From the Director: Is making a retreat necessary for Catholics today?

Patrick Sharkey, Director of the Archbishop Brunett Retreat Center, shares his insights on the importance and relevance of Catholics making a spiritual retreat.

   Patrick Sharkey

As I had breakfast this morning, I read Bishop Robert Barron’s reflections on the daily readings on my tablet. During my commute, I listened to Mass celebrated on EWTN. In the middle of the day, a smartphone notification sent me Pope Francis’ latest tweet. After dinner, when I get home tonight, I could unwind by watching a few YouTube videos of my favorite preacher, Fulton Sheen.

With all these, and countless more, sources of spiritual inspiration – literally at our fingertips today – do we really need to go away on a retreat?

Here are five reasons why I still believe it’s even more important today for Catholics to make time to go on a retreat.

  1. A need for silence.

There is a great need for silence in today’s modern world. EWTN, Catholic podcasts, and papal tweets all still add to the cacophony of life in America today. In his new letter, Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis addresses this need for silence, writing, “The presence of constantly new gadgets, the excitement of travel and an endless array of consumer goods at times leave no room for God’s voice to be heard. We are overwhelmed by words, by superficial pleasures and by an increasing din, filled not by joy but rather by the discontent of those whose lives have lost meaning. How can we fail to realize the need to stop this rat race and to recover the personal space needed to carry on a heartfelt dialogue with God?”

Each of us needs to make space in our lives for silence, and going on retreat is a great opportunity to do so. Let us not forget that Elijah had to wait until he found the voice of God in the quiet whisper of the wind. (1 Kings 19:12)

  1. A need to step back to gain perspective.

Stepping out of the normal routine can help us gain perspective on our lives and how we are living them. Imagine you are painting a large mural on the side of a building. Right now, you are painting a person in the lower left corner. How do you know how big to make the person, or what color to paint them? You have to step back and look at the whole wall at once to get the correct perspective.

The same holds true to us, however in our postmodern world it can be difficult to unplug, step away, and reflect critically on our daily actions and choices. Retreats give us the vital opportunity to look at the whole mural of our lives and see the picture we are painting with God. Maybe we will see something taking up too much space in the picture, or maybe there is a part that lacks color, that needs to come alive. It is only when we step back that the master painter can step in and tell us what He is trying to paint.

  1. A need for true rest.

Pope Francis calls the pace of our postmodern culture a “rat race.” I don’t know about you, but these days, I find myself rushing from one thing to another. I arrive home and, when I am not tackling the responsibilities of a husband and father, I might try to relax by reading a novel or watching TV. However, this shallow rest often leaves me feeling spiritually empty, and I grow even more tired. “I need a vacation,” I tell myself. So I plan a trip. Nevertheless, after 5 nights sleeping in a bed that is not mine and having my routine thrown off, I arrive back home more exhausted than when I left. The next day I come to work and the pile of tasks that accumulated while I was on “vacation” welcomes me back. “How can we fail to stop this rat race?!”

We will never find the rest we seek – true spiritual rest – until we, like St. John, rest our heads next to the heart of Christ. As St. Augustine put it, “My heart is restless until it rests in you.” A retreat is a time to find this deep rest. I think almost all of us could use that type of truly rejuvenating vacation.

  1. A need for prayer.

Finally, underpinning all of the needs we have listed thus far is the need for prayer. Prayer gives us perspective on our lives. We enter into silence ultimately because it is conducive to prayer and the rest of Christ is only found in communication with Him. The Baltimore Catechism says that our purpose is to “know, love, and serve God.” Prayer is how we can come to intimately know the Lord and thus it is fundamental to our identity as intelligent beings. When we make a retreat we step back from the busyness of the day and enter in to the silence to pray, ultimately finding the deep rest that we all seek. Finding time to pray day to day is hard enough, much less finding an extended period to take a good look at our lives. While on retreat, each day you are provided with different opportunities to pray – Mass, Adoration and Benediction, the Stations of the Cross, time for contemplative prayer, or perhaps a group rosary. A retreat is purposefully designed to be conducive to prayer and reflection; a retreat is this extended opportunity for you and the Lord to communicate.

  1. Our Savior himself took time away for prayer.

If you still need convincing that making a retreat is an important spiritual practice today, you can look to the example of our Lord himself. Jesus spent 40 days in the desert preparing for his public ministry. Even after starting his public life, we still see him taking time away for prayer throughout the Gospels. He set the example of the vital importance of finding a silent place to step away from our day to day lives to pray. I hope that you, too, will follow with example and consider making a retreat soon.

God love you,
Patrick Sharkey

Questions or comments? You may contact Patrick at patrick.sharkey@seattlearch.org.