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Father Joseph Waters

Should I Attend a Retreat?

January 17, 2023

Question: Our pastor announced this Sunday he would make his annual retreat this week. I know priests make a retreat each year. How about lay people? Should we make an annual retreat? What type of retreat? How many days? Where would a layperson go for a retreat? 

Answer: “Retreat” can signify various experiences. The annual retreats for priests and religious usually involve five to eight days dedicated to spiritual exercises, for example, contemplative prayer and acts of penance. These retreats take two forms, a silent-directed or preached retreat. A silent-directed retreat invites the retreatant into silence for the duration of the experience. The retreatant meets daily with a spiritual director to reflect on their prayer experiences and receive Scripture passages for meditation leading to more profound contemplation. Preached retreats typically entail shorter periods of silence with direction from a leader who gives two or more spiritual talks each day. The talks are thematic and aid in prayerful reflection, encouraging the retreatant to seek a richer encounter with God.

Lay Catholics are not required to make an annual retreat. However, anyone can make a silent or preached retreat when they have the time to do so, annually or at significant points in life. One can make a retreat privately or with a group. One who has not yet made a five to eight-day retreat should build up gradually to the more extended and spiritually intense retreats. They can do so through less intense retreat experiences. Particularly, one needs to develop genuine comfort with prayerful silence. Entering prayerful silence can be an acquired skill for many people living active lives in our technological age.

One can find less intense retreat experiences in different ways. Some parishes offer weekend retreats for men and women, days of reflection, or prayer groups. Of course, the Church calls all  Catholics to forty days of intense prayer and penance during Lent. Marriage Encounter, renewal programs, lay movements (i.e., Cursillo or Emmaus), Parish Missions, Marian Consecration, and other comparable experiences can have similar benefits as a retreat —increased spiritual discipline, renewal of one’s prayer life and closer intimacy with God. Some religious orders in our Diocese have associations for lay Catholics (sometimes called third orders), which allow one to delve more deeply into the order’s spirituality and practice their spiritual rule of life. St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises are typically offered as a thirty-day silent retreat. However, they are also offered in an annotated version with daily holy hours and weekly spiritual direction over nine months.

As you can see, there are plenty of opportunities for retreats or retreat-like experiences for lay people. One only has to find the experience that best fits his or her active life and spiritual thirst. For more information about retreats, you may wish to consult our Diocesan Website’s list of retreat centers.

St. Anselm provided an excellent description of what a retreat is supposed to be:

Come now, little one, put aside your business for a while, take refuge for a time from your tumultuous thoughts, cast off your cares, and let your burdensome distractions wait. Take some leisure for God; rest awhile in him. Enter into the chamber of your mind; put out everything except God and whatever helps you to seek him; close the door and seek him. Say now to God with all your heart: “I seek thy face, O Lord, thy face I seek!”  

Father Joseph Waters is Judicial Vicar and Censor Librorum of the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

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