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Prayer in the 21st Century

March 9, 2012
We are about halfway through lent already, the point at which many people begin to think “why did give up chocolate?” or “why did I decide to get up earlier to pray before I start my day?” It’s also the point when many people feel the need for more spiritual nourishment in order to get through the second half of this penitential season.
While every parish, school, movement, or community is offering some sort of Lenten retreat or reflection, it is also true that every Catholic and their cousin is signing up for those retreats. What to do when retreat you wanted to participate in is full, or the days and times of available retreats don’t fit with your working schedule?
Social media to the rescue! Many well known Catholic organizations with established websites are offering on-line retreats. Each one is slightly different. An on-line retreat site offered by the Benedictine nuns of Holy Trinity Monastery in the UK has three retreat options: a “five minute retreat” option where you receive a podcast, some texts to meditate on and some questions to guide your reflections, every day for five days, as well as a dedicated “retreatline” e-mail that gives you direct access to the retreat guide. Two other options are the on-line group retreat and a one-on-one on-line retreat. In both cases retreatants are e-mail podcasts of meditations, texts to reflect on, questions for reflection, and access to a live chat forum with other retreatants (in the case of the group retreat) or Skype access to the retreat companion (in the case of the one-on-one retreat).
Other on-line retreats are similarly structured but organized differently. The Jesuit run website IgnatianSpirituality.com (a Loyola Press website) offers a lent-long retreat on its website. Those who follow the blog are advised to set aside 30 to 40 minutes a day for private prayer and reflection. Each day the “itinerary” for that day’s session is posted. It includes an opening prayer, a short introductory text on the theme of the day, and scripture passage to read, and a short reflection meant to spawn your own reflection. Additional materials are also suggested and links to blogger’s reflections on the theme of the day are also provided. The site also offers links to other prayers and reflections that traditionally make up the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, like a guide for the daily “examen”.
For those who are happy with the traditional, in-person form of making a retreat but want a little daily boost, several websites offer materials for daily reflection.  The Jesuits seem to be the leaders in this field. The Irish Jesuits run a website called Sacred Space that offers daily prayer guides that start with a formal opening prayer, a one-paragraph thought for the day, a scripture passage to reflect on, some questions to guide your reflection (if you need it) and a closing prayer. The prayer can be done in 5 to 10 minutes. The Jesuit run Loyola Press offers what they call “three minute retreats” that follow a very similar format.
While nothing compares to quiet prayer time with the Blessed Sacrament, these on-line prayer sites might be a useful tool to help maintain a balanced, daily prayer life or to help someone new to daily prayer ease into a daily prayer routine.

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