Evan is at Lake George, New York this week, participating in the second Paulist Plunge. The Plunge is a week-long discernment retreat for “men 18-35 who are interested in exploring the possibility of a religious vocation, and who want to get to know the Paulists better.” He will be attending with another of this year’s novices and other men who are exploring whether or not they are called to a religious life.
Given that tomorrow (July 31) is the Feast of St. Ignatius, it’s fitting to take a moment and talk about retreats and to point you to a couple that you can take right where you’re sitting.
Several websites define a retreat as “A retreat is a withdrawal from ordinary activities for a period of time to commune with God in prayer and reflection.” That’s a good place to start. It is worth noting that there are many different kinds of retreats which serve many different purposes. Cathy and I participated in a Engaged Encounter retreat as part of our marriage preparation. Prayer and contemplation were an important part of the experience, but so were periods of reflection (both individually and as a couple) regarding our future. We cannot recommend the Engaged Encounter enough and have even encouraged many non-Catholic friends to send their children when they were contemplating marriage.
Years later we attended a Marriage Encounter weekend, which was another kind of retreat. Again, there was prayer and scripture and reflection.
The idea of a retreat, a time away for prayer and reflection is ancient. We can point to Jesus’ sojourn in the desert as a New Testament example of a retreat. The early religious who withdrew to the desert or to monasteries are examples of individuals called to permanent retreats.
It goes on to point out:
The Society of Jesus did not reserve these exercises for its own exclusive use, but gave them to communities and individuals. Blessed Peter Faber in his “Memoriale” testifies to having given them to the grandees of Spain, Italy, and Germany, and used them in restoring hundreds of convents to their first fervour. A letter of St. Ignatius (3 Feb., 1554) recommends giving the exercises publicly in the churches. In addition, the houses of the Society often contained rooms for priests or laymen desirous of performing the exercises privately. Ignatius, having sanctioned this custom during his lifetime, one of his successors, Aquaviva, exhorted the provincials to its maintenance in 1599. In studying the spread of this practice we must not neglect the influence of St. Charles Borromeo. The cardinal and the Jesuits co-operated in order to promote this sort of apostolate. A fervent admirer and disciple of the “Spiritual Exercises”, St. Charles introduced them as a regular practice among the secular clergy by retreats for seminarians and candidates for ordination. He built at Milan an asceterium, or house solely destined to receive those making retreats, whose direction he confided to the Oblates. The zeal of St. Charles was effectual in encouraging the sons of St. Ignatius to adopt definitively the annual retreat, and to organize outside collective retreats of priests and laymen.
All of which brings us back to the Paulist Retreat House in Lake George, New York. As part of their mission, the Paulists operate a number of retreats on their Lake George property. Some are related to the arts (the Singer/Songwriter Residency Program and the Artists’ Residency Program), some are more contemplative (Restful Waters/Couples’ Retreat and Praying Your Life) and some are very focused like the Paulist Plunge. This will be Evan’s second year at the plunge. He attended the retreat last year and came back energized and renewed.
It’s pretty amazing what a few days of prayer and contemplation can accomplish.
If the idea of a retreat appeals to you, but you can’t possibly get away due to various life commitments, there are plenty of opportunities to take retreats — small and large — just where you are.
At the beginning of July, The Busted Halo published a Virtual Outdoor Retreat. This handy, printable guide gives you a chance to get back to nature in prayer and contemplation. The perfect thing for a summer Sunday afternoon.
If you don’t live anywhere near nature (you poor person!) and want a more technological retreat, you can take advantage of Fr. James Martin’s e-book Together on Retreat: Meeting Jesus in Prayer.
If you’re really pressed for time, but want a few moments of peace each day, consider the 3 Minute Retreats from Loyola Press. You can access them via the web, in your e-mail or through an inexpensive app. A few minutes of prayer can set a great tone for your whole day and each of these brief reflections will give you something to contemplate.
Whatever you choose, a retreat is a great way to reconnect with God and to strengthen your spiritual life.