The most important preparation for a silent retreat is an open heart willing to listen to the Lord. There are a few ways to make sure people are ready for that sometimes life-changing experience and tips to make the retreat fruitful.
Before going on a silent retreat, it’s important for a person to name what they desire with God.
“God is always the one who moves first, he’s always the one who invites. We already know the person who comes here is being moved by God to do so. So given that, what is their desire? And also thinking to discover what perhaps is God’s desire; why does he want them here?” said Msgr. Scott Friend, diocesan vocations director and a certified spiritual director. “The retreat actually begins long before they get here because God’s working with them, working in their heart.”
For Ignatian-directed silent retreats, retreatants will be guided by God and their spiritual directors who follow the framework of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises.
“There’s no right or wrong way to do it,” said Father Rubén Quinteros, retreat leader for a diocesan Ignatian silent retreat in March.
Sister Mary Clare Bezner, OSB, diocesan minister for religious, remembers one of her first silent retreats as a postulant, where then Abbot Jerome Kodell of Subiaco Abbey served as retreat master. For a self-professed extrovert who learns through speaking, Sister Mary Clare said structured prayer of Lectio Divina was a challenge.
“He told me to take it five minutes at a time for my structured meditation. To begin by just telling myself I had five minutes. Then I would do five more minutes later, until I ended up with 30 minutes to an hour in a day. I didn’t have to stretch those out and that gave me such freedom,” she said.
Holy Angels Convent in Jonesboro holds monthly days of silent reflection for the sisters, but also a five-day silent retreat annually.
Sister Mary Clare learned being out in nature and doing physical work during a silent retreat is key. She usually walks about four to five miles a day during a silent retreat.
“I remember just thinking I’m going to scream. I’m going to just start screaming. So I went and dug a lot of weeds out of a big flower bed somewhere, I used all my energy like, on the earth,” she laughed, recalling an early silent retreat.
She also recommended that it’s best to go it alone, unless there’s a friend who understands that silence really means silence.
The Carmelite sisters in Little Rock are focused on silence and recollection in their order. However, there are still silent retreats during the year, including community hermit days twice a month and each sister takes a two-week silent retreat annually. There is freedom in those retreats, freeing the sisters from daily chores and giving them the choice to stay in one of the hermitages, to be alone with God.
Sister Mary Petra Masek, OCD, said the silent retreats are an opportunity to “allow the sacred to seep into our souls.”
“It’s not an empty space; it’s very full of God’s grace. We can learn a lot about ourselves and the world. I think it balances out our life,” she said.
Following silent retreats, she said she’s seen health benefits, more efficiency in their daily work at the convent and noticing God, even in the smallest moments.
“When a composer pauses for silence in his work, it brings out something more beautiful,” she said. “… It’s a fruitful silence. It prepares me when I come back into community to have more fruitful interactions with others.”
Furthering a relationship with God does not stop once the retreat ends.
“Sometimes it happens right away, sometimes they need time to discover that interior freedom they have received through the retreat,” Father Quinteros said. “So they can just live in their normal lives answering to God’s love. As Monsignor (Scott Friend) said, just loving God in everything, discovering that everything is grace. So that is part of the takeaway.”
For Father Quinteros, a 30-day silent retreat, his longest, when he was a seminarian was also the one that changed his life.
“I was having second thoughts and the silent retreat just helped me to clarify God’s desire for me in my life, the only thing that would make me happy, so I just embraced that. That was my desire as well” to become a priest, he said.
Msgr. Friend said many experience God truly for the first time.
“They’ve experienced him as real, inside of them and it opens them up and awakens them spiritually. That’s where the spiritual life begins,” Msgr. Friend said. “… Believing in your experience of God, your relationship with God is real. You’ve got to believe that … being at a retreat like this you come away believing more deeply that God really is speaking to me.”
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