Retreat Days



The waning days of summer; a recent reminder from Pope Benedict XVI that “even the soul, thanks be to God, has its needs!”; the exuberant crowds at World Youth Day — all combined to remind me of my need to make my annual retreat. So I placed a telephone call to Stella Maris in Skaneateles to inquire if I could make a three day quiet retreat at the beautiful lakeside center.

In a recent weekly audience, Pope Benedict spoke about the practice of religious communities to establish their houses in particularly beautiful places: in the countryside, on hilltops, in valleys, on the shores of lakes or the sea, or even on little islands.  At Stella Maris, we can see how places of beauty unite elements which are very important for the contemplative life: the beauty of creation, which recalls that of the Creator, and silence, which is guaranteed by living removed from the noise and commotion of everyday life. The Pope went on to say that silence is the environmental condition that favors our listening to God and meditation.  When we let ourselves be “filled,” so to speak, with silence, we are disposed to prayer. God speaks in the silence, but we need to know how to listen. A time of retreat, marked by silence and solitude, refines our ability to listen, to hear what that Lord is saying to us.

As I drove to Stella Maris, these thoughts were foremost in my mind. I packed my Bible, the basic tool for any retreat. I also brought along a book entitled Generations of Priests by Thomas J. McGovern which contains 10 chapters each on a different priest in history beginning with St. John Chrysostom in the fourth century and ending with Pope John Paul II in our own time. And, for some light reading, I packed David McCullough’s: The Greater Journey, Americans in Paris.

But more important than reading, a time of retreat provides the setting in which we can stay in touch with the Lord and listen to His voice. The late and much loved Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen was well known for his practice of a daily holy hour. At every opportunity, he reminded priests that time spent in silent adoration changes them as they come to know the Lord better. Silence and prayer can transform all of us and give us the grace and strength needed to carry on the Lord’s work.

On an almost daily basis, people throughout our diocese send me or ask me to remember a particular need in prayer.  During my retreat, I lifted up all of you in prayer asking that the Lord keep you safe and hold you close, granting you all that is best for you and your loved ones.

I prayed also for numerous intentions, the strengthening of family life in our diocese and the defense of Christian marriage; for respect for every individual life and for all who are reading this column; for new vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life and the perseverance and health of our priests and deacons, our brothers and sisters in consecrated life. I remembered as well the men and women in our armed forces especially those far from home that they will be protected and return home safely. I prayed that all of us will fulfill our vocation to grow in holiness and that our young people will grow in their love for the Church, their mother and teacher. I ask you for your prayers for me and for our diocese.

Priests and members of consecrated life are expected to make an annual retreat to help them stay close to the Lord and persevere on their spiritual journey. I recommend a retreat for everyone. It is good for all of us to heed the reminder of the psalmist, “Be still and know that I am God, supreme among the nations, supreme on the earth.” (Psalm 46:10)

An old Latin adage suggests that the person who goes on retreat should “enter wholeheartedly, remain in solitude and go forth changed.” I have always liked the passage in Scripture which recounts the story of Elijah on Mount Horeb. Elijah, fleeing for his life, hides in a mountain cave far from those who would kill him. As is so often the case in Scripture, the mountain became a special place of encounter with God. God spoke to Elijah, on the mountain, not in the thunder, or fire, or an earthquake, but in “a tiny whisper.” My retreat, and indeed any retreat, is a special time to encounter the Lord, to hear the “tiny whisper” of His voice.  When we listen, when we truly hear the Lord’s voice, we will be changed and like Elijah “go forth” to our responsibilities and our vocation with renewed life and vigor.

After my last column appeared on World Youth Day, three people wrote to tell me that I had left out a verse of “An Army of Youth.” I was delighted that so many others told me they remembered the hymn.  And so, today, I will repeat again that short hymn, including the missing verse, which meant so much to the young people of my generation. 

An Army of Youth 
An Army of Youth flying the standard of truth.
We are fighting for Christ the Lord.
Heads lifted high, Catholic action our cry,
And the cross our only sword.
On earth’s battlefield, never advantage we’ll yield,
As dauntlessly on we sing.
Comrades true, dare and do,
‘Neath the Queen’s white and blue,
For our flag, for our faith, for Christ the King.
Christ lifts his hand, the king commands,
His challenge, “Come and follow me.”
From every side, with eager stride,
We form in the lines of victory. 
Let foemen lurk, and laggards shirk
We throw our fortunes with the Lord.
Mary’s Son, till the world is won,
We have pledged you are loyal word.
An army of youth flying the standard of truth,
We are fighting for Christ the Lord.
Heads lifted high, Catholic Action our cry,
And the cross our only sword.

(Daniel Lord, SJ. The Queen’s Work, St. Louis, Missouri, 1932.)

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