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 | By Joey Reistroffer

Finding Time for God in Silence

God comes to his people in the quietest moments. He’s been doing this for thousands of years, and he’s still gently calling us today.

The Prophet Elijah heard God in a gentle breeze on a mountain. In Matthew’s Gospel, the apostle urges his audience to find a quiet, secluded place. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.

Today, many who crave an intimate encounter with the Almighty are taking that advice and sensing God’s grace during their treks deep into the soothing calm of silent retreats.

Katie Zeiler felt her focus shifting more to God in 2005, when she ventured down to the Carmel Retreat Center in Hoschton, Georgia, for her first silent retreat.

“My time at a two-day silent retreat back in 2005 was an amazing and unexpected launching experience that drew me into the practical forms of prayer that continue for me to this day,” she said. “I have attended annually ever since. For me, it has made my personal prayer and relationship to Christ much richer and more fruitful than I could have imagined.”

These retreats are patterned after The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.

“I listen to talks and meditations by the director throughout the weekend and go off in silence to meditate and journal on the movements of the heart that they inspire,” Zeiler explained.

As a director of silent retreats, Father William Frei, parochial vicar of St. Joseph Church in Columbia, said he is humbled by the opportunity to guide retreatants along the Ignatian path.

“Ignatian spirituality, that is what I studied,” Father Frei said.

As a director, his role is crucial. He might give a talk on faith, hope or charity, then the retreatants will take that to their silent place and reflect on it. He urges believers to come to these retreats well rested.

“Most Americans are sleep deprived,” he noted. “Calming down does take time. We just have to be patient. Once you are rested, you can home in on prayer.”

Father Frei said he gives retreatants four or five prayer passages to reflect upon, then they pray on each passage for an hour. After that, he meets individually with each and offers recommendations and suggestions. Some might feel internally inspired.

“That’s actually the Lord. That’s God himself,” Father Frei explained. “That’s direct inspiration from the Holy Spirit.”

However, he cautions that “even Satan and the demons interact with us,” adding that “the evil spirits will give a person the desire for wealth, honor or pleasure.” Those desires do not come from God, he said. “God desires conversion or a change of heart. The good spirit encourages, strengthens and consoles. The evil spirit presents false thoughts to discourage the person.”

Retreatants must discern these interior motivations, and Father Frei said he is there to help. That is why he meets individually with each person after a session of silent prayer.

“I encourage them to ask for specific graces while on retreat,” he said.

A successful silent retreat culminates with a soul-searching confession.

These retreats are more than interior prayer, said Tina Andress, parishioner at Jesus Our Risen Savior Church in Spartanburg.

“There’s Mass, and the rosary and adoration. There’s Stations of the Cross, confession and spiritual direction,” she said. “It is a jam-packed weekend where you can grow in your faith.”

It is an opportunity to disconnect from the crazy world and focus on prayer.

“You bring just yourself, your rosary and your Bible,” she added. “It’s a chance to get refreshed. It’s a chance to start over.”

And it’s a chance to confront your vices and combat them with virtue, Andress stated. It starts by putting everything in its proper order.

“You look at your life as a Catholic, as a spouse, as a parent and then as an apostle. It puts God first, then your spouse, then your children, then your apostolate. … It helps if your spouse goes on a silent retreat, too. We both benefit,” Andress said.

Even gabby people can benefit from a silent getaway.

“A lot of people say, ‘I can’t go a whole weekend without talking,’” but she encourages them to try, to embrace the calm and be patient. “You start to feel the inspiration of the Holy Spirit,” she said.

“It’s not like a real voice,” according to Marc Connelly, parishioner of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville. “You’ll get an insight or a light, like ‘Yeah, I can see that.’”

Connelly said he went on his first silent retreat 25 years ago at Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina.

“I was blown away,” he said. “I needed this in my youth. It’s like supercharging your batteries.”

That insight, that light, paved a better path for him.

“I left with a game plan. I left with goals for growing closer to Christ,” he said.

He has been on many more, including father/son retreats, and retreats with friends.

“For a long time, I was going yearly during Lent,” Connelly said. “I like the one-on-one with the Lord. The quicker you can leave the cares of the world behind, then the quicker you can get into a mindset to improve your relationship with Christ.”

That can’t happen if you are bombarded by noise, Andress said.

“Kids today, they constantly have something in their ear,” she said.

Unplug, go silent and give God a chance to be heard.

“They don’t realize what they can get out of it,” Andress said. “Those who walk away are missing something very precious.”

They are missing an opportunity to talk with God. These retreats might be silent, but they take plenty of effort.

“You come out exhausted because you have used your spiritual muscles the whole weekend,” she said.

And sometimes retreatants get so close to God that they don’t want to leave. Perhaps that is how the Prophet Elijah felt when that gentle breeze drifted by him on the mountain so long ago.

“It’s like a little piece of heaven when you are there, and you don’t want to go home,” Andress added.

Joseph Reistroffer is a long-time writer who teaches religious education classes at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Spartanburg. Email him at