Last weekend, my Dominican brothers and I welcomed nearly 100 retreatants to Malvern Retreat House for an annual retreat. The retreat is part of a broader project, our “Godsplaining” podcast, which hosts several different retreats. Retreatants sign up often because they’re dedicated listeners. It’s important to us to host the retreats, because they offer an opportunity to get to know our listeners and to build a genuine community. To my surprise, it’s turning into a movement.
I’m proud of the format of this recent retreat. We offer retreats for young adults, and we lead a young men’s wilderness retreat, but this particular retreat is open to anyone over 18. For that reason, we call it our “all-comers” weekend. And it’s wild.
What we were made for
I’m hard pressed to think of another gathering of this kind, where people come from all over the country. The demographic is wide and diverse. We’ve got millennials, Gen-Xers and boomers, all praying side by side. We encourage participants to read an assigned book ahead of the weekend. Friars deliver conferences unpacking the text, and then we divide into breakouts for questions and further conversation. There’s Eucharistic adoration. Confessions are heard. And there’s a good deal of socializing. In short: It’s everything a Dominican emphasizes in the spiritual life: prayer, study, community and preaching.
I travel a great deal for my ministry, in service to Our Sunday Visitor and preaching in support of projects such as the Eucharistic Revival, but I teared up at the end of this recent retreat (which was extremely embarrassing for me). My voice quavered as I thanked attendees. But I was moved not simply by their love for the project, but because the weekend had been such a clear and distilled experience of Christian life. This is what we were made for!
Retreats renew us because they give us time to step away from the hustle and bustle of life. Stepping out of the rhythms of our daily routines, we can more clearly hear the voice of God and dedicate our time to him.
The building we stayed in at Malvern has a courtyard in traditional monastic fashion. Monasteries often had courtyards for practical reasons — namely, they were used to grow herbs for healing and cooking. But the garden has a symbolic resonance, too. The garden is a return to Eden, where our first parents walked with God. Their lives, before original sin, were harmoniously ordered, living for God.
Step back into Eden
A retreat is an opportunity to step back into Eden, to walk once more with God and reorder our lives and our loves to him. And we don’t have to do this project alone. Retreats are not necessarily solitary endeavors but communal ones. They provide an opportunity to connect with fellow pilgrims on the road. The community that emerges during a retreat is invaluable, reminding us that we are not alone in our faith. Christian friendships strengthen our commitment to live out the Gospel and encourage us to persevere in our spiritual growth long after the weekend has ended.
In a world filled with constant distractions, making a retreat is a powerful way for Catholics to rejuvenate and deepen their relationship with God. Retreats offer space for contemplation and prayer, enabling us to disconnect from the demands of life and reconnect with what truly matters. By taking the time to make a retreat, we open ourselves to the transformative work of the Holy Spirit, who will equip us to live out our faith more authentically in the world. May we embrace the invitation to retreat, allowing God to renew and restore us, and may the fruits of our retreats overflow into our daily lives, shining as a beacon of hope and love for all.