As another school year rolls in, calendars for the next nine to 10 months grow populated with events. There are activities galore, as every parent and grandparent knows. Folks not entirely acquainted with Catholic customs may be surprised to find retreats for students, teachers, school staff, and principals highlighted on these agendas. For some, retreats sound like a business venture.
Idyllic sites are often hyped for corporate retreats. Executives, financial planners, health care professionals, and others head out with their teams. The focus of their retreats is typically team building and strategic planning. These are not the rationales for the retreats found on our school and parish calendars, however.
Our retreats have spiritual and evangelical purposes. They may build morale and focus our pursuits, but their core purpose is getting participants fueled for their real reason for being. It’s all about love and service of the Lord — and making a positive difference in the world on God’s behalf. To serve those purposes, our retreats invite those present to get in touch more deeply with the spiritual and sacramental resources of our faith. They make space for us to shed some of the clutter of our lives and look more deeply within.
Schools, of course, are not the only ones sponsoring retreats and prioritizing them as annual events. Our bishop, priests, and deacons go on retreat. Members of religious communities make preached, directed, or private retreats. Our DREs and youth ministers can attend several days called Renew and Rejoice each May. Our youth and young adults use camps and centers around the state for overnight outings with a spiritual intent. Confirmation groups have day-long or overnight retreats which prepare them for the gifts of the Holy Spirit and help them take a few more steps into spiritual maturity.
In our parishes, Cursillo and Christ Renews His Parish weekends are a popular form of retreat. And while retreats lasting days or at least for one overnight are a typical model, we see many mini-retreats offered around the diocese. We have days of recollection and parish missions, holy hours, and special devotions.
Input from wise retreat directors and missionaries is very important, but equally vital is the silence which religious retreats afford. Some retreats encourage quiet at meals. Retreat guides urge participants to scuttle or at least minimize the use of electronics for a few days. The sole (and soul) purpose is to aid their journey within.
When we take students, faculty, parishioners, and religious professionals off for hours and days of retreat our intent is to imitate Christ. The gospels tell us that Jesus kept his own focus and connection with the Father by getting up early and going off “to a deserted place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35). The fact that this pops up so early in the gospels attests to the fact that even Jesus found respite and solitude essential. He wanted us to keep in touch with our power-source. He wanted us to retreat in order to return — strong.
Sister Pamela Smith, SSCM, is the Secretary for Education and Faith Formation at the Diocese of Charleston. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.