The unexpected benefits of being on retreat

I have just returned from retreat at Malvern, Pa., with a group of men from Saint Stephen Parish in Pennsauken. I would never have expected to be a retreatant, but this was my fourth experience.

Upon arrival, as I entered my room, I Googled. Each room has a window pane and a dedication to a saint. So since I like to know who I am rooming with, I looked up the saint.

My first year I had Saint Albert, which was fitting as I was getting back to my roots as a science teacher and he is the patron saint of scientists and philosophers. My saint last year was Saint Theodore, known as the warrior saint. This too felt appropriate as professionally I was gearing up for certain battles in my life.

This year I had Saint Irenaeus, an early theologian and apologist. (I’m not that smart. As I said, I Googled.) I will have to reflect on him and what he has to share with me about my life.

So how did I end up on a retreat? I was asked. Several times. But that was not all. Four years ago I made a Lenten commitment to dedicate one hour of prayer each day. I figured time was my most precious commodity and to give it up to God would be valuable.

And also, it turns out, incredibly difficult. Easter was fast approaching and I was “owing” hour upon hour. Then came the “ask.” Do you want to go on a retreat?

I did the college years. Cramming for a test was in my blood. Cramming for prayer seemed the same. So I was in. But I had reservations and questions. Do I room with somebody? (As I navigate my spiritual life I really don’t need to worry about another grown man’s sleeping habits.) No. You have a small single room with a bed and sink, just you and your saint.

What if I miss a session? No judgment. What if I miss a session because I want to go for a run or take a nap? Again no judgment. A no judgment nap? I’m in!

It seemed like a home run for me and my prayer obligation which I had set before me. So I went.

I grew as a Catholic. I am a practicing Catholic. Yet with all of this “practice” I truly don’t know if I ever get better. But there on retreat I enjoyed my faith surrounded by a community of men and learned a bit more. I did extra Masses, and Stations of the Cross and confession, and I participated in Vespers and Angelus. I even experienced silence in my own Adoration time slot. I have found my retreats meet an inner need for a moment of silence and a relationship with God. A chance to grow and practice my faith.

If not for being asked I may have never gone on retreat. So I ask you, why not try a retreat? You may find something you didn’t even know you were looking for. You may even be a repeat customer. Be careful of confession, though. On my second retreat the priest gave me penance: to come back for another retreat. The religious faithful are crafty that way.

Since it took several times for me to hear “the ask,” I repeat, “Why not try a retreat?”

Joseph Conway belongs to Saint Stephen Parish, Pennsauken.

Categories: As I See It, Columns

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