With the days growing longer and the school year growing shorter, attentions are turning to summer vacations and weekend getaways. But how about taking a different kind of break — a spiritual retreat?
The Sun asked Father John Rose, director of spiritual formation at Christ the King Retreat House and Conference Center in Syracuse, for some insight on this ancient practice and its benefits in the modern day.
What is a retreat?
Father Rose describes the concept of retreat as “an opportunity to become more aware of God’s presence and God’s unconditional love for me. A time to reconnect with God and myself, to integrate my life experiences. Time to step away from the busyness of life and its distractions and stresses, time to rest, read, reflect, pray, listen to my heart, to hear what God may be trying to say to me or how God is trying to get my attention. A time to slow down and wallow in the power of slow.”
There are many ways to make a retreat, Father Rose explained. A retreat can last a day, a week, a month. It may be guided or preached by a leader, and therefore more topical; a retreat can also be directed by a spiritual director, silent and personal. A retreat may be highly structured, like the 30-day Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, or a creation of the retreatant’s own design. Retreats like these, many geared toward specific topics or groups, are offered at Christ the King.
Where does the practice of retreat come from in the Christian tradition?
Formalized retreats of the Renaissance era, the charism of monastic communities and the earliest desert fathers and mothers could trace their origins to Jesus’ 40 days in the desert, Father Rose said.
“He withdrew, or retreated, to get away from distractions, for time for reflection,” he explained.
“He was driven by the Spirit into the desert right after his baptism…. When he was in the desert, he was tempted to forget who he was. [At his baptism] the Father says to him, ‘You are my beloved Son in whom I’m well pleased.’ That’s his identity. The evil spirit, the devil, tried to make him forget who he was by saying, ‘I’ll give you this power, I’ll give you this privilege, I’ll give you this status if you worship me.’ And each time he said, ‘It’s more than bread alone that a person lives on. You would have no power without my power.’ He recalls his identity, so that when he goes out into formalized ministry, he has this strengthening by the Spirit — because he was accompanied by the Spirit — to know who he is….
“So the value of a retreat is coming apart to reflect, connect with God and the Spirt and connect with our true self, as opposed to that false self. The false self is all that stuff that society tries to say we need. The Christian message, the Gospel message, is that it’s not about being successful, it’s about being faithful… it’s not about competitiveness, it’s about compassion. It’s not about being productive, it’s about being fruitful.”
Why should we take the time to make a retreat?
To grow spiritually and to grow closer to God. “Everything we do in life there has to be some kind of preparation, whether it’s a career or vocation,” Father Rose said. “Then we usually go for ongoing education or formation. [But] how do I become a disciple? How do I deepen my discipleship? If I just go to church on Sunday, is that enough or is there a deeper invitation or call?… Our experiences of God come when we pay attention.”
What happens during a retreat?
Each retreat is different, but there are commonalities, Father Rose explained. Retreatants are welcomed, settled, perhaps they share a meal. They gather for an opening session to talk about the meaning of the retreat and get an overview of the schedule. Depending on the type of retreat, retreatants get acquainted with the individual preaching or guiding the retreat or take time to meet with their spiritual director to schedule meetings. First-time retreatants, he said, are given special attention — and by God, too. “God is very good to people who have never made a retreat before.It’s almost like God wants you to come back,” Father Rose said with a smile.
A typical day on a directed retreat, Father Rose said, would include a meeting with one’s director, liturgy and mealtime — the rest of the day is the retreatant’s own to pray, walk the grounds, rest or read.
Meeting with the director takes about 45 minutes to an hour, he said. “The director might give you some scriptural passage to pray with. For example, I could say, ‘Why don’t you pray with Isaiah 43 and read this as a love letter [from God]…. God’s going to say, ‘I love you, you are precious in my eyes, you are mine, I am with you, do not be afraid, not only do I forgive you your sins, I forget your sins.’
“If you stay with that during the day and begin to allow that to sink in, something happens in the silence. The language of God is silence. It’s the most difficult language to learn. But in the psalm it says, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ In the silence we listen with the ears of our heart, as Benedict would say,” Father Rose explained.
How do you prepare to make a retreat? What do you need?
According to Father Rose, “All you need is an open mind. Sometimes people come in with their baggage — the baggage could be psychological, emotional, mental. Oftentimes people end up leaving their baggage here and walking away lighter. They come in heavily laden down and walk way standing up straight.”
To find out more about retreats offered at Christ the King, visit ctkretreat.com, call (315) 446-2680 or, better yet, make a visit to the retreat house at 500 Brookford Rd., Syracuse.