The Long Silence: Finding Jesus in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Near the end of December, two vans and a car pulled into the driveway of the Divine Word Missionaries’ (SVD) retreat center at Bay St. Louis, Miss., carrying almost a dozen young men who were about to embark on the most powerful experience of their religious lives. This group of novices from the SVD novitiate at Techny, Ill.—young men who just a year ago were students at DWC—were about to begin a 30-day retreat, most of which would be done in silence.

For the month of January, they would undergo an intense and profoundly intimate exploration of themselves while searching for—sometimes agonizing for—a much deeper relationship with Jesus; to find out if his way is the one that they could follow for the rest of their lives as Divine Word Missionaries.

Since early August, when their novitiate year began at Techny, they had been building to this event. Their day-to-day schedule of Mass, meals, classes, discussion, study, ministry and sleep were punctuated with periods of silence and ever-longer periods of personal prayer—all in preparation for the 30-day retreat.

Arriving on Dec. 30, and after their first taste of gumbo, they closed out 2015 and enjoyed New Year’s Day before beginning the retreat on Jan. 2. Following the traditional method established by St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, they began with three Disposition Days, to get used to prolonged silence, prayer, reflection and contemplation. The rest of the retreat was broken into “movements”—periods of days dedicated to a particular focus. Each day, they would meet briefly with their spiritual director to discuss what they experienced.

The First Movement was seven days where they focused on their own sinfulness—the power of good and evil, and how they have made decisions between the two over the course of their lives. After ten days, they were allowed a break day where they could speak with others. The Second Movement lasted ten days where they explored the life of Christ, from birth through his ministry, followed by another one-day break. The Third Movement focused on the passion of Christ for five days. The Fourth Movement focused on his resurrection for four days.

The last three days of the retreat, the Appropriation Days, were a time to go over the experience with their fellow novices and spiritual directors, affording a chance to “come down” from the entire experience. Each came away with profound insights. To many, the time allowed them to truly find Jesus and call him “friend.”

Here are four reflections.

Luis Carmona: “In the 30 day retreat, I was open to wherever God wanted to lead me, and I also built up my relationship with Jesus as a friend.”

Luke Henkel: “The whole retreat was about stepping back; it was not me getting in the way. It was God living through me. It’s very real during the retreat.”

Zach Smith: “The retreat was helpful in that reflecting on God’s presence in my life. I imagined walking with Jesus and saying, ‘Oh, you do love me and I love you, too,’ so it’s more of a relationship.”

Jorge Zetino: “I have wanted to find the purpose of my life. I went to DWC trying to find that purpose, I’ve been to novitiate to find that purpose, but I found it in the retreat in the first couple of days. Everything made sense for me.”

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