Deep Prayer: Learning to Listen to God
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Deep Prayer was experienced in meaningful quiet for 200 Catholics who gathered for a day of prayer and inquiry at Most Precious Blood Parish July 10. "Silence is golden", said retreat master, Deacon Bob Allen in the opening session. "Our purpose is to be quiet and listen for God speaking to us. We must listen in order to discern his will for our lives. Jesus often prayed alone. He suggests to us that it is necessary to be alone with God and pray in solitude. "

Deacon Allen, who serves at St. Philip the Apostle parish, has participated in many silent retreats. He was ordained to the diaconate in 2001. He designed the day's format. It featured four 30-minute talks or instructions, which provided issues for reflection and meditation in prayer in silence. The rule of silence applied at all times except lunch. "The meat of the day retreat is to still as we quiet down and relax from the chaos of normal life by praying over the issues suggested in the talks. ", he said.

The process included an introduction to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Written by the founder of the Society of Jesus around 1521, they are a program of sorts, which have provided guidance and encouragement to their readers for several hundred years. The aim of Spiritual Exercises is to assist people in finding God's will for their life, and to give them the motivation and courage to follow that will. Most of the day retreat material was drawn from the exercises. Questions included: Why am I here? How is my prayer life? How is my personal relationship with the Lord? For example, Deacon Allen made suggestions for a Catholic's prayer life which might include: daily Mass and Holy Communion, frequent reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, studying scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, daily Rosary, and the first Saturday devotions of Our Lady of Fatima. Participants could then reflect quietly on their own personal prayer life and listen for interior direction.

Deacon Allen also presented the Awareness Examen of St. Ignatius as a most highly recommended exercise to maintain purity of heart so that God can be found in all things. The Awareness Examen is a daily examination of conscience, which helps one develop spiritually. It leads to a more loving relationship with God and all people. It will help to develop a prayer life in which a person is more able to discern God's will for them. "My point is simple. Make time to pray for God's presence each day using the Awareness Examen. It reprograms me to walk toward Jesus, " Deacon Allen said. He listed three main points of the exercise: the desire for God's presence and His grace; the desire for Jesus to reveal who He is, enabling a person to better know, love and serve Him; and a desire to purify one's heart and discern God's will in order to imitate Jesus more closely. Handouts included A Dream Confirmed: An Introduction to Ignatian Spirituality, which provides additional information on the exercises.

Most Precious Blood Parish sponsored the retreat. Pastor Bob Dunn who celebrated the Mass that opened the day retreat said, "There are many ways to pray, each person has their own unique way of talking to God. In our desire to accommodate all our people and build the body of Christ, we have offered this program. We try to meet the needs of many different members of our community. " The retreat was free of charge, and included lunch, snacks and handouts in the parish hall.

Deacon Allen will conduct additional spiritual exercises in the form of weekend retreats in August at Our Lady of Corpus Christi from 5 p.m. Thursday until 1pm on Sunday. Other retreats are scheduled for fall of 2010. He will also conduct a 19th Annotation which is a retreat made while continuing one's daily life but setting aside time each day for prayer, reflection, combined with weekly instruction and sharing.