I'm back from my annual eight day retreat and in reporting on it I can't help thinking about the word "retreat." It often carries negative connotations. Armies retreat when they are losing the battle. Going on a spiritual retreat, however, is just the opposite. I'd like to think of it as a way to make progress, to grow, or to move forward. Just the opposite of retreating. And this was certainly my experience of retreat this year.
God was very good to me, but that shouldn't be a surprise. God is always good and, when given the opportunity for quality time with us, He responds generously. My retreat was very blessed and I'll probably need a while to reflect upon all its graces.
First of all, because I was away from the city, my work schedule, and my alarm clock, I was blessed with great sleep. I must have needed it because it seems I'd go to bed around 10 PM and wake up around 7 AM every day. Secondly, I was able to take a walk after lunch every day and the meals I made for myself were pretty healthy. Since our praying spirits are enfleshed in bodies, these things--rest, exercise in fresh air, good food in moderation--contribute to helping one make a good retreat.
I followed what turned out to be a good schedule for prayer, with Mass at noon and holy hours at 9 AM, 11 AM, 4 PM, and 6 PM. In between I prayed the Breviary, cleaned the little house where I stayed, brushed snow off the car and shoveled a bit, did some other reading (back issues of "One," the magazine of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association), or prayed a Rosary and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. Besides the Bible and the "Spiritual Exercises" of St. Ignatius, I used two other books that I highly recommend: 1) Fr. Michael E. Gaitley's "Consoling the Heart of Jesus: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat Inspired by the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius," and 2) Fr. Thomas D. Williams' "A Heart Like His: Meditations on the Sacred Heart of Jesus."
After my 7 PM supper I watched videos. Don't be scandalized. Here is a listing of the videos I saw: "The Island" (a Russian film about a monk who struggles with the memory a murder he thought he committed when he was a soldier in World War II); "The Pope: Life and Times of John Paul II"; "Sanctity Within Reach: Pier Giorgio Frassati" (an EWTN show about this beatified member of the Apostleship of Prayer); "Saint Therese of the Child Jesus: An Echo of the Heart of God" (a film that was created in 1997 in honor of the centenary of her death); "Clear Creek Abby: Living the Liturgy" (a promotion DVD from Benedictine monks in Oklahoma); "With God in Russia: The Story of Fr. Walter Ciszek"; "Solanus Casey: Priest, Porter, Prophet"; and "Servant of All: Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen".
I find following the stories of saintly people a good way to relax during retreat and so, in addition to those movies, at night before going to bed I began reading a book about a Jesuit who had been the director of the Apostleship of Prayer in Ireland. The book was published three years after his death in 1921 and it's called "Life and Work of Rev. James Aloysius Cullen, S.J." Fr. Mark Kirby, a friend and fellow blogger (Vultus Christi) loaned it to me last summer when I visited him in Tulsa.
It was a great retreat but I have to admit that for the last two days back in the office I've found a lot of work to "offer up."