| Father Mike O’Brien

Local Priest Avoids Media and Distraction During Month-Long Retreat

Find out what happens during a silent retreat and what Father Mike O’Brien missed most.

August 29, 2022 | For 30 days this summer: July 4 – August 4, I experienced with 15 others what are known as the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. These days were spent in silence so we could be attuned to God’s Spirit speaking to us in the silence of our own hearts and minds. We live in a very noisy world both externally and internally. This silence, except for daily Mass and a daily conference with my Spiritual Director, was a much-needed oasis. I did not check my emails, phone calls, texts, nor looked at my news apps for 30 days!

I was surprised by my response to not having a phone with me 24/7: HOW REFRESHING!

I am amazed that I am still alive and well without having to know every 90 minutes, the latest regarding national and international news, as well as checking my revered ESPN app. Not only did I not miss them, I realized how “addictive” they came to be! I remember being quite satisfied growing up, with only 30 minutes a day of local and national news, along with reading the daily newspaper and a monthly magazine. I must confess, the one thing I did miss, was my daily diet of my online comics! They have a way of making a lot more sense of our times, than my news apps.

So, what did I do all day, if I was not checking my Facebook page, texts, emails or phone messages on a regular basis? My day was fairly regimented: breakfast at 8 a.m., Mass at 11:15 a.m., lunch at 12 noon, dinner at 6 p.m., and adoration at 8 p.m. In between these set times, I had a 30 to 45-minute face-to-face meeting with my Spiritual Director. He would give me the four Spiritual Exercises I was to do for that day. Each exercise was an hour long and was based on the Scriptures. Yes, you read that right: four, one-hour Spiritual Exercises that changed every day. The Exercises follow the life of Jesus, from his conception through his public ministry, Passion, Resurrection and His sending of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. When I met daily with my Spiritual Director, we would go over the “lessons and insights” I had learned and how they applied to my relationship with Jesus, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit.

The rest of the day was spent reading, exercising, nature walks, or doing NOTHING!!!! We had two “days of repose”, they were not “days off”, but days we could break our silence and go out and do some recreating. HOWEVER, we were not allowed to reconnect with our phones or iPads!

These 30 days were intense. Before making this retreat, there were some basic requirements I had to fulfill. I needed to have made at least two, eight-day retreats along with having a regular prayer time each day and a personal Spiritual Director. I would highly recommend going on a three, five or 8-day silent, Ignatian Retreat at least once in your lifetime. It’s a “mini experience” of what I did for 30. Just Google: Ignatian retreats.

I chose to go on this silent retreat as a segue into my retirement. These 30 days of silence and solitude were just what I needed. It gave me the needed time to review my relationship with God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and allow that relationship to grow. These 30 days also gave me time to make some needed spiritual realignments.

Reviewing one’s relationship with God in the light of the entire life of Jesus Christ, is at the heart of the 30-day Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. During each “exercise,” you are asked under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to experience what Jesus experienced, whether he was lying in a manger or was nailed to the Cross and then apply that experience to your own personal life. Talk about being INTENSE at times!!! 

One of the prayers they gave us to be our companion for the 30 days was a prayer by Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., entitled “Trust in the SLOW work of God”. I wish I had come across this prayer a lot sooner!!!! The title has now become a daily reminder to me on how I can implement all that I learned those 30 days!

Trust in the Slow Work of God:

Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. (1881-1955)

Above all, trust in the slow work of God

We are quite naturally impatient in everything

to reach the end without delay

We should like to skip the intermediate stages.

We are impatient of being on the way to something

unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress

that it is made by passing through

some stages of instability-

and that it may take a very long time. 

And so, I think it is with you.

your ideas mature gradually – let them grow,

let them shape themselves, without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time

(that is to say, grace and circumstances

acting on your own good will)

will make of you tomorrow. 

Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.

Father Michael O'Brien is a retired priest of the Diocese of St. Petersburg.