A profound and multifaceted spiritual memoir, framed by the time-honored Jesuit practice of prayer, reflection, and humility
From the day Paul Mariani arrives at Eastern Point Retreat House to take part in the five-hundred-year-old Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, he realizes that his expectations and assumptions about who he is, what he knows, and what he believes are about to change radically. In this profound memoir Mariani blends a brief life of St. Ignatius and meditations on the life of Jesus with the day-to-day unfolding of thirty days of silence at the retreat house. His journey of introspection, self-revelation, and spiritual renewal leads him to a new understanding of his relationship with God and of what it truly means to put others before oneself.
In laying open his journal from a 30-day retreat based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, Mariani, a writer and English professor at Boston College, allows the world to look in on a highly personal time in his life. His gracious and courageous invitation is not for everyone, however. Those considering the "Long Retreat" with Ignatius's Exercises may benefit from an intensive look at one man's encounter with this time-honored method for contemplation and reflection, but reading his book will require something of the endurance needed to undertake the retreat itself. Mariani has tried to provide a sense of what daily life is like at a retreat center by including observations about the food, the weather and his personal habits along with the progress he is making in his reflections on the Scriptures. But by the second week of his accounts, this pattern becomes tiresome and repetitious, even though the menus change. The cycle of eating, sleeping, walking, meditating and meeting with Mariani's spiritual director communicate the routine of the retreat but sometimes get in the way of his more substantive message about its spiritual content. Readers who persevere, however, will be rewarded with some wonderfully tender moments from Mariani's 30 days, particularly those concerning his once-fractured relationship with his wife, Eileen.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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January 27, 2003
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Excerpt from Thirty Days by Paul L. Mariani
By the term "Spiritual Exercises" we mean every method of examination of conscience, meditation, contemplation, vocal or mental prayer, and other spiritual activities, such as will be mentioned later. For just as taking a walk, traveling on foot, and running are physical exercise, so is the name of spiritual exercises given to any means of preparing and disposing our soul to rid itself of all its disordered affections and then, after their removal, of seeking and finding God's will in the ordering of our life for the salvation of our soul.
-St. Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises
tuesday, january 4, 2000
4:00 p.m. An ordering, as in a set of directions for getting there. And so, finally, by map, northeast of Boston and east of Gloucester, to a room (call it a cell) facing the North Atlantic. Beginning to settle in-whatever that means-here at Gonzaga Retreat House on Eastern Point, a place run by the New England Jesuits, preparing for a Thirty-Day silent directed retreat. Oh boy!
Drizzle and fog all afternoon, inside as well as out. Damn hard leaving Eileen. I could see she was keeping herself busy cleaning shelves, doing laundry, writing notes. Anything to keep her mind off the fact that in a short while her husband would walk out the door for five weeks, with two half-day visits only, and those on the eleventh and twenty-first days of the retreat. I too dithered about as long as I could, and then-at a quarter to one-kissed her goodbye and drove east along Route 2, past Gardner, Fitchburg, and Lexington, then onto Interstate 95 heading north around Boston, then east, and so to Gloucester. One hundred and fifteen miles. A two-hour-plus trip.
In the hours before I left, everything took on added significance. It was almost as if I'd been going off to war, or to a hospital from which I might not be returning. The truth is you can no more rehearse separation than you can death. I packed-casual stuff, for there will be no formalities here, no grand dinners, no events. Just the daily round of silence and prayer and meetings with a spiritual director. And at this point I don't even know if my director is a man or a woman, though I hope it's a Jesuit.
The place is officially called Gonzaga, after Aloysius Gonzaga, a Jesuit saint-an Italian nobleman of the illustrious Gonzagas-who died at the age of twenty-three caring for plague victims. The place took his name because he was young and this was once a Jesuit retreat house for high-school boys before being turned into a general retreat house some forty years ago. Everywhere a faded glory still hangs about the place: in the fine wood paneling and molded ceiling decorations, all dating back to the early 1920s, when the main house, built in a combination English Tudor and French country-estate style, was still a private residence with a commanding view of the Atlantic. These jerrybuilt, ugly aluminum windows and doors and the added wing that once served as a dorm for students on retreat, and which now houses other retreatants, look to have been added in the '50s, perhaps the worst decade ever in American architectural history.
A mix of rubbed splendor and practicality: like the Jesuits themselves. Good real estate turned to practical ends, rather like Napoleon's troops turning the Prado into stables for their horses. A place had to be found for retreats, and the Jesuits found it, here at Eastern Point. Still, one has all the luxury of living on an estate: walks along the Atlantic, three squares a day, heat, a roof over one's head, a room of one's own. Plus a spiritual director for the care and feeding of the soul. All this for thirty dollars a day, plus my undivided attention. Not bad. The only downside is living alone, in unbroken silence, praying every day for hours on end, and no movies, no TV, no radio, and one or two newspapers on a table for all of us to share. Still, I need this time, as the Psalmist says, as much as the thirsty deer that pants for water.