When you have an important decision to make—or the world is getting too loud—it’s necessary to find a place and person to turn to. In the Bible, we see Jesus seek out time to pray in solitude over and over again. In much the same way, a silent retreat can help you hear the voice of God in your life. But what is a silent retreat? And how do you know if it’s right for you?
What is a Silent Retreat?
A silent retreat is an opportunity for any person to set aside time to listen to the voice of God and hear what is in their own heart. Retreats can last a single day or up to thirty days, giving you a chance to unplug from the outside world and recharge your spiritual batteries.
Venerable Bruno Lanteri, the founder of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, believed that it was crucial to carve out times of retreat for prayer and reading scripture. To him, the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises and personal prayer are essential to finding your calling and purpose:
“There is nothing in this world so valuable as spending several days peacefully occupied only with the great matters in life: God, the soul, and eternity.” —Venerable Bruno Lanteri
Today, the retreat tradition continues and is open to anyone: young people, lay men and women, priests and religious sisters and brothers.
The Benefits of a Silent Retreat
People come to a silent retreat with many different desires, hopes or questions. Perhaps there’s been a big change or loss in your life that needs reflection. You might be considering a vocation or a new career. In any case, a silent retreat can bring greater clarity, open your heart and give you strength. The fruit of the retreat is to understand how God is present in this stage of your life.
For Father Tom, silent retreats are a chance to reflect on his experiences from the past year, which isn’t something that many of us have time to do in the course of a regular day.
“A retreat helps me look at the key moments over the course of a year, grieving losses or celebrating joys. We can remember our sorrows very easily, but we forget our joys. Each time, I’ve felt my heart being drawn in a certain way or that I’ve been prepared for something that’s coming.” —Fr. Tom Carzon, OMV
What to Expect
During the course of one of our typical silent retreats at St. Joseph Retreat House, your days include quiet contemplation and the opportunity for Mass, as well as spiritual direction. That’s right—it’s not all silence! You’ll meet each day with a spiritual director to talk about what’s going on in your life and your prayers, and they will suggest some scriptures to pray with.
Many retreatants are surprised to find that their experiences are highly personalized and allow you to get into your own rhythm, whether that means staying up late to contemplate the stars or rising early to visit the Stations of the Cross at sunrise.
Preparing for a Silent Retreat
Unlike Jesus, you don’t have to go to the mountain tops or the desert to get away. A retreat house like St. Joseph offers flexible scheduling for private retreats as well as more organized retreats and spiritual direction throughout the year.
If you’re considering your first retreat, “silence” can seem like a scary proposition. Start small with a weekend retreat or getting away for a Desert Day in the middle of the week. That might be enough to recharge, or could leave you desiring something more.
No matter the length of your retreat, clear your calendar for that time and try to show up relaxed. Anxiety can linger if you feel rushed in the days leading up to your retreat, and it’s important that you are open mentally and emotionally going into this new experience.
Is a Retreat Right for You?
No matter where you are in your faith journey, it’s a good exercise for all Catholics to reflect in the sanctity of retreat. But while silent retreats are a powerful way to grow in your faith, we understand that it can seem intimidating or only for those committed a religious life.
Instead, try to think of retreats as a way of growing in friendship with Jesus. In the words of Father Tom, “Imagine going off for a few days with a dear friend to reconnect and talk about your lives. Why worry about spending time with a friend who’s there for you and understands your heart?”
Do you have additional questions about silent retreats? Or, if you’ve previously participated in one, what is a silent retreat tip or memory you’d like to offer? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.