St Bueno’s Jesuit Spirituality Centre, Wales
A few months ago I was asked by the Epiphany Group of which I am a member to attend on their behalf a Jesuit Province Retreat on Ecological Conversion. The Epiphany Group is a Scottish network of spiritual directors trained and working in Ignatian Spirituality. I felt very honoured to be asked to go and it was very timely. Just recently the UN Secretary General António Guterres hit the headlines by declaring crisis has become a climate catastrophe. As we all know, from media reports if nothing else, this is an area of deep concern to the entire world, not least the Jesuits. Over a two year process of discernment Jesuits from across the globe came to the conclusion that this is one of four key areas – the Universal Apostolic Preferences – to be focused on in the next ten years. As they warned, all people of faith must learn to care for our common home and begin to collaborate, with Gospel depth, for the protection and renewal of God’s creation.
The retreat I attended in July was based on a book called Spiritual Journey for an Ecological Conversion: the Call of Laudato Si’ by Jéròme Gué SJ and Éric Chametant SJ and it was led by Dushan Croos SJ who is in the process of translating the book into English. A very similar retreat had been held at St Bueno’s a few months earlier by the provincials of the Jesuit Conference of European Provincials (JCEP) also on the topic of ecological conversion. There is a growing recognition of how urgent it is that every one of us is made aware – in the depths of our inner being through a kind of metanoia – that our relationship with Christ cannot be separated from our relationship with the earth: “Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue” writes Pope Francis in Laudato Si‘, “it is not an optional or secondary aspect of our Christian experience.” Laudato Si’ 11:216
The retreat at St Bueno’s was imbued with an atmosphere of prayer and urgency. It was held mainly in silence with a short challenging input every morning, a daily opportunity to speak personally with a spiritual director and various small group gatherings to share discernment of what God was saying to us individually and as a group. I felt people were listening with open hearts and ears to God, to each other and to the cry of the poor and of the earth. There was a depth of openness and honesty that I found inspiring and hopeful. We began by being encouraged just to go out and feel the beauty and preciousness of creation, to learn from the Book of Creation, as Dushan put it, not just the Book of Scripture; then we had to face the horrors of the damage we as individuals and a society have wreaked on our beautiful planet, but we ended with being encouraged to seek inner knowledge of Christ and to recognise that in order to love and follow him better we also need a more fitting relationship with creation. Throughout the whole retreat there was a dynamic towards the question. “How am I being called to change and what am I called to do?” As one of the small groups put it: “We need to embody the change we believe in.” Quite a challenge…