The Gospels tell us how Jesus spent special times of prayer, sacrifice and solitude during his ministry. Following his example, many Catholics throughout the centuries have experienced the spiritual renewal that comes from participating in yearly spiritual retreats. The retreat creates the space and time for solitude needed for a special time of prayer, a loving dialogue between a Father and his children. The Holy Mass and Communion, meditations, Way of the Cross, spiritual reading, talks and the Holy Rosary are some of the integral parts of a retreat.
The closed retreat is an excellent opportunity to discover or rediscover what contemplation or loving dialogue with God is all about. Staying in front of the tabernacle with our thoughts directed to God who is physically present there captures its essence. It may be a simple, nonverbal awareness of God's presence or an actual mental articulation of some praise, thanks, plea, or amends. We can talk to God about anything. God responds with unmistakable, if not surprising, lights for the mind and consolation for the heart.
Plumbing the depths of Jesus' revelation that God is our Father and that we are his children in contemplation is certainly worth its while. Regardless of our response, God loves us eternally and unconditionally. He will give us all the help we need to bear the fruits he wants us to yield, provided we give him our consent. At the very least, we can ask him to give us the grace of openness to such a salutary desire.
We should not lose heart if our mind may feel distant in the presence of such an incredible Father right in front of us. This lack of connection may occur when the mind wanders, gets self-absorbed, daydreams, and spins self-centered thoughts.
The retreat is an opportunity to come back home and experience the affectionate embrace of our Father God for the first time or once again. We will always receive more than we need. God expects His children simply to ask, to seek, and to knock. Divine filiation means divesting ourselves of all pretension or presumption, especially about our self-sufficiency. It means leaving the immutable past behind, facing an uncertain future with holy abandonment, and engaging the present and only real moment with all our mind, soul, and strength.
In the retreat, being recollected is all-important. By keeping both external and internal silence, we turn the periods of prayer, whether vocal or mental, into a personal and intimate conversation with God. Contemplation makes God's life ours, flooding our otherwise mundane and dreary existence with new light and fresh meaning. We sense the need to simplify our life, give it a clear focus and purpose, and make it spiritually and apostolically fruitful—with God’s grace and help.
Our inner dialogue with God during the retreat gets grounded in reality with the help of a sincere, courageous, and thorough examination of conscience. This is especially helpful for fostering our desire for forgiveness and spiritual healing and for preparing ourselves for sacramental confession. Nothing restores peace and joy in our soul as tenderly as the words of absolution do. We will receive even more light by seeking the advice of the retreat master in spiritual direction. Finally, so as not to remain at the level of good but general intentions, we will formulate a few concrete resolutions—about prayer, some virtue we need to develop, or apostolate—to work on during the year, until our next retreat.
Eye-catching ads all around us are dogged reminders of the lure of looking good and getting fit. Often, it's a pipe dream. Yes, our bearing and health matter. But if the wish is the father to the thought, we can fall into the trap of living out our fantasies through self-absorption and overindulgence. The door then opens to a dreadful disappointment with ourselves and others.
What these ads miss altogether is the greater importance of being good and getting tough. Integrity and character call to mind a whole new set of human and supernatural values. When we look beneath the purely external, we begin to understand man's innate dignity and the qualities that truly ennoble him. We begin to see the reasons for a healthy self-acceptance and of respect of everyone. True attractiveness comes within reach. The grace of God, together with getting the right help, can turn these ideals into real goals.
The monthly recollection tries to address this great need. These two-hour sessions can help us achieve changes that transform our life. However, we must be willing to do our part. We must make the effort to break free from a busy schedule and overcome physical tiredness or mental distraction.
The monthly recollection follows a systematic format that covers the essential aspects of human, Catholic doctrinal, religious, and ascetical formation. Our mind and heart get engaged with God because we are helped in three ways: First, there is external silence. We refrain from unnecessary conversations. Second, our attention is drawn to constant themes of the activity: prayer, virtues, and apostolate. Third, we are reminded to make a few practicable resolutions.
The activity schedule includes spiritual reading, meditations, a talk, and examination of conscience. Spiritual reading provides much-needed learning about God, man, and the world and stirs in us thoughts and desires necessary to sustain a lifetime struggle for holiness. St. Jerome says that when we pray, we talk to God, but when we read, God speaks to us. The meditation, led by a priest, is meant to help us do mental prayer or a personal dialogue with God. The talk offers practical considerations and advice for Christian living. The examination of conscience, done in God’s presence and with the help of guide questions, is a great aid for developing a refined conscience and forming concrete resolutions.
If we want to benefit fully from the monthly recollection, we need to make even just a few but specific and actionable resolutions. As the saying goes, nothing ventured, nothing gained. The struggle for holiness is neither a mad rush nor an exercise that leads to paralysis by analysis. The formulation of resolutions is intended to help us focus on what we need to improve or change and thus on what is worthwhile. So as not to bite off more than we can chew, we will limit ourselves to a few but concrete resolutions (for example, one specific goal for the next month for each of three key areas: prayer, the practice of virtues, and apostolate). We will also make it a point to keep track of these resolutions and review them often, daily if possible, in our prayer.
Our ultimate goal is to be another Christ, to be like Christ himself: to have his mind and to live and work as he did or as he would.