Why a Retreat?
Making an annual retreat—a three-day weekend spent in silence, prayer, and directed meditation—involves a sacrifice for most busy people, whatever their age. It means putting a hiatus in one’s tightly packed schedule, three blank pages in one’s calendar from Friday through Sunday. It means giving up work and leisure activities, leaving aside phone and TV, separating oneself from family responsibilities and loved ones. Understandably, busy men and women are reluctant to do this. “Who has the time…?” they ask. “With my frantic schedule, how can I spare an entire weekend?”
Nonetheless, every year countless busy people manage to do just this. They bring their schedule to a halt and make an annual retreat. To look at it another way, they do what all busy and accomplished people do when they undertake anything important in their lives—they make the time for it.
For hundreds of years, the Church has experienced this fact about spiritual retreats: the busier people are, the more they need a retreat and the more they profit from one. Retreats are designed specifically for men and women who live rushed, active, normal lives in the middle of the world, people stretched to the limit with family and job responsibilities and with no time to spare.
Why do people like this, once they make the time for it, enjoy the experience of a well made retreat? Why do they return year after year and encourage family members and friends to join them? If you asked them, they would probably cite these reasons…
- From this distance, they grow to form a realistic perspective on their lives – present, past, and future. They see their life as God sees it and thereby recast their priorities. They see what’s really important in their lives and what’s not. They see new avenues for personal growth in family and work responsibilities. They see, often for the first time, God’s loving providential hand in their past lives, and His holy will for them now and in the years to come. Their lives make sense.
- They draw near to the heart of Christ through prayer, reading, reflection, the Eucharist, and the sacrament of reconciliation. For the first time since childhood, they express their love for God simply and ardently, and they grow to trust entirely in His promise, “Come to me all you who are heavily burdened and I will refresh you”… “Ask and you shall receive….” They grow in confidence.
- They pull themselves away, even for just a couple of days, from the rush and tangle of their busy lives—the phone calls, deadlines, scheduled appointments, and countless daily tasks that tug at their attention. They set aside all the “urgent” things and enjoy some much-needed peace and quiet wholly apart from their normal lives. They get freed of burdens of the past that weighed them down, troubled their peace of mind – worries and anxieties, personal conflicts, unresolved problems, buried-away but unforgotten tangles of conscience. With God’s help, they resolve these and find peace. They return from the retreat with a lighter heart and a clear conscience, the sheer delight of being alive and in the state of grace.
- Many make a retreat to approach God at some important turning point in their lives – marriage, entering upon a new job or career, arrival of a baby, or some serious personal or financial crisis – to find God’s will for them and ask His help to follow it. They seek and find Christ in whatever lies ahead. They put their future in God’s hands, and then they plan realistically, through concrete resolutions, how to carry out His will for them.
- They regard the time and cost of a retreat as a sacrificial offering most pleasing to God. Our heavenly Father showers gifts on us throughout the year, and He delights that we spend one weekend entirely alone with Him in prayer. In a retreat, we cultivate what St. Paul urged all Christians to do: “Show yourselves thankful” (Colossians 3:15). They come to see their life as a gift and they grow in gratitude, the basis for all piety and that heartfelt happiness that marks real Christian life.
- They know they’re giving good example to their children, a lesson that can influence their later lives. Children see how much their parents love God, value prayer, and take their faith seriously. They witness how their parents return from a retreat with renewed energy, optimism, and joy. And they remember. When they’re adolescents and young adults, they will be prompted to make an annual retreat themselves – and this could save their marriages, their lives, and their souls.
In his “Treatise on the Passion” St. Thomas More had this to say: “Our Savior knew when he would die, yet he was diligent to do those things he had to do before his death – even though He could have deferred his death until the time he chose, and in the meantime done everything at ease and leisure. But we are poor creatures who will die before we wish, and who cannot tell the time when, but even may die today. How urgent it is, then, that we make haste about those things that we must do, so that we may have nothing left undone when we are suddenly sent for and must go. For when death comes, the dreadful, might messenger of God, no king can command him, no authority can restrain him, no riches can hire him to wait past his appointed time even one moment of one hour. Therefore, let us consider well in time what words we are bound to speak, and what deeds we are bound to do, and let us say them and do them quickly, and let us leave unsaid and undone all superfluous things – and much more, all damnable things – knowing well that we have no empty time allowed to us.”