Retreats: They’re good for the soul

The bills are mounting, the kids are crying, and the car broke down for the fourth time this month. What can the faithful do when the world around them becomes overwhelming? Go on retreat and spend quality time with God.

   Throughout the Diocese of Syracuse there are retreat houses and retreats that are not only budget-friendly, but also provide opportunities for attendees to step away from the hectic pace of life and commune with God and nature.

    “There are many reasons for a person to go on retreat,” stated Father John Rose, director of retreats at Christ the King Retreat House and Conference Center in Syracuse. “The voice of God is often missed or lost in our busy lives and in the silence [of a retreat] we can hear that voice as we listen to our hearts. It comforts, calms and gives us a real sense of direction.”

   Sister Pat Larkin, OSF, co-director for retreats at Stella Maris Retreat House in Skaneateles, feels those who go on retreat are searching for peace. “I think most people are looking for quiet,” stated Sister Pat. “They need to stop, relax and renew in a spiritual way. Their lives are so hectic all the time that they need to just let things go and relax.”

   What keeps people from going on retreat? Fear is the reason many don’t go on retreat, explained Father Rose. “There are those who fear and avoid silence and are afraid it would be lonely. There are those who are afraid of what they would hear from God during their retreat and they worry that God would ask them to do something they don’t want to do, but that doesn’t normally happen. What does happen is we experience being loved by God. We [as a culture] value busy-ness but it can create stress and it is not of the Gospel. We pride ourselves on productivity, but a retreat is restful, a time to catch up on sleep, to be restored, renewed, in however long or short a time. It doesn’t take long for God to show up and He’s very good at waiting. In the silence [of a retreat] we become our true self as a person and whom we’ve been called to be: a loving and compassionate person, not someone playing a role in life such as a parent, a lawyer or doctor.”

   Jim Krisher, executive director for the Spiritual Renewal Center in Syracuse, feels the word “retreat” may put off those who would benefit greatly from going on retreat. “People don’t know what to expect when they hear the word ‘retreat,’” stated Krisher. “Sharing aspects of your faith with strangers can be intimidating, and people also believe a retreat will take up large amounts of their time. It is difficult to carve out time for ourselves and, often times, our spiritual needs take a hit.”

   Father Louis Maximilian, superior of the Franciscan Friars who reside at Mount St. Francis Hermitage in Endicott, also believes the majority of people don’t understand the importance of setting time aside for a retreat. “There is so much noise and distraction in today’s world it isn’t always easy to turn to our hearts inward and listen to God. We might also be afraid of what is there [in our hearts] but when we are in a setting of silence and solitude and listen, we realize our walk of faith is also a walk of conversion, and that’s a life-long process. The journey of faith requires a resolution on our part to become holy if we want to be with God in the next life and a retreat is a way to get closer to God.”

Types of retreats

   What type of retreat should a person look for? “They should find a retreat that answers a specific need in their life,” said Father Rose. Retreat houses in the Diocese of Syracuse host several types of retreats ranging from silent to directed, guided, recovery, individual retreats, men’s, women’s and even family retreats. Although each retreat in itself is unique, retreats all generally provide an opportunity to spend time with God, commune with nature, and rest and relax.

   Silent retreats are exactly what they sound like: a totally silent experience and opportunity to unplug from a busy world. Attendees can meet with a spiritual director, but for the most part, they spend the time alone and in silence. In doing so, they have the rare opportunity to hear what God is saying to them personally.

   Guided retreats are for the person who wants more help in finding out about spirituality or other topics. The attendees meet with a trained spiritual companion for them to consult and who can lead them through topics or discussions
throughout their time on retreat.

   A directed retreat allows a person to enjoy his/her own spiritual journey but consult a spiritual director once a day to discuss private concerns or issues of his/her spirituality. “Directed retreats tend to be more personal than guided retreats,” stated Father Rose. “When you meet with a trained spiritual companion once a day usually a pattern develops and there is distinctive awareness of what you are called to be, and time and attention paid to what God is trying to tell you.”

   Men/women/family/couple retreats are specific retreats targeted for issues, topics or concerns of each particular group. Group retreats for specific organizations, schools or churches often utilize the quiet and restful space of retreat houses to develop team spirit or team-building exercises, provide time for personal growth and meditation and to address specific issues important to that group. Recovery retreats deal with addiction.

    The cost to participate in a retreat can be a set amount or an offering, depending on the retreat facility. The retreat may include meals but if meals are not offered, there is generally a kitchen or kitchenette attendees can use.

    Customized, individual or private retreats are available for people who want a more personal retreat experience. A retreat can be customized for a day, an overnight, a weekend or longer, depending on the retreat facility. The focus of these retreats can be simply having time to bond with God or can deal with specific topics, provide both emotional and physical rest, offer quiet time to make future decisions or put to rest past subjects and commune with nature.

   “We have 160 acres of beautiful surroundings with hiking trails, woods, a pool and even a labyrinth,” stated Sister Margaret Patrick Fay, OSF, administrator
 for the Spirituality and Nature Center at Alverna Heights. “You don’t even realize you’re close to Syracuse: it’s so peaceful and relaxing you would think you’re miles away from the city.”

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