“Why should I go on a retreat? How is it different from reading or praying on my own?”
I commend your private prayer and spiritual reading, both are important for building a relationship with God, and I frequently recommend the need to make daily prayer a priority. But I have found that retreats will give me spiritual tools I can use to improve that daily prayer, often renewing it when it has grown dry and stale.
Throughout the Gospels, Christ periodically takes time to step away from the world and others, to be alone with His Father in prayer. I do hope you are able to find such moments in the midst of your daily life. But in my experience, I also need to set aside specific and more extended times, as renewed intimacy cannot happen without making the time and place to take a break from the stress, noise and pace of life.
Sometimes our Lord invites his followers to move into an even closer friendship by calling them to join him on retreat. We see this in the gospel of Mark, chapter 6, when so many people were coming and going the apostles had no leisure, not even time to eat, so Jesus said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
Retreats give us a unique opportunity to concentrate on prayer more than we do in everyday life. They are a chance to make time to experience God’s presence and reconnect with Him. (And if you don’t have time for or are tired of cooking, retreats provide home-cooked meals as well, and no dishes!)
A retreat will include times of individual meditation, Eucharistic Adoration, worship through the sacraments and liturgy, and reflection on the topics and scriptures. All this combines with the silence for a deeper prayer experience which happens because we’ve removed ourselves from our day-to-day busyness and distraction and can listen more closely to God.
By taking the time to reflect, retreats offer an opportunity to examine and clear-away obstacles that can block us from fully loving God. In the same way that retreats allow us to reset our rhythm of life, they allow the time to experience the gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and clear our lives of the sin that separates us from God and others.
Retreats will not magically change the mess and confusion of our lives into beautiful lives-of-the-saints stained glass windows. But they can be the crucial beginning to a transformative journey with Christ and receiving the healing he brings.
Thanks to the insights of our retreat masters and the work of the Holy Spirit, stepping away from the world and leaning into God’s love, we have an amazing opportunity to understand our faith in a whole new way and claim it as our own. Retreats can show us how to change our lives, encounter the Father in new ways, give ourselves to Christ and truly transform our prayer.
As you may know, we priests are required to make a retreat every year. But every few years I have chosen to make a second retreat. Beforehand I will wonder if it is worth all the hassle, time and money it takes to make the arrangements and go. But afterwards, I have never regretted the decision, and indeed I usually ask myself, “why did I wait so long?”
Making time for prayer or a retreat involves a simple choice: is this going to be a priority or not?
Pray about making a retreat and see how your heart moves in response. God has great things in store for you, and a retreat might be just the next step that you need!