|A retreat is a
period of time spent ascetically for a spiritual purpose. Think of
Elias (Elijah) and the forty days and nights he spent in the desert,
which we read about in III Kings 191. Think of Christ
spending the same amount of time also in the desert, where He was
tempted by the Evil One (Matthew 4). And think of how Christ Himself
invited His apostles to a retreat:
And the apostles coming together unto Jesus, related to him
all things that they had done and taught. And he said to them: Come
apart into a desert place, and rest a little. For there were many
coming and going: and they had not so much as time to eat. And going up
into a ship, they went into a desert place apart.
The desert Fathers spent their entire lives in a sort of retreat,
giving rise to the great religious orders
of today, and St. Francis received his stigmata while on retreat at
Mount Alverno, in the Apennine Mountains that run the length of Italy
like a spine.
But it was St. Ignatius of Loyola who formalized and popularized
retreats as we know them today. With his "Spiritual Exercises," St.
Ignatius began a system of penance and contemplating God's will over
the course of thirty days, a system that soon became a part of the rule
of his Society, the Society of Jesus (Jesuits).
St. Charles Boromeo introduced Ignatius's "Spiritual Exercises" as a
regular practice among the seminarians and secular clergy, and the
laity, too, took up the practice. SS. Francis de Sales and Vincent de
Paul popularized retreats, with the former writing "Introduction to the
Devout Life" which is often used by retreatants today. All over Europe,
retreat houses were built just for the purpose of hosting retreats.
Today, retreats are often taken in the way pilgrimages
are made: to "shake oneself up" by removing oneself from routine and
the endless distractions of modern life -- the phones, email, social
media, work, the demands of family -- in order to re-focus on what's
most important. Retreats are also made in penance,
for the cause of making reparations for sin. They're made in times of
crisis or great change, such as before marriage or graduation. They're
often made for the cause of vocational discernment, in order to
determine God's will for one's life. They can be made to break cycles
addiction. Or they're made simply to rest.
They're made by individuals, a few friends together, engaged couples,
groups, such as members of Third Orders, Catholic doctors, Catholic
teachers, high school groups, men only, women only, etc. They're made
at retreat houses built for the purpose, at monasteries, at parish
churches with the necessary facilities, or, less formally, in places of
nature with nearby access to a church or chapel. Some may make a
retreat by renting a cottage or cabin and bringing along spiritual
reading, and some even make retreats in their own homes by setting
aside a place and disciplining themselves to make spiritual use of it
for a certain period of time.
Happens on a Retreat
What happens on a retreat can vary wildly given the differences in
where retreats are made, and whether they're directed, highly
structured, and formal, or private retreats made by individuals. Formal
retreats at monasteries can involve rising at an early hour, engaging
in formal prayer with the religious, being assigned a spiritual
director, attending conferences, daily Mass, confession, etc. Other
retreats can be highly individual, with no structure at all, allowing
the retreatant to schedule his time in his own way.
Some directed retreats are based on St. Ignatius's "Spiritual
Exercises," typically abbreviated from the original thirty days to
three days; others may have a specific focus, such as marriage
preparation, vocation discernment, or bettering one's marriage.
Some retreats can be silent ones in which talking is forbidden or
allowed only during very limited times; others are not.
Some retreats last for a day; others can last for 30 days (the
three-day retreat is likely the most common). There are also "retreats
in daily life" online programs that one can make for a small amount of
time each day
for a period of some months while otherwise still carrying on one's
life as usual.
Retreat overnight facilities can range from private rooms in large
retreat houses, to shared rooms (usually by no more than two people) in
smaller such houses, to individual hermit cabins, and anything in
As to board, some retreats will supply all you need with regard to
food; with others, you'll be feeding yourself.
Some retreats can be rather expensive; others are free.
Necessary to any good retreat, though, are access to the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist when needed. It's
advised, too, to have a goal in mind: Why
do you want to make your retreat? What
are you seeking?
How to Make a Retreat
You can make a private retreat any time, of course, and most anywhere,
but to use retreat facilities or for formal, directed retreats, you'll
have to find a monastery, retreat house, or religious or priestly
fraternity to direct you. Your dioceses's website2
will likely have information about retreats in your area, but don't
limit yourself to those if you're able to travel; look also into what
neighboring dioceses offer.
There's the standard caveat, though, when it comes to what dioceses may
offer: since Vatican II, Catholic teaching and practices have been watered down
horribly by many hierarchs, and what those in charge of diocesan
facilities offer may be weak (or worse). Looking, instead, to retreats
offered by traditionalist groups is highly recommended. The Fraternity
of St. Peter (FSSP) and Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) both offer
Ignatian retreats, and traditional religious orders may as well. Check
their websites3 for information.
St. Ignatius of Loyola Spiritual Exercises (pdf)
St. Francis de Sales Introduction to the Devout Life (pdf)
Kings in Bibles with Masoretic numbering
2 Find your diocese here: http://www.usccb.org/about/bishops-and-dioceses/diocesan-locator.cfm
3 The FSSP website: https://www.fssp.org/en/
The SSPX website: https://sspx.org/en