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‘Nine Days of Grace’ retreat feeds modern-day hunger for devotions

February 6, 2015
Christina Gray

The San Francisco Jesuit community is inviting busy Catholics, some of whom may have never done a novena, to prepare for Lent with an urban retreat held for an hour a day over nine days at St. Ignatius and St. Agnes churches.

The retreat, “Nine Days of Grace, A Busy Person’s Jumpstart to Lent,” runs from Feb. 9-17. Lent begins on Feb. 18. The retreat is free, but collections will benefit the Jesuit Refugee Service.

Sacramento-based Jesuit Father Michel Moynahan and Jesuit Father Craig Hightower, who co-presented Nine Days of Grace in their area last year, are presenters. The retreat was inspired and named after a compilation of prayers written by Jesuits that will be integrated into the nine-day format.

According to retreat organizer Jesuit Father Stephen J. Sauer, director of worship at St. Ignatius Parish, the retreat in Mass format was designed for those who want to deepen their relationship with God, but can’t “quit life” to do it.

“The benefit of any retreat is to take successive moments to assess our spiritual status, to pray and talk to God and have God talk to us,” Sauer said. Given how busy and noisy and active we are, he said, when we commit to a succession of days, “we go deeper.”

Retreat hour starts at St. Ignatius Church at 12:05 p.m. and St. Agnes Church at 7 p.m. Participants may attend either or both daily sessions. Fathers Moynahan and Hightower will preach on one spiritual principle a day – Gratitude, Discernment, Compassion, Justice, Mercy, Conversion, Charity, Prayer and Love of God. Personal daily prayer petitions will be included in the Mass on the day after they are offered, said Sauer. As graces are received, prayers of thanksgiving will also be shared, anonymously, but communally.

“For those that would like to stay after the liturgy, we will pause and pray with the relic of St. Francis Xavier,” said Father Moynahan.

The novena of grace is a traditional Jesuit Lenten devotion addressed to the saint who promised healing to those who implore his help daily for nine consecutive days.

Father Sauer said the retreat can satisfy a hunger today’s Catholic may feel for devotions and novenas, which have fallen out of practice and popularity since Vatican II.

“Long ago, you went to Mass because you had to, but you were fed by devotions,” he said, recalling his Sicilian grandmother saying the rosary throughout Mass during his boyhood.

“Today we are fed by the Eucharist,” he said. “That has become so central to us that devotions don’t have the same place in our lives,” he said.

But some devotions are worth bringing back, he said. They get people to pray and think about their faith and their relationship with God outside Mass.

“We’re recognizing that for something like 90 percent of Catholics now, their only contact with their faith is Sunday Mass,” said Father Sauer. “And Sunday Mass as wonderful as it may be is not enough to feed and form the faithful.”

This is the second year the San Francisco Jesuit community has collaborated to offer the retreat modeled after the successful daily retreats offered by the Jesuits in Oregon and Washington.

The retreats are standing room only in the Northwest, Father Sauer said. “The reason they have become so popular is because they are meeting a need.”

Nine Days of Grace “has its roots in the traditional Jesuit novena of grace, but it has been reframed for contemporary Catholics.

Father Sauer said the retreat functions as a shorter “spiritual exercises in everyday life” that were popular in St. Ignatius’ day.

Whether for a few days or for many, the Ignatian spiritual exercises have a common result, he said.

“I experience myself as unconditionally loved, yet falling short of God’s call, yet blessed and called again. And I keep trying that over and over,” he said.


Nine Days of Grace retreat: Feb. 9-17, 12:05 p.m. at St. Ignatius Church, 650 Parker Ave., San Francisco; 7 p.m. at St. Agnes Church, 1025 Masonic Ave., San Francisco. Visit ninedaysofgrace@gmail.com.

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