A step-by-step plan for spiritual enrichment, with two fully planned printable retreats.
By Sr. Angela Ann Zukowski, MHSH
Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate (“Rejoice and Be Glad”) offers Catholic educators an opportunity to reflect on our call to holiness in today’s world. The immediacy and particularly demanding attention social media requires has created a culture of distraction. Soon we discover our inability to embrace stillness, silence, and simplicity in our prayer. Amid the chaos of our lives, each day brings new obstacles, and we need prayer and stillness to balance it all.
In a 2006 address to the Bishops of Switzerland Pope Benedict XVI said:
Today, schools of prayer and prayer groups exist; it is obvious that people want them. Many seek meditation elsewhere because they think that they will not be able to find a spiritual dimension in Christianity. We must show them once again not only that this spiritual dimension exists but that it is the source of all things.
In this spirit, we turn to the practical wisdom and insights articulated in Gaudete et Exsultate (GE) to ground us in the beginning of our academic year. A retreat offers us an opportunity to reevaluate our primary goal as Catholic educators and realize that the quality of our attentiveness to our teaching is our path to holiness. Pope Francis writes:
My modest goal is to repropose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities. For the Lord has chosen each one of us “to be holy and blameless before him in Love” (Ephesians 1:4).
As Catholic educators, we need to discover the inner calm and balance that deepens our awareness of God’s continual presence and unconditional love in our lives and the lives of those we are called to serve.
Gaudete et Exsultate tenders a number of approaches and themes for designing a faculty/staff retreat for Catholic schools. I recommend that we look at Chapters 1, 3, and 4 as one approach.
In Chapter 1, “The Call to Holiness,” we read, “Holiness is the most attractive face of the Church” (#9). We are encouraged to discern our own path, applying our personal gifts instead of trying to imitate something not meant for us. “This holiness to which the Lord calls you will grow through small gestures” (#16). If we bear in mind that “each saint is a mission, planned by the Father to reflect and embody, at a specific moment in history, a certain aspect of the Gospel” (#19), we can contemplate what our mission is this year, semester, or moment in time as a Catholic educator.
Chapter 3, “In the Light of the Master,” sets the stage for a retreat concentrating on these words:
Jesus explained with great simplicity what it means to be holy when he gave us the Beatitudes (cf. Matthew 5:3-12; Luke 6:20-23). The Beatitudes are like a Christian’s identity card. If anyone asks: “What must one do to be a good Christian?,” the answer is clear. (#63).
Each Beatitude explored posits simple, practical steps for embracing a Beatitude Way of Living as the grounding for a call to holiness.
Chapter 4, “Signs of Holiness in Today’s World,” encourages us to reflect on a few spiritual attitudes that can prove meaningful for contemplating how to establish solid grounding that will sustain us along the way to holiness. In total, the spiritual attitudes provide a framework of “five great expressions of love for God and neighbor” (#111) that can energize our individual and community initiatives for ensuring that a Catholic ethos of holiness vibrates through our relationships with one another throughout our Catholic school.
Download and print these two fully planned retreats:
Retreat 1: Catholic Educators’ Call to Holiness in Today’s World
Retreat 2: “In the Light of the Master”
Tips for the Practice of Meditation
Allow a few minutes for introducing the practice of meditation: allowing God to speak in the silence of our hearts. This practice is to be encouraged at the beginning of regular faculty and staff meetings. Thus we create a culture of Christian meditation that nurtures our path to holiness and communion with one another.
Instructions for the practice of meditation are simple: While sitting very still with your back straight and your eyes closed, silently begin internally to repeat a single prayer word or aspiration. The ancient Christian prayer word Maranatha, an Aramaic word that means “The Lord is coming,” or “Come, O Lord”) is recommended. It is spoken as four equal syllables, as you breathe normally and give full attention to the word as it is said.
The essence of Christian meditation is simplicity: staying with the same word during the whole meditation. The idea is not to visualize but to listen to the word as you say it, letting go of all thoughts, images, and other words, and returning to the word if you become distracted. Silence means letting go of thoughts and being still with the Lord.
Set a timer or app with a chime tone for a few minutes, then enter into a period of silence. At the end of the meditation period, the sound of the chime will bring the meditation to a close.
Sr. Angela Ann Zukowski, MHSH, DMin, is a professor in the Department of Religious Studies and director of the Institute for Pastoral Initiatives at the University of Dayton.
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