Fr. John Auther, S.J., is on the Pastoral Staff of the Jesuit Retreat Center in Los Altos, CA and a key spiritual advisor to Sacred Sorrows. He has served as pastor, associate pastor, high school teacher, campus minister and jail chaplain. Fr. John has always viewed retreat ministry as a wonderful way to serve the Lord and the people of God. We are thankful for his calling to retreat ministries, and his heart for the women of Sacred Sorrows.
The sun was just going down as the group of four retreatants gathered in September of the year which upended our lives -- 2020. They sat outside the Cave of St. Ignatius at El Retiro, the Jesuit Retreat Center of Los Altos -- eating supper, separated from each other by 12 feet and the cooling air. They each planned to spend 30 days of prayer, solitude, and silence making the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola in an environment that was ideal for “sheltering in place,” a phrase rarely heard before that fateful year.
One retreatant carried a special burden. The year before she had suffered the death of her 30-year-old son Chad. Having dedicated many years to writing Bible studies and giving retreats to women, Rita Morton was crying out for the need to bring her pain to the Lord. Miraculously, doors opened, and she now found herself at the Retreat Center for a retreat she hoped would answer the deepest questions of her heart.
After thirty days of tears, countless cups of coffee, and moments of immense and consoling grace, Rita emerged from the retreat with the conviction that God had a mission for her. The mission: bring mothers who had similarly suffered the loss of children to the retreat center for retreats and start a website where they could connect with others and experience some healing from God. In everything, the wisdom of St. Ignatius Loyola would help these mothers to find the grace that God was offering them in much the same way as that wisdom had helped her. And so, Sacred Sorrows was born.
Rita launched the website several months later, and 18 months after her retreat, the first Sacred Sorrows Retreat was presented at El Retiro: "A Mother's Love & Loss: Finding Peace after the Death of a Son or Daughter". The mothers felt the healing that Rita had experienced, and most return to help on subsequent retreats.
About one of the retreats, a mother wrote: “ . . . God reveals himself to each member of the group, and we learn more about unconditional love, faith, hope, and the potential for joy -- and the millions of ways the Lord shows up for us in the midst of our sorrow.”
Out of unspeakable grief and long hours of prayer, something healing for others has taken shape in Rita’s heart.
On the last morning of a Sacred Sorrows retreat, a simple ritual takes place. The mothers place the names of their children written on rocks into a cement circle. It is laid on a hillside overlooking the far mountains, and a plaque invites passersby to pray for the mothers and their children. The rustic place reminds all of us that God knows our sorrow, and we are all invited to carry each other’s pain.
If you would like to learn more about our upcoming retreats and afternoons of remembrance, click here.