Dave Gregory on Education and Kairos

May 6, 2013 § Leave a comment

Today, Dave Gregory returns to The Ignatian Educator with a meditation on one of the central experiences of Jesuit education, the Kairos retreat.

The Kairos Sacrament

May 6, 2013

By David Gregory

In the spring of 2004, I traversed the wilds of Staten Island with two dozen of my sophomore classmates to make the famous “Quest” retreat, better known in other Jesuit schools as “Kairos.” I didn’t know what to expect, although I certainly was a bit jealous of the cultish attitude surrounding the retreat’s alumni and those “waffle” crosses they so proudly bore around their necks. (I would learn years later that these are in fact Jerusalem crosses, distributed to the solid majority of Kairos alumni from Jesuit schools all over.)

The particulars of my retreat escape my memory, and I can’t remember my leaders or the talks they gave. However, I do remember this much: at some point during one of the central exercises, I thought to myself, “If this is what Jesuit education is all about, I want to be involved with it in some way, shape, or form for the rest of my life.” That singular thought has defined the following decade of my existence. It has sent ripples — and occasionally shockwaves — rambling through my life, and has led me down a road my teenage self could not predict. Teenage Dave would have been amused and shocked, maybe even a tad horrified, if he knew what was to come.

Nowadays I view Kairos as the peak of Jesuit secondary education, the experience toward which the lives of students flow and the experience in whose light these lives will forever remain. I’ve spoken with dozens of alumni from Jesuit high schools, and it seems that just as the Spiritual Exercises unite Jesuits, Kairos binds Jesuit schools’ alumni. Just as the Exercises set the Society of Jesus apart from other religious orders, Kairos sets twenty-first century Jesuit institutions apart from any other mode of secondary education.

I can’t speak about the particular details of Kairos, lest an unsuspecting student stumble upon this writing in an attempt to unveil the retreat’s clandestine happenings, but I can say this much: Kairos provides a window into who we are and who we’re meant to become, both as individuals and as a community. Ryan Maher, S.J., one of my professors in college, had a list of what he liked to call “Catholic axioms,” or principles upon which the Catholic imagination rests.  My favorite of these is this: “Faith is not so much about the constancy of the gaze as it is about the intensity of the glimpse.”

Everything in Catholicism bends toward these glimpses, thus bringing us into moments of (in the Greek) ekstasis – ecstasy – in which we find ourselves drawn out of ourselves. In engaging the Sacraments, we celebrate milestones of life worthy of being lifted up and named: initiation, community, vocation, and illness, moments which are linked to the life, death and resurrection of the Christ. In grasping “sacramentals” (religiously charged items such as rosaries, crucifixes, and holy water), and in beholding religious artwork and iconography, Catholics experience a world that is not entirely our own, a world that will be the culmination of all finite existence. Glimpses serve as a reminder that nothing we now know is perfect, that we are in the world, but not of it.

These things fill our hearts with yearning for preternatural life; they hold us in a non-sexual ecstasy, and though they belong to the immanent, they point toward the eternal. This holy longing remains central to the Catholic imagination and compels us toward a reality that lies outside of space and time. As Catholics, we dream of this, we hold it dearly and live it. We try to communicate its meaning, but this task proves impossible.

Kairos presents the culture of Jesuit secondary education with a profound little “s” sacrament, in which the difference between chronos (the temporal) and kairos (the eternal) is fuzzy at best. It shatters the quotidian high school world, and students leave feeling shaken and transformed. Is there a more powerful sign of the agency of grace than the awareness that things are — somehow — different? I remain unconvinced that there is.

Dave Gregory

Dave Gregory

Dave Gregory graduated from Manhattan’s Regis High School in 2006 and from Georgetown University in 2010 with a double major in philosophy and theology. Prior to coming to Xavier, Gregory was in the Jesuit novitiate in the Maryland province of the Society of Jesus. Gregory’s interests include Ignatian spirituality and the practical implications of the Spiritual Exercises for secondary education. He can be reached at dgregory@xavierprep.org.

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