August 12, 2020 – by Henry Frank
This story appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of "Jesuits" magazine, published by the USA East Province of the Society of Jesus.
In early March, Jesuit ministry changed nearly overnight. Emails poured in, summarized in the word “canceled.” Masses were canceled. Retreats were canceled. Even Holy Week, for a moment, seemed like it might effectively be called off.
But with remarkable speed toward the end of the Lenten season—no doubt attributable to the adaptability innate to the Jesuit way of proceeding—the ministry of Ignatian spirituality moved online.
Jesuit parishes started streaming Mass online. Spiritual directors began offering direction on Zoom video calls. Some Jesuits took to social media to offer encouragement and spiritual accompaniment; Fr. James Martin, SJ, for example, introduced “daily faith sharing” to his followers on Facebook, streamed live from his Jesuit residence in New York City.
The Office of Ignatian Spirituality (OIS), a ministry of the Jesuit Provinces on the East Coast, began praying the Ignatian Examen online on Friday afternoons in a twenty-minute prayer service called “Examen Live!” More than 450 people signed on for the first event on March 27. It continued weekly through the Easter season, providing an opportunity for people to pause and prayerfully reflect about how God had been present to them.
OIS’s Ignatian Young Adult Ministries hosted a series of online discussion groups that gathered more than 60 young adults for prayer and conversation. It also hosted an online retreat for young adults during Easter week; more than 50 people participated.
For the Latinx community, OIS’s Comunidades Hispanas Ignacianas prayed the rosary and the stations of the cross via YouTube. OIS also hosted a series of educational lectures on Ignatian spirituality—the series was called “Finding God During a Pandemic.”
Jesuit retreat houses also moved parts of their ministries online. You did not need to travel to Gloucester, Mass., to make a retreat at Gonzaga Eastern Point Retreat House during Holy Week this year. More than 900 people signed up for their guided Holy Week retreat, organized and facilitated by Fr. Robert VerEecke, SJ. Participants received a daily email with a photograph taken somewhere at the retreat house to set the scene. The email also included other retreat materials: a spiritual reflection, suggested points for prayer, Scripture readings and various creative media to accompany prayer, such as a recording of a dance performance or a musical piece.
The staff of Loyola Jesuit Center in Morristown, N.J., started leading the rosary seven days a week via the center’s conference call line. Phone in to pray—no internet connection required.
Adapting to new circumstances has long been a forte of the Jesuits and their companions. The Ignatian spiritual disciplines of daily reflection and discernment, practiced over time, aim to cultivate a sense of detachment in the practitioner. Sometimes referred to as “spiritual freedom,” Ignatian detachment does not describe insouciance or a lack of empathy. It indicates an ability to resist undue attachment to the way things are, or to the things one desires, so as to remain open to the movements of the Spirit.
The pandemic has forced dramatic and rapid change in the way people relate to one another. In moving online, the spiritual ministries of the Jesuits on the East Coast have met the moment, recognizing the Spirit of God at work and adapting. Ignatian spirituality ministries look different for the time being, but the mission continues, and there is much consolation in that.
Henry Frank is Director of Communications at the Office of Ignatian Spirituality.