Br. John Raymond
Retreats have always been a yearly practice for religious men and
women. It is just as important a practice for the laity. About an
hour's drive from our monastery is St. Joseph's Abbey. The Trappist
Monks offer retreats for men. A good lawyer friend of ours makes it
a yearly practice to make a retreat there - so do men from every
walk of life.
Why they do it? Reasons for making a retreat and types of
retreats can vary. But one thing remains common to all of them - a
break from one's normal daily routine and an immersion into a more
It is easy to become immersed in the many small details of daily
life. It is like hiking in a forest and getting lost because you
can't see over the trees. A retreat is like climbing the highest
tree in the forest to see clearly the direction one should go. By
breaking out of the daily routine by a retreat a person in enabled
to put direction back into his life or correct a wandering course.
The prayerful atmosphere and reflection of retreats also helps
one to rise above oneself to God. We are social beings. Just like
crackers that won't float long in soup without soaking up some of
the liquid, so we do the same with the social atmosphere with which
we are surrounded. The new and prayerful surroundings of a retreat
bring us into a more direct contact with the Divine.
Our Lord went off many times to a desolate place to pray. After
one of the apostle's missions of preaching Jesus told them to go off
with Him to a desolate place to rest for a while. So both Our Lord
and the apostles retreated from the crowds to rest with the Father -
to spend time in more concentrated and intimate discourse with Him.
They simply retreated or drew back as the word usually means. They
pulled back not to run away but to recharge their spiritual
batteries. There's an old saying, "You can't give what you don't
have." Another way of putting it is that you can't give someone a
drink from an empty well. It has to be filled with water. This is
another purpose of making a retreat - to fill our souls with God so
that we can go back out into our daily lives radiating His love.
Just as we can get lost in the woods we can get lost in our life
of prayer. A retreat can break us out of routine praying and teach
us new ways to pray. It can deepen the way we are praying already.
On directed retreats there is usually some opportunity for spiritual
direction from a priest. We can be helped to understand, improve or
correct our life of prayer. At times, God willing, individuals on
retreats receive inspirations or have special experiences from the
Living God. These can be life changing. Of course, all retreats
should have a life changing quality - we should be a different
person coming out of them.
We can make our own retreat or find a place that gives retreats.
But the point I would like to make here is that we need to make
retreats - at least once a year. If the Church requires it of
religious it means it is important. So let's get back on track or
stay on track in our spiritual life and life of prayer by making an