The Community are on Retreat 31 May – 8 June
I’ve always looked forward to the Annual Retreat, if only because it gets one out of the usual daily routine of the Community. I’ve also found the beginning of the Retreat to be an exciting time, full of anticipation; and for me ten days of semi solitude and silence still remains a valuable experience. I think I anticipate the solitude and silence more than I do the Retreat Conferences, which, sadly more often than not, are a disappointment. I always feel that the time spent fidgeting in my seat, listening to some long-winded college lecture could have been spent more effectively in silence or in reading a good book. Our Retreat this year doesn’t have any of the customary formal Conferences – ‘hooray’ I hear you say – which is not really a bad thing, because it allows us to spend more time with God, in that silence where we hear his still, small voice speak to us. I’m sure you have all chosen an interesting book to read during these days of silence, a book which hopefully, will bring you closer to God in the silence of this special time.
It’s auspicious perhaps, that the first full day of this year’s Retreat begins on the Feast of the Visitation, as we journey in silence with Our Lady towards her final destination. A Retreat is similar to a pilgrimage, because it’s a journey, a journey inwards and towards God, who is our final destination.
We go on Retreat because Our Lord requires it. He required it of his own disciples when he said to them: “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”
The Church has always encouraged the practice of taking time away from our ordinary activities in order to focus more intensely on our relationship with God; this especially so for priests and religious and for all those involved in apostolic activity.
We imitate the example of Our Lord himself who frequently left the disciples and went away to a quiet place in order to pray to his Father. On each of these occasions he trained his Apostles and disciples to do the same. There was to be no expiration date on the disciples’ need for spiritual renewal.
Now I’m sure there is no need for me to explain to you the purpose of a retreat; but I will, because it’s easy to forget these things. Our lives get so complicated and we can forget the basics. First and foremost, the purpose of a retreat is to spend time with God. Now, as Religious Sisters, you may argue that the purpose for coming to the Priory is to spend time with God. And even though you spend much of your time coming and going, that is true. But even in the Priory we get caught up in a host of daily activity that we need to ground ourselves from time to time, just like those first disciples of Our Lord, in order to renew our purpose in coming here in the first place. One of my former superiors said to me many years ago that being a Religious is more about ‘being’ than ‘doing’. Doing good works is all well and good, but if these works are not grounded in our relationship with God, then they are virtually worthless. When we build up our own little ‘empires’ we do it for ourselves, not for God, no matter how we may convince ourselves otherwise. Even for Priests and Religious, ‘doing’ can very easily outweigh ‘being’. We are, first and foremost Religious, and we will be recognised by God for who we are rather than for what we have done. After all, for all the little empires we may build, we are, at the end of the day cracked and broken vessels who simply do what we are told to do.
Our Lord said to his disciples: Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest for a while. For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.
Now, I suppose it would have been fantastic if you had rented a spacious villa on the Isle of Wight or on some stretch of deserted beach in order to have your Retreat this year. And even though we have not left the Priory and gone to another place to make this retreat, we have, in a sense left our daily routine and our responsibilities in order to come apart and spend time with Our Lord so that he can refresh us. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” It isn’t necessary to spend a fortune and go away on Retreat – if we organise things properly we can do it in our own place just fine.
If there is but one purpose in making this Retreat, it is to spend time with Jesus in order to pray – not to write our overdue essays or our next series of talks. We spend our time in precious silence so that we can listen to Our Lord speaking to us. And don’t we need it! We spend most of our time speaking to other people. These ten days are an opportunity for us to listen to Our Lord speak to us for a change.
Now again, you may argue that as Religious we spend much of our time here in the Priory praying as part of our regular daily routine. And again, that’s true. But prayer during a Retreat is different. During a Retreat we learn how to fine tune our prayer so that it can be more effective. And, we also learn how to be silent.
Prayer, first and foremost, is seeking Jesus, of finding him, loving him, and doing his will – all out of love for him, not for the sake of our own ego. Prayer is a dialogue that opens up the mystery of who God is, and the mystery of who we are in our relationship with God, both as human beings and as members of a Religious Community.
Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is here, right now, as he promised to be among two or three who gather in his name, and for the next ten days he is going to give us his undivided attention, to listen to us, to refresh us, and to speak to us through his still, small voice; a voice that can only be heard if we stop talking and settle down to listen to him.
May God bless you during the course of this Retreat, and may the Holy Spirit inspire us and guide us to deepen our relationship with Him.