By Michele Jurich
The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola have been part of the daily life of Rev. William Watson, SJ, for more than 40 years.
In his doctoral thesis, Father Watson created "spiritual exercises in miniature" to stay attuned to his spiritual life. "I needed to do something to keep myself connected to God in my daily life," he said.
From his experiences, he knew he was not alone in seeking ways to keep that connection.
From his thesis grew the Sacred Story Institute, which Father Watson created because, he said, "We need a way to collect ourselves from the frenzied cultures we live in."
His book, "Forty Weeks," with the subtitle, "An Ignatian Path to Christ with Sacred Story Prayer," is a step-by-step guide for individuals to make that connection.
Father Watson, who is based in Seattle, Washington, visited the Oakland diocese last month, telling gatherings about the Sacred Story process at more than a half-dozen parishes.
His March 18 audience at Holy Spirit Parish/Newman Hall, near the University of California, Berkeley campus included not only students but older parishioners. He was introduced by Margaret Turek, diocesan director for Faith Formation and Evangelization.
"I'm doing this work," Father Watson said, because he sees "how important it is and how difficult it is to hear God in our hearts."
One way to do this, he said, is to set aside time each day he suggested one or two periods of 15 minutes for contemplative rest and reflection, free from technology.
"What people need is a daily discipline to be connected to what's true, what's real in their hearts," Father Watson said. "We bring ourselves to the mercy of God on a day-to-day basis."
Engaging in such a program, he said, is not a quick fix. Its very name, "Forty Weeks," describes the length of the process.
Among the elements for reflection in the process are: creation, presence, memory, mercy and eternity. Creation itself, Father Watson said, "is a love story given to us by God."
Father Watson has developed Sacred Story programs for adults, as well as for teens and for children. While the "Forty Weeks" program is completed by an individual, parishes can offer groups to support people following it. Father Watson showed a film of participants gathering in a Washington state church.
In the Diocese of Oakland, several parishes are considering hosting such groups, including St. Joseph Basilica in Alameda, St. Joan of Arc in San Ramon, St. Anthony in Oakley, Holy Spirit in Fremont and Holy Spirit/Newman Hall in Berkeley.
Additionally, youth ministers in the diocese have been invited to participate in the program.
Among the topics participants will explore on their spiritual journey, Father Watson said, are: What is my image of God?; What is your moral compass?; and What drives my daily energy toward success?
"When we ask for help, God enlightens and gives us inspiration," Father Watson said.
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