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.