By Reverend Stefan Starzynski, Hospital Chaplain, Fairfax Innova Hospital,
In Residence at Saint Ambrose Parish, Annandale, VA
Patricia asked me to do the opening prayer for a group called ‘Lightworks’. I fully expected to do the opening prayer, eat a cookie or two, and say “Hi” to a few people and then be on my merry way.
Right from the start, I felt in my spirit that this was something for me. This began a “14” week journey with my fellow pilgrims. I was learning Christian contemplation using the exercises of Saint Ignatius. Many saints have said that every renewal of the church began with a renewed love for the Holy Word of God. I believe that is the Truth!
Reflections on my Lightworks Experience
3 Years Contemplating the Words of Jesus
Written by: Patricia Butler, St. Ambrose Parishioner
Four years ago, I would have been the most unlikely person to share my Catholic Faith with anyone- let alone write an article reflecting on the Fire in my Heart for Jesus Christ! And explaining how that Fire was ignited, is the first of many small and wonderful ever-unfolding miracles put in my life by Jesus…
You see, I left the Catholic Church in the 1980’s and I went on an ardent journey searching for God. Who is God? What is God? Where is God? I read just about every Holy Book of every world religion, trying to find the answers to these questions. . .
Then one day in August, 2013, I realized that the Catholic Church was right. Every thought in our mind, every word spoken and every deed can either bring us closer to God or push us further away from God. At that moment of realization – Confession, examination of conscience made sense. I had received Jesus back in my life. What I was soon to discover however, was Jesus had always been with me on my Journey looking for Him! It was time to discover what Jesus wanted to teach me, when I was born into a Catholic family in 1950.
Relying on Faith and the inspiration I received from the Holy Spirit, I regist
ered as a member of St. Ambrose parish in Annandale, VA. I went to confession, began attending Sunday Mass regularly and joined the group Jesus, Mary and a Cup of Joe to participate in the parish community life.
One Sunday, I saw a notice in the St. Ambrose Bulletin for Lightworks, by Fr. Joseph Tetlow, SJ. The notice jumped off the page at me. I was very interested in learning about Christian Contemplation (the exercises of Saint Ignatius Loyola) with the hope it would deepen my rediscovered Catholic Faith. So, I signed up for the 14 week personal retreat that started in January 2014. The first 2 weeks, I had a schedule conflict and could not attend the group sessions. Liem Le, the former President of the Christian Life Community in the USA, scheduled phone calls with me, to go over the materials each week, so I would not miss Sessions 1 and 2. From the start, I knew in my heart that the spiritual exercises were for me. The Lightworks journey began with reflections on our lives as gifts from God. Affirmations that God loves each one of us in an intimate and unique way. The sessions included scripture passages (words of God’s Love) to pray over and consider, using the techniques of St. Ignatius, taught weekly. At the group meetings, we would share the Graces that God had given us during week of contemplation, and learn the next lesson – God’s Divine Presence through the scriptures.
All the blessings and graces happened very unexpectedly for me. While reading the assigned scriptures, listening and talking about the scriptures, I began to feel this wonderful Presence. (A presence you feel when you go to Eucharistic Adoration or receive Holy Communion). My heart was filled with warmth and love. God’s Words had become alive for me in my heart.
With this gift from God being given to me, I started to long for more and more of His Presence. So I began attending Daily Mass, so that I could contemplate the scripture verses of the day (using the Lightworks methods of St. Ignatius) and listen to each of the Father’s talks about the daily readings.
I want to share with you my “Lightworks Session 3 experience” with you. We were praying to know the Spirit of Life working in the world and in each of us. While contemplating our assignment, Isaiah 40: 1-11 in Lightworks manual & various translations in the online Bible Gateway, I realized that the 1599 Geneva Bible translation, was the libretto for Handel’s Messiah, Part 1,which had been part of my musical studies in my youth. I went online & found the musical version of the Messiah. As I listened to the musical version of our Lightworks assignment, my heart began to open up in a way, I find hard to explain. The awesome beauty of the music coupled with God’s Words was so amazing! I got totally lost in the music and in God’s Words. I found myself playing The Messiah constantly during the entire week, when the music wasn’t playing; the songs were playing in my head, day and night, at home, at work and in the car! I started to realize that Jesus was teaching me in a personal way the words of Isaiah 40: “the Glory of the Lord shall be revealed to me and to all peoples. All people including myself shall see God’s Love & Glory. The mouth of God, speaks God’s Words!” God’s Love & Glory is in His Words.
My contemplative prayer experience began to shift from my head to my heart. I began to discover that God’s love is ever present in my heart. And God’s love is ever present in all hearts and in all creation! God’s love is all around me. God’s love is in everything.
As we were learning and practicing the wonderful techniques of St. Ignatius, my love experience of Jesus in my heart was deepening. The contemplations opened my heart’s awareness of Jesus’s love in each moment. I could hardly wait for the group meetings to share God’s graces. I looked forward to the group’s sharing and the prayer insights of each participant.
As the weeks progressed, the group’s sharing took on a totally new dimension. It was as though God’s love in my heart was being amplified through God’s love in everyone else’s heart. Their sharing’s made my heart burn with God’s love. It is hard to describe my group experience. Everything was alive with the fire of God’s love during our group prayer sessions. My heart, my eyes, my ears and my breath were alive with God’s loving presence.
Following the 2014 Lightworks retreat, I reaped many, many graces: Discovering that Jesus is alive in His Word, that it is Jesus who lives in my heart, discovering how to rest in my heart with the words of Jesus AND experience His Divine Presence during contemplation practices.
After the 2014 Lightworks Retreat, I continued participating in Lightworks 2015, and 2016. The love experience of Jesus in my heart became stronger and more profound. Each year, while the material in the manual remained the same, my gifts from Jesus were different. Like peeling back the layers of an onion, my heart “saw” and “heard” His Words on a new and deeper level. I found myself falling deeper and deeper in Love with Jesus and falling deeply in Love with my Catholic Faith.
The recognition that it is truly possible to (Philippians 2:5) “let the same mind is in you, that was in Christ Jesus” is incredibly healing. We do not have to know how to pray, but the Holy Spirit prays within us. (Romans 8:26). We just have to sit with His Word, pray on His Word. Treasuring the presence of His Holy Spirit in our heart. Sitting in the silence of my heart, praying on His Words, I can go into the depths of my heart. And in my Heart, I find this incredible Peace and Healing Love of Jesus Christ. Jesus share with me your love and blessings- breathing in your Grace, Breathing out your Grace…
In closing, I want to share another wonderful healing which I received as a result of the Lightworks retreat in 2014. This healing was truly a gift from Jesus to me. I woke up one morning right after the first year. I realized how happy I was to have come back Home to the Catholic Church. All the burdensome years of doubts & inner conflicts had dissolved into Jesus Christ’s fire of love! Now, every day, I wonder, how did I ever live this life without my Catholic Faith nourishing me? Strengthening me? And guiding me with the Joy of Jesus?
Today, I am filled with so much gratefulness. I have seen so many participants transform themselves and their lives as a result of the Lightworks Journey. A group Journey learning to Love with Jesus. A Journey where the group realizes, God’s love has always been present. Jesus is always waiting for us to open up our hearts and take the Journey with HIM. A personal and group Journey traveling with Jesus who is filling our hearts with the Holy Spirit and the fire of God’s love. With gratefulness, I invite you to come on the Lightworks Retreat 2017. Come and discover the wonderful surprises that Jesus has in store for you contemplating His Word. Share in this incredible opportunity to be with God in the silence of your heart, in the presence of Jesus and His Word. Come on a journey from your head to your heart in prayer, using the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. God Bless you. Hope to see you all next year!
Thanks to all the wonderful people who made this Lightworks program possible: Father Andrew Fisher, pastor of St. Ambrose Parish, Corinne Monogue of the Office of Multicultural Ministries of the Diocese of Arlington, Father Joseph Tetlow, S.J., Liem T. Le of the Lightworks Ministry of the Christian Life Community in the USA, and Father Stefan StarzynskI who joined the Lightworks Journey 2016 as a participant in St Ambrose.