Sister of Notre Dame Susan Kusz has spent the last two decades working in retreat and sabbatical ministry. She has served as the retreat center director for the Sisters of Notre Dame’s Toledo province, and she also spent 10 years on staff at Sangre de Cristo, a New Mexico-based sabbatical center for women and men religious. Kusz is currently a spiritual director and retreat director at the Jesuit Center in Wernersville, Pa., where she works with ecumenical lay people.
Why do Christians need retreat and sabbatical?
I think in order to give in mission and ministry, we need to be filled first. We need to receive from our God. I think retreat time can help us to do that, to remember who we are and whose we are. I’m sure you’re aware of the contemporary Christian artist Jason Gray. I love his song “Remind Me Who I Am.” I think when we fill ourselves up, and we’re nourished by God’s presence – knowing that God cares for us – we can go forward and bring that to others.
Have you seen an increased need for retreat and sabbatical?
There’s definitely a need and that probably grows even more so with our culture today. At the Jesuit retreat center, we’re pretty big into silence: the silent directed retreat or just a silent retreat, with the sense of allowing God to speak to us in that silence. The point being, then, that in our culture today we’re all so plugged in. There’s the Facebook, the Twitter, our phones, our iPads, our computers. Everything’s instant. We’ve gotten used to that, and we need to allow ourselves to slow down and allow God to speak.
Being a spiritual director must be heavy at times. What keeps you going?
When I was working down at Sangre de Cristo Center in New Mexico, one time we had a staff meeting and it got a bit contentious, actually. And our director said to us as a whole, “Remember, this is not about us. This is about the sabbatical participants.” And I’ve carried that into this ministry and to life in general.
Being a retreat director, spiritual director – it’s not about me. It’s about God. And to me, that is actually very powerful. Experiencing God’s presence, God’s living presence in the moment when I am with an individual, that’s what this ministry is all about. And I have vowed to God that the day I do not experience God’s presence is the day I need to leave this ministry. I really feel I need to be that in tune with God in my life. And if I’m not, then I don’t belong doing this. Because I am simply God’s instrument. God is really the spiritual director, the retreat director. It’s not about me.
What advice would you give to someone without immediate plans for a sabbatical or retreat?
I would suggest just starting with five minutes a day. Take your cup of coffee in the morning or your cup of tea at night – whatever it is – and just sit quietly and remember. If you do it at the end of the day, let your day pass by you; St. Ignatius would call it the Examen of Consciousness. Let your day pass by you, give thanks for the blessings. Invite God to be there with you in that moment as you review your day.
If it’s in the morning, take five minutes and just gaze. Sit with your schedule, with your calendar. Whether it’s on paper or on your device, look at that to prepare your soul, prepare yourself for that what’s coming that day. Can I give this to God? Can I ask God’s blessing for the meeting I’m having with someone that I know might be stressful? Can I ask God’s blessing for the luncheon date that I’m looking forward to with an individual that’s already a joy to get together with? And then trust. Trust that God will be there.
[Dawn Cherie Araujo is a staff reporter for Global Sisters Report.]