Getting the Most Out of Your Retreat

Are you thinking about making a retreat? Maybe your first retreat, or maybe even your annual retreat?

Where do you start? How do you choose a retreat? How do you prepare?

We asked hundreds of retreat center directors their thoughts on how to best prepare to make a retreat. Not surprisingly, good preparation was seen as very important to making a good retreat.

Among the directors’ advice we found seven common themes, or “pillars” of retreat preparation. We will approach each pillar separately over the next several weeks, but for now we will focus on the first one, as it is pivotal to a good retreat and leads in to the other pillars.

The first pillar is commitment. Commitment is necessary on several levels, the first being commitment to a specific retreat.

The first thing to do it take some time in prayer to thank God for the inspiration to make a retreat, and then commit yourself to make it a time of fruitful prayer.

Committing to a Retreat

You need to go sign up for a retreat, get it on your calendar, and plan to clear your schedule for that time. Stop putting it off, just go ahead and sign up.

Each retreat center has a different registration process for their retreats, so consult their website or give them a call to find out what needs to be done to register.

Hesitations About Committing to a Retreat

Three reasons are often given by people for not committing to a retreat. Let’s take a quick look at each of them.

Worthiness

It is easy to imagine a retreat in your head and expect that everybody else there will be super holy, walking saints. We tend to see our own flaws and expect that others will see them just as easily, especially those other prayer superstars who will be on the retreat. We expect that the others will looks down on us and wonder why we think we belong there.

First, it just simply is not the case that only the holiest among us make retreats. There will be people of every spiritual “level” at any given retreat, and those who do have a deeper prayer life will probably recognize that as well as anybody.

Nobody is so “unholy” that they should not make a retreat. Retreats are for the spiritual betterent of us all. Some retreats are better fits for different people depending on their prayer life intensity, but there is a retreat for everybody. More on that later.

Time

Our free weekends are few and far between. Scheduling a retreat to fill in one of them may be a lot to ask, in particular if you have responsibilities such as kids in the house.

Batteries can only run a machine so long before they are drained. Sometimes operation needs to cease so that the batteries can be charged. After that short break the re-energized batteries help the machine to run more powerfully than it had been while the power had drained toward zero. You see the analogy. Finding time to recharge yourself on a retreat is important.

If time really is too squeezed to fit in a weekend retreat, look at other options. In many areas one-day retreats or “missions”are regularly hosted by a local parish or retreat center. Or, consider renting out a simple room at a retreat center or hermitage for a single night to get away for a time of prayer with potential access to the sacraments.

It is easier to go deeper in prayer the longer a retreat is, but even a short retreat can be beneficial.

To find retreat options in your area, try the new Catholic Retreats Search to see retreats being offered nearby.

Money

If the cost of a retreat is a barrier, you may need to dig harder for viable options.

A weekend at a retreat center can cost several hundred dollars due to the cost of housing and feeding retreatants for several days.

There are other options though.

Some retreat centers offer scholarships for some or all of their retreats, which you can apply for.

Some retreats ask for a free will offering to cover the retreat expenses, meaning you can pay what you are able.

Retreats or missions offered at local parishes may be free or at least lower cost, since retreatants return to their home each evening to sleep in between the daytime retreat sessions.

If your distance from a retreat center is part of what is making the cost so prohibitive, consider making your own private retreat with a book such as our own “A Prayer Retreat with the Rosary” or Fr. Michael Gaitley’s superb book “33 Days to Morning Glory.”

Choosing the Proper Retreat

There really is a wide variety of retreat formats, but in general a retreat is either “preached” or “private.”

Preached retreats are those in which all of the retreatants gather together for talks given by the retreat director at times throughout the retreat.

Private retreats do not involved these learning sessions. A person on a private retreat is often in a hermitage or private room, away from others, where they can pray in solitude.

Both preached and private retreats can be “silent” retreats, in which the retreatant refrains from speaking other than responding to the parts while attending Mass and speaking to a spiritual director that helps to guide their prayer throughout the retreat.

In general, if you are new to retreats a non-silent preached retreat is the way to start. Preached retreats are great for those with a great deal of experience making retreats too, but for beginners in particular they are ideal.

Private retreats and silent retreats are a little more intense on both a spiritual and a mental level, so they are typically a better fit for somebody who has experience making a retreat.

Commit to “Warm Up” Time

It is pretty difficult to hit the brakes on your day-to-day responsibilities while simultaneously going from 0 to 60 miles per hour in your prayer life.

We’ll talk about this more at length in upcoming articles, but commit yourself to spending at least a few minutes a day in silence and prayer as you lead up to the retreat. It will make the silent times during retreat less deafening, and the periods of prayer, though likely longer and more intense than most typical days in your life, will come more naturally.

Commit to Being Fully Present

It takes some careful planning, but it is fully worthwhile to put in the extra effort to tie up loose ends at home and work before the retreat starts.

Anything that you can do to disconnect from technology, work stress, and other distractions will allow you to focus more fully on God during your retreat.

A thousand “what-ifs” come to mind immediately, the worst case scenarios of what may happen if somebody can’t get in touch with you at a second’s notice. Fight against this temptation to justify keeping your phone or computer on you during retreat. It is only for a couple of days.

If necessary, give the retreats center’s contact information to anybody who would actually need it, and let them know it is only for emergency use. You can be contacted via the retreat center staff if it is actually needed. Then, turn off your gadgets and give yourself the chance to really commit to a time away with God.


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