How often in your busy day have you longed for a few moments of peace, a chance to sit in silent reflection, allowing your mind and heart to be in God’s presence and remain in His love (cf. Jn 15:5-7)? St. Augustine reminds us, “God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you” (Confessions). Karl Rahner, a noted theologian, expressed our desire for God in this way: “I should like to speak with You, my God, and yet what else can I speak of but You.”
This innate desire for God, however, is sometimes dulled. At times, we are pulled off course from seeking Him. Our lives are filled with so much: the demands of our work, the joys and challenges of personal relationships, the responsibilities of our respective vocation, illness, economic concerns and the pleasures and satisfactions that life offers. Sometimes we need a quiet, supportive place, for an hour, a day or even a week, to calm ourselves, center our thoughts, and “keep our eyes fixed on Jesus” (Heb 12:2) asking for and enjoying His love and grace.
In addition to the beautiful churches in our diocese, we have two special places of prayer and retreat that provide a supportive environment serving all the faithful of our communities: Christ the King Retreat House in Syracuse, and Stella Maris Retreat and Renewal Center in Skaneateles.
For nearly 70 years, Christ the King has offered sacred space — for quiet and solitude, respite and rest — accessible to everyone from every corner of our diocese. The Retreat House is nestled among acres of beautiful gardens and grounds high on a drumlin hilltop easily reached on Brookford Road within the City of Syracuse. Over 9,000 people use this hidden gem every year. I meet with a variety of individuals and groups at Christ the King and quite frequently make a regular pilgrimage “up the hill” to Brookford Road for spiritual respite. We all need Christ the King Retreat House as a vibrant asset in our diocese.
Stella Maris Retreat and Renewal Center is located on Skaneateles Lake in the Village of Skaneateles. This magnificent “Star of the Sea,” designed by the renowned architect Stanford White, is owned and operated by the Sisters of Saint Francis of the Neumann Communities. Stella Maris began its mission nearly 60 years ago as a retreat house for Catholic women, but over the years has expanded to offer a variety of retreat experiences for men and women of many Christian faiths, as well as operating as a center for meetings, gatherings and spiritual renewal for various groups desiring a peaceful space in a gorgeous setting. This fall I experienced its beauty personally during my annual retreat. Stella Maris Retreat and Renewal Center is also a vibrant asset to our diocese.
Our retreat centers offer us a space for prayer and direction on how to pray. Certainly the Mass when we gather as a people of faith is our greatest prayer. Solitary prayer, however, is also important. But how do we start? How do we calm our minds and hearts, set aside our racing thoughts and keep our eyes fixed on Jesus? How do we prepare for solitary prayer?
Jesus gives us explicit instruction on how to prepare for prayer, and how to pray. In the Gospel of Matthew, Christ says, “But when you pray, go to your private room and, when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in that secret place, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you” (Mt 6:6).
Our churches have always been, and will continue to be, quiet places where we can pray. A church offers many opportunities for prayer and places to pray, for as Jesus said, “There are many rooms in my Father’s house” (Jn 14:2). However, Christ the King and Stella Maris are particularly appropriate resources providing us with a place to come apart and rest, breathe deeply, temporarily cast off the yoke of everyday life, prepare and learn to pray and ultimately, through God’s grace experience His presence in our lives. The great American contemplative and Trappist Monk, Father Thomas Merton, reminds us about the importance of a quiet place for prayer.
“Let there always be quiet, dark churches in which men [and women] can take refuge. Places where they can kneel in silence. Houses of God, filled with His silent presence. There, even when they do not know how to pray, at least they can be still and breathe easily. Let there be a place somewhere in which you can breathe naturally, quietly, and not have to take your breath in continuous short gasps. A place where your mind can be idle, and forget its concerns, descend into silence, and worship the Father in secret. There can be no contemplation where there is no secret.”
We are truly blessed in the Diocese of Syracuse with unique Houses of God that offer this opportunity for prayer — Christ the King Retreat House in Syracuse and Stella Maris Retreat and Renewal Center in Skaneateles. I encourage you to refresh and renew your spirit by a visit to our retreat centers and to support them in the good things they do.
If you have an intention you would like me to remember in prayer during the coming weeks, please forward it to me at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.