For most of my adult life, I have successfully managed to shy away from participating in any church retreat or camp. I had a thousand excuses as to why I was unable to attend, but something changed recently, after I read an article which concluded that the most significant factor for personal happiness was not only the relationships you had with those you love, but also the relationship you have with God.
Before Jesus began His ministry, He spent forty days in the desert – praying and fasting as a way to prepare Himself for the important work ahead. Jesus was calling the disciples apart to spend some time with Him in silence.
Personally, I have tried to find the time to strengthen my relationship with God through prayer and conversation, but never really saw the importance or significance of getting away from daily routine to devote an entire weekend to reacquaint myself with God. That is why it came as a surprise to me, when I found myself agreeing to join in a parish weekend away. Initially, I was a little apprehensive and skeptical about the whole idea, but went along anyway, hoping to re-examine my priorities of life and make concrete and practical resolutions for improvement.
The Retreat Experience
The bus ride to the resort was pleasant enough, in the company of familiar and unfamiliar faces. Everyone seemed to be in good spirits, so that was a good start. The itinerary for the weekend was a nice mixture of spiritual and social activities, with the Eucharist being celebrated every day.
The format for the first half of the weekend was traditional – with sharing sessions, devotions, meditations and charismatic praise and worship – led by a priest as well as members of the various ministries. The highlight of the first evening was the devotional silence, which took place in the evening. It was enlightening and heartfelt, with many feeling emotional and openly receptive to the possibilities of a real connection with God. It was a means for listening to the Holy Spirit and getting to know Jesus while getting to know yourself. It truly was a moving experience.
The second half of the retreat was geared towards building a community of parishioners who worked towards a common goal – serving God and the church. Team games, group discussions and assignments made it possible to work together, and I found myself getting to know my fellow parishioners a little better, and even having a bit of fun while doing so. The night rounded up with a themed barbeque dinner, group performances and some dancing.
Going Back Home
The final day of the weekend-away started with the Eucharistic celebration. This was especially nice, as there was an air of comradery and whole-hearted participation amongst the parishioners. After mass, breakfast and a final session, it was time to go home. On the bus ride home, I noted that if there was one thing that I was taking away from my weekend away, it was the realisation that every so often, I need to retreat from the noise and distractions of everyday life, and be with God in silence.
The opportunity to get away with God provides us special graces, and if you are thinking about going on a retreat, you should not hesitate. The special time away will give you a deeper awareness of your relationship with God, and it will give you profound peace and happiness that many spend their whole lives searching for.
By Ms. Jillian Thomas