A Quick Primer on the 3 Main Structures of Retreats

Thinking about going on a retreat? The obvious first step is to decide the structure of retreat you are going to make. There are three main structures:

Preached Retreats: A retreat made with a group during which regular sessions are scheduled for talks to be given by a retreat master or by multiple speakers. Some preached retreats are silent retreats, meaning the retreatants don’t speak, even if there are talks given by presenters. The retreat might be made up of a group from your Church, your business, your diocese, etc., or it might be open for anybody to sign up and attend. This is the most common type of retreat that you will hear about. Looking through any retreat center website you will find a schedule of the upcoming preached retreats.

Private Retreats: If you go on a retreat where no formal schedule is provided it is called a private retreat. You might be staying in a hermitage by yourself for these retreats, but you might also be renting out a room at a retreat center where others are around. The main point is that there will not be talks given at these retreats –  you schedule your days as you wish. If you wish to learn more about how to structure and plan your own private retreat watch for our upcoming blog series about this topic!

Directed Retreats: Directed retreats are are type of private retreat. What sets these retreats apart is that you will meet with a spiritual director regularly on the retreat, typically once a day. The spiritual director will talk with you about your prayer and your emotions and will guide you to a more fruitful retreat experience. Most often the spiritual director is a priest, monk, or nun from the retreat center who is experienced in guiding retreatants through the experience of a retreat.

Which Structure is Best for You?
What type of retreat is best for you? That depends on your spiritual condition right now. Each of the structures might be the best for you at different points in time. If the goal is to go on a retreat that will supercharge your spiritual life with a strong sense of community, prayer, and spiritual talks then a preached retreat is ideal. If you need quiet time to get away from the world and pray about a major life event, try a directed retreat. Maybe your goal is to spend a weekend in prayer and with quiet time to write the book that you’ve always had inside you. A private retreat is ideal for this.
What are some examples of the different types of retreats?

Examples of Preached Retreats
When I was in college the parish at our university scheduled two preached retreats each year – one in the fall semester and one in the spring semester. Every fall, in October or November, we went out to a youth camp and spent the nights in the camp’s (unheated!) single-room bunk houses in a forest in upper Michigan. It was a great way to build a sense of community between the students from the parish. Usually a priest would join us for the weekend and give several talks each day around a specific theme for the weekend.

In the spring we would do the same thing, except the group would rent out the large diocesan retreat center for the weekend and the talks were given by the resident retreat master. At this retreat each participant stayed in a comfortable, heated room and had hot showers available. Most years the local bishop would even stop in for Mass with us.

These are both examples of preached retreats in different environments. Groups don’t always have to travel to make a retreat, though. Sometimes a speaker will travel to a parish and give a series of talks throughout the course of the week, allowing the parishioners to take part in the experience without having to drop everything and leave for several days. This is also a form of preached retreat, but many times this is referred to as a “parish mission” instead of a retreat.

Examples of Private and Directed Retreats

At Monasteries
Private and directed retreats are offered at many retreat centers and monasteries, and they can take many different forms. Many monasteries offer hermitages or guest rooms specifically for private retreats and offer retreatants the opportunity to participate in Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours with the community each day. The rest of the day is spent on your own praying, resting, going for walks, and so forth. A directed retreat at a monastery would simply involve meeting with a designated monk or sister from the community each day to guide you through your retreat experience.

At Retreat Centers
Most retreat centers offer a similar experience to monasteries when it comes to private and directed retreats. You will probably get a private room among others in a dormitory-style building at the center instead of a hermitage, and there will be more people around, but the experience will be along the same lines.

Other Places for Private Retreats
Maybe you live in Nevada or Wyoming, which do not have any type of retreat center or monastery which offers retreat that we have been able to find at CatholicRetreats.net. The drive to the nearest such facility might be pretty long. What then?

Private retreats can be made pretty much anywhere. There might be a church nearby that has a guest room you can rent. This is a good option because it will get you out of the day-to-day routine and put you near a chapel for prayer and Mass. Depending on the situation you may or may not be able to find a spiritual director there too.

If it is not feasible to travel to a monastery, a retreat center, or a parish with guest rooms, try renting a cottage or cabin somewhere quiet. This will get you away from normal daily responsibilities to a quiet place, and there might still be a church nearby for regular Mass.

Private Retreats at Home
The final option is to set aside the time to make a retreat at home. This is less than ideal because you might be tempted to accomplish tasks on your to-do list or become distracted with the phone, internet, or television. You will have to fight the attraction of these interruptions and make an effort to focus on prayer. In the absence of other options a retreat from home will work fine as long as the time is set aside and a prayerful atmosphere is kept.
Are you planning on making a retreat soon? What type of retreat structure appeals to you the most?


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