A Catholic priest is obligated by the law of the Church to go on retreat on a regular basis.
This, if nothing else, shows me the wisdom of the Church.
I know everyone leads busy lives these days - priests can't claim that only for themselves - even the students in our high school lead extraordinarily busy lives. However, for a priest - whose vocation is to lead people to an encounter with God, a retreat really is necessary.
Heading into my annual retreat last week, I knew, for myself, that it was time. The school year was over, summer was rapidly advancing, and I needed to spend time refreshing my prayer life.
I spent my retreat this year at St. Andrew Abbey in Cleveland. It's a Benedictine Abbey right in the city but with a surpassing amount of solitude and quiet. It was a perfect place for me to do the three things that I've found to be important on retreat: pray, read, and sleep.
My prayer was informed by my reading, especially Essence of Prayer by Ruth Burrows OCD. After reading the whole book last week, I can easily say that it is one of the best books I've read on prayer. Maybe that doesn't comprise a long list, but it was certainly powerful. I'd like to share what I got out of it without trying to summarize the book: faith means believing in God's love and living in that belief. Our prayer shouldn't be about seeking an experience - it's about seeking God. The most important think we can do in prayer is faithfully open ourselves to receive the love of the Father shown to us in the obedient sacrificial life of Jesus.
I also re-read one of my old favorites: Tolkien's The Silmarillion. It may not be a "religious" book in the strictest sense, but it's one that brings me to wonder and awe in the presence of beauty, and that is never a bad thing.
When it came to liturgical prayer, I had the privilege of praying the Mass and the Divine Office with the monks of St. Andrew. As a diocesan priest who usually prays the Liturgy of the Hours alone, it was a nice change to chant the psalms with the monks - slowly, focusing on each phrase and not worrying about what was next on my schedule.
A highlight of my retreat at St. Andrew was being able to spend time with Jesus in the Eucharist. I did this in a tiny chapel set aside for the novices of the community. With my mind and heart moved by the words of Sr. Ruth, I was able to kneel right against the altar and simply be with Our Lord.
After all that fruitful prayer and spiritual reading, my weekend was one of celebration. A friend of mine from college was married on Saturday and that gave me the opportunity to see many of my friends from those days, both at the wedding and traveling around the area.
Congrats to Mike and Maria!