair of St. Peter. That day we were able to have Mass at the Primacy of St. Peter. Miriam Orejas, who is also a Consecrated Woman, attended that Mass, as well as organizing other Masses for me and getting me a car to travel to Cana.
Celine explained to me that some experienced directors of the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius encourage sharing spiritual experiences with friends at a certain time during the retreat. These close friends would be the perfect occasion! God provided abundantly for me the day before my baptismal anniversary by allowing me to do my general confession. I celebrated that night with a glass of red wine at dinner!
On the eighth and last day of my retreat, the day of the theme of the resurrection, I drove to say Mass at Cana. St. John speaks of Jesus´ first miracle there “on the third day”, the third day being the day of the resurrection. The Holy Spirit showed me that heaven, our future life with resurrected bodies, will be the eternal wedding feast of total union with God.
My one last picture came as I finished running down the mountain to “go tell my brothers that I am risen”. I arrived to the Guest House and I ran by the Jesus and Mary Magdalene statues. I saw Mt. Arbel so clearly in the background, the very rocks on which I was sitting, and where Jesus himself may have prayed. There I was telling the Lord, “Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you”. He was telling me to “feed my sheep”, and to “go tell my brothers that I am risen”, and that “once you have been strengthened, strengthen your sisters and brothers”. I broke my simple promise, and got that last picture with Jesus and Mary Magdalene. This picture warmed my heart and soul as much as it did my glowing face.
Being in the Main Boat Chapel at the Magdala Center was my favorite place of all in the Holy Land. There we have Jesus really present, here and now, today. It is great to visit where he was, and to know him from the past, but it is even more important to experience him where he is now. Now, he is the Eucharist! “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God”, and in my RC consecrated sisters, my LC brothers, and in family and friends who made this experience possible. It was an experience of total trust and abandonment to the Lord, in total freedom and God´s grace; “Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you”.
Learn more about the Magdala Center here.