From the time of Genesis the reality of rest has been an essential aspect of the spiritual journey of God’s people, having its origins in God’s own resting (Genesis 2:2). This is the origin of resting on the Sabbath, resting on Sunday as a way of keeping holy the day of the Lord.
The disciples returned to Jesus after their missionary work and they told him all they had done and taught and it is here that He invites them to “come away and rest awhile” (Mark 6). It is their retreat with Jesus and it is one of the central purposes of going on retreat – resting after the labours of work, resting with the Lord with whom we find our whole being refreshed and restored.
The Song of Songs speaks of being in a state of alert restfulness – “I sleep but my heart is awake!” (Songs 5:2) – alert to how I am in the moment, alert to the stirrings of the Holy Spirit who seeks to equip us for the journey ahead, taking us further on our pilgrimage of new Life.
Retreat is solitary and it is communal. “Alone with none but thee my God I journey on my way” – words from a hymn in the Divine Offices, words that express something which is part of every person’s life, though we often ignore our need of solitude or else we simply cannot find the time or space for it due to pressures of family, work or education. But our lives are greatly enhanced when we get periods of solitude in a safe environment such as a retreat centre – even for a few hours if we cannot manage a day, weekend or longer.
When you come to a place like the Pallottine Retreat Centre you connect with a community, it’s spirit of hospitality, its long tradition of prayer. The building itself and the gardens hold a palpable spirit of Peace. There is time for personal prayer, meditation, reflection as well as community prayer, healing, celebration of the Mass in a more intimate setting than is possible in our larger churches. It is a Cenacle experience in which Mary prays with us for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our lives and community.
Catholic retreats are centered on the person of Jesus who leads us into a more profound experience in our personal relationship with God. The Mercy of God which we experience in the Sacrament of Reconciliation liberates from all that holds us back from knowing and believing the love which God the Father has for us.
There are retreats throughout Ireland to suit every age group and every form of Christian prayer. Not all are located in a particular building. Walking Pilgrim retreats are available in places such as Glendalough, Ballintubber Abbey, Croagh Patrick. Lough Derg is a unique form of penitential retreat in which there is a real sense of cleansing and being united with the Passion of Jesus.
The silence of contemplative and monastic retreats is a particular grace in an age where noise dominates. It is in silence that God is best heard. It is significant that our national Shrine at Knock was born out of a vision that was silent, a wordless but nonetheless powerful apparition.
Youth retreats are held in many places throughout the country and these testify to the fact that the faith is energetically alive among core groups of young people whose numbers are greater than might be thought. There is hope!
Written for the Irish Catholic feature on retreats and pilgrimages in Ireland.
June 23, 2016