Weekend Retreat at Linwood
Spiritual Center, Rhinebeck, NY
"Reclaiming Wisdom in Challenging Times"
Presenter: Brother Don Bisson, FMS
Silent Atmosphere with Daily Spiritual Direction
March 6-8, 2010
The Spiritual Practice of 'Making Retreat'
When I was a young, pre-Vatican II Catholic, we spoke in Lent of 'giving up' things or, less frequently, of taking on some holy devotion like making the Stations of Cross daily or going to Mass on weekdays. We did not talk in terms of 'spiritual practice'. This is a term we have been blessed to be able to borrow from Eastern religions whose traditions are so much more familiar to us in light of the ecumenical thrust of the Council.
Whatever the vocabulary, the act of 'making retreat' has been a common part of Christian 'spiritual practice' since the earliest times. Devoted Christians have always sought to imitate Jesus in going apart, seeking a deserted place, removing themselves from the norm of life, to commune with the Father. We read the lives of saints and learn of their life-changing spiritual experiences while on retreat or pilgrimage. We know men and woman who have 'made retreat' in Lent or Advent or some regularly set time every year, marking off the days on their calendar in advance as surely as they mark the birthdays of those they love and want to be sure to remember. I have met men at Redemptorists retreat houses who would not dream of missing their annual retreat, proudly boast of their longevity in the practice, and have, in turn, initiated their sons.
As contemplative nuns our spiritual practice includes daily periods of silence designed for 'going apart' to "sit in your cell as if in paradise". (Rule of St. Romuald) Each of us picks one day a month for personal retreat and has a ten-day long retreat during the year. The community retreats together for ten days each year. For many years before entering this monastery occasional 'retreating' was my practice - weekends with a theme at a retreat house, long silent retreats with daily spiritaul direction, and once a solo vacation to a remote place that evolved into a spiritual experience of 'going apart'.
Regardless of the history of this time-honored tradition in our faith, regardless of the spiritual necessity of this discipline for those searching for God, the average Catholic has never been on a retreat and many do not even know what a retreat involves or would mean for them. Years ago I observed a very devoted women - wife, mother and grandmother - attend Mass daily and exercise various ministries in the parish. When I found the opportunity I recommended an 8-day silent retreat in which she would get some input and have daily spiritual direction. In response, she told me that her priest/spiritual director told her she was "not ready for such an experience"! I still feel that his assessment was a diservice to a woman of great faith.
The number of books concerning spirituality on the shelves of mega-book stores gives testimony to the general hunger for God present in people today. Many practicing Catholics, if asked, will express their inner desire for more, more of God than what happens for them in their parish at weekly Mass. "Making a retreat" - a half hour in a day, an hour a week, a weekend every now and then or a week each year would be spiritual medicine for such as these. A retreat is an effort to stop, to waste time with the Lord, to smell the roses, to sense the gift of God in their aroma, to hear what God might be offering in love in this very moment, to feel the embrace of the Almighty.