Learning to Pray Online

Author of ‘Do-It-Yourself Retreat Guides’ Explains Innovative Tool

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If growing in prayer was always challenging, today it is harder than ever. That’s one of the reasons Legionary of Christ Father John Bartunek decided to create «Do-It-Yourself Retreat Guides» as an online resource for Catholics seeking a tool to help them «create space for the Holy Spirit» each month.

Father Bartunek’s next set of retreats are to be released in the coming days, in time for next week’s celebration of Ash Wednesday.

ZENIT asked Father Bartunek about the guides and about using the Internet to grow in one’s relationship with Christ.

ZENIT: You are constantly writing, speaking and preaching about ways to grow in the spiritual life. Why did you decide to start producing these «Do-It-Yourself Retreat Guides»?

Father Bartunek: We started producing the Retreat Guides for three reasons, basically. First, since Day 1 of his Pontificate, Benedict XVI has been insisting on the primacy of prayer in the life of every individual Christian, and in the life of the Church. If we aren’t growing in our prayer life, we simply can’t grow in our friendship with God. But prayer is tough. Especially in a post-Christian, post-modern world. An authentic spiritual life is radically counter-cultural. So we all need help to go deeper in our prayer life. The Retreat Guides are tools designed to help people do that.

Second, the Holy Father has also been insisting — again and again — on the importance of finding creative ways to evangelize the Digital Continent: the new area of human exchange that is being built by the Internet. The Retreat Guides bring nourishing Catholic spirituality to people in a brand new way through this medium.

Third, my own religious order has been making a lot of adjustments in how our men spend their time. We have been consolidating small religious communities into larger communities. As a result, we are no longer present at all in specific cities or geographical areas where members of my order used to preach retreats on a regular basis. We are hoping that the online, Do-It-Yourself-Retreat Guides can continue serving the people in those places where we can no longer serve person-to-person.

ZENIT: Can you explain what a Do-it-Yourself Retreat Guide is and how it can be used? Can a person really learn how to pray, or grow in prayer through an online tool?

Father Bartunek: A new Retreat Guide comes out every month. Each one is available in video format, but also in audio and PDF — so you can watch the Retreat Guide, listen to it, or read it. Each Retreat Guide includes five elements: an introduction, two meditation-starters, a conference, and a personal questionnaire. 

The Introduction is a two-minute video opening up the major themes of the Retreat Guide. Each meditation-starter is an eight- to 10-minute video where I make some reflections on a biblical passage related to the theme of the month. At the end of each of the meditation starters, there are questions for reflection or discussion, and Scripture passages to foster personal prayer. The conference is an instruction about some aspect of our Catholic faith related to the monthly theme, and it is followed by a personal questionnaire designed to help people apply what they learned in the conference to their daily lives.

The entire package is designed to help an individual person or a small group to spend some quiet time with God, nourishing their souls in prayer and meditation on the truths of our faith. The clear structure of the Retreat Guides definitely makes it easier for busy people to quiet down and focus on God. Every Retreat Guide is also kind of a real-time workshop about how to engage in Christian meditation.

ZENIT: How important would you say a monthly retreat is for growth in the spiritual life? Is the idea of a monthly retreat something that’s been in use for centuries or is it new?

Father Bartunek: Among clergy and religious, the concept of a monthly retreat day or «desert day» goes way back in the history of the Church. I know some of the new ecclesial movements have also adopted this tradition for their lay members. 

In today’s world, which is so fast-paced, noisy, and distracting, it’s more important than ever to carve out quiet time to be alone with God, or to reflect together with other people of faith on the deep Catholic truths that nourish our souls. It’s no longer enough simply to attend Mass on Sunday, at least, not if we really want to reach maturity in our Christian life. Society no longer supports our Christian values or world-view, so we need to intentionally create space for the Holy Spirit to give us the support we need directly.

ZENIT: What is the profile of a Catholic who will find these guides useful? And what has been the response so far?

Father Bartunek: Any Catholic who sincerely wants to go deeper in their prayer life, whether they are a beginner or a veteran in prayer, will find the Retreat Guides useful. You can use the Guides in many different ways, so they are easily adjustable to whatever stage you find yourself in. 

So far, the Retreat Guides have been used by a wide variety of people: men and women, college students and retirees, clergy and laity, individuals as well as whole families and small groups. The feedback we have received so far has been exactly what we were hoping for: people have written telling us that the Retreat Guides have helped them go deeper in their relationship with Jesus Christ — so much so that a lot of our users are now starting small groups and sharing the resource with their friends. They have commented on the beauty of the production as well as the vitality of the content. You can see some testimonies on the Web site at www.RCSpirituality.org

We are really pleased with the response, and we are hoping that as the word continues to spread, we will have enough users to be able to continue offering this creative resource for free.

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On the Net: 

The next Retreat Guide, «The Colors of the Cross: A Retreat Guide for Lent,» is scheduled to be available by Ash Wednesday. Previous guides are all still available for free online at www.RCSpirituality.org.

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Kathleen Naab

United States

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