You may remember the Gospel account where Jesus sends His apostles out “two by two” to preach the good news. It was their maiden voyage as evangelists. After Jesus’ resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit they will preach the good news “to the ends of the earth,” but this was their first assignment. When they returned from their mission the apostles gathered with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. And then Jesus invited them to “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while” (Mk 6:31).
Jesus gave the apostles an opportunity to move away from their most immediate experience, to draw back and withdraw from their preaching. He gave them a chance to visit with Him about what they had seen and done and how they had been received; to ask Him questions and listen to His response; to be with Him and draw strength from His presence.
Have you noticed how fast time seems to go? When I was a youngster I thought the time between one Christmas or a birthday and the next Christmas or birthday was an eternity. Now, no longer a youngster, a year seems to pass much more quickly! I even hear the young speaking about how fast “time flies.”
Do you ever feel like you are on a treadmill, figuratively speaking, running to catch up with yourself? Do you look often at your watch or the clock on the wall when you are engaged in a project or talking with someone to make sure you will be “on time” for the next item on your list of things to accomplish? Do you wish occasionally to have the time to slow down, to enjoy some “down time” or to have some unscheduled time? For many life is fast-paced. And then, oddly enough, when we do have time to relax we do not know how to use the time, accustomed as we are to “being busy.”
I think we all need to withdraw once in a while. Like the disciples who went apart with Jesus we need to stay with Him, speak to Him and listen to Him. “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 1, 2006). This encounter with the Lord helps us to deepen our relationship with Him and to gain perspective. We draw back in order to move back into the activities and responsibilities of life with a rekindled love and renewed enthusiasm.
A few days before Pope Francis began his annual retreat on Ash Wednesday he told us that a retreat is an opportunity to renew our faith and transform our ministry and relationships with others. “Those who live a retreat in an authentic way,” the pope said, “experience the attraction and fascination of God and return renewed and transfigured in their daily lives, their ministry and their relationships.”
A retreat, with time for prayer and silence, helps us to see the relationship between our work and everyday activities and prayer. In the words of Pope Francis, we need “the ability to cultivate an interior space which can give a Christian meaning to commitment and activity. Without prolonged moments of adoration, of prayerful encounter with the word, of sincere conversation with the Lord, our work easily becomes meaningless; we lose energy as a result of weariness and difficulties, and our fervor dies out” (The Joy of the Gospel, 262).
Priests and consecrated religious are expected to make an annual retreat. But the invitation to “come away and rest a while” is meant for everyone. The “retreat” from our day-to-day activity may not be for a week. It may be a day or an evening or perhaps an hour on the weekend. The goal is to set aside some time regularly to be still and know that God is present and to savor His friendship and message.
Sometimes we need a quiet, supportive place 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 our diocese, we are fortunate to have two special places that provide this supportive environment when we need to rest a while with the Lord: Christ the King Retreat House in Syracuse, and Stella Maris Retreat and Renewal Center in Skaneateles.
For 70 years, Christ the King has offered a 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 St. Francis of the Neumann Communities. This summer Stella Maris will celebrate its 50th anniversary as a retreat house, offering a variety of experiences for men and women of many denominations and a center for meetings, gatherings and spiritual renewal for various groups desiring a peaceful space in a gorgeous setting. I have experienced its beauty personally during my annual retreat. Stella Maris Retreat and Renewal Center is also a vibrant asset to our diocese.
As we reflect on our beautiful gift of faith and dedicate our efforts to sharing this treasure, let’s be sure that we set aside some time to deepen our relationship with Christ and enliven our zeal to make Him known.
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.