By VICTOR A. KRAMER, Commentary | Published May 15, 2014
Imagine that it might be possible to have a weekend, or two, within a stretch of 13 days where you could pray, attend Mass, have delicious meals and take, or listen in on, classes which would be a stimulant to your life as a Catholic? Imagine you could do all this as an auditor of serious college classes (“Easy Listening”) and not have to pay a lot. You might also take these manageable courses for credit.
This is possible right here in Atlanta this June, by attending all, or some, of the Spring Hill College Summer Institute of Christian Spirituality. The dates for Atlanta are June 16-29. (There is also a program in Mobile, Ala., June 1-13.) And the good thing is that you can do part of the Atlanta program, or all of it, and live at the Ignatius House Jesuit Retreat Center on Riverside Drive if you wish. It really can be like college and a retreat all at once.
Still more important, the overall subject of the institute this summer is “Pope Francis and The Joy of the Gospel.” These classes will look at some of the iconic expressions and themes of Pope Francis and ask where they come from. The classes will examine the spirituality, mission, and formation of the Jesuits as the source of a language that can help the modern world.
The first week begins in Atlanta with an introduction to “Prayer and Discernment.” This is a two-part evening course (second part online), which begins Monday, June 16, and runs four evenings from 6:30 to 9 p.m., taught by Father Christopher Viscardi, a Jesuit. Both prayer and discernment play a central role in the spirituality of St. Ignatius, especially in the dynamics of The Spiritual Exercises. The course examines the theology of prayer and the practice and theory of discernment as they have developed in the Christian tradition over the centuries. Part I will be offered during the four days of class and will focus primarily on prayer. Part II will focus on discernment and is offered online, with a flexible time frame, allowing students to complete the course any time before the end of July.
I can speak enthusiastically about these courses because I have taken them and profited from them. As both professor for Spring Hill, and as a graduate of the Spring Hill Spiritual Direction Certification Program, I know the quality of these programs. Details about the costs for credit, or audit, are available online, and from Roxanne Wilhelm, Spring Hill Atlanta site coordinator, who has an office at Ignatius House, 404-255-0503, ext. 229. (To register for college credit, the cost is $298, and for audit, “Easy Listening” the cost is only $125. Meals and lodging are additional and are available as well at Ignatius House.)
Following the first class, the first weekend unit will be given. Here the focus is particularly on Pope Francis. This course meets June 20-22, and is called “Pope Francis: the Man, Priest, Jesuit.” The instructor is Jesuit Father Mark Lewis. It will first address the social and family background of Jorge Maria Bergoglio, Pope Francis. Importantly, it examines some of the philosophical, theological and spiritual influences that have made Francis who he is today: the characteristics of his priesthood, his experience as a Jesuit and bishop. The course will examine these influences and the resulting perspective of Francis in three main categories: anthropology, Christology and ecclesiology.
During the second week, June 23-26, Father Viscardi will continue with an evening course from 6:30 to 9 p.m. called “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius I and II.” A manual for directors rather than a book to be read, The Exercises emerged out of St. Ignatius’ personal experience of conversion, and subsequently had a major impact on modern spirituality. Part I will focus on the conversions and life of Ignatius. Part II on the structure and dynamics of The Exercises will be given online with a flexible time frame, allowing students to complete the course any time before the end of July.
The second weekend, June 27-29, will be conducted by Dr. Timothy Carmody. The title is “Jesus and ‘the Culture of Encounter’.” This is a repeated phrase used by Pope Francis, which could be described as the openness to meeting people exactly where they are (in their beliefs, their culture, and needs). Pope Francis says, “If we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good.” This course will look at how Pope Francis uses this phrase and how he uses the parables and healings of Jesus to exemplify what he means.
The schedule for the two Atlanta intensive weekends begins on Friday with dinner (optional) and class 7 to 9 p.m.; on Saturday, class 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. with lunch at noon, and a social, dinner and Q & A with the professor at 6 p.m. Sunday has class 9:15 to 11:15 a.m., with Mass following at 11:30 a.m. Lunch is optional following Mass. Costs vary for credit, Easy Listening, and for meals and lodging at Ignatius House.
I suggest that potential participants go online. Call Roxanne Wilhelm. Put a package together, which will be informative, valuable, and spiritually rewarding.
Victor A. Kramer is professor emeritus of English at Georgia State University and a scholar-writer who is a certified spiritual director. He gives retreats at Conyers and teaches for Columbia Presbyterian Seminary in their faith formation program.