Since the beginning of Christendom, silence has been a part of the great spiritual tradition of the Church. Today, the world sees this pretty much only in the example of the contemplative religious who spend their days in some great big monastery in the middle of nowhere. Really, though, the practice of observing silence is still alive and well in the Church. Of course, not everyone is called to live their lives in total seclusion like a contemplative religious brother or sister, but certainly most priests and seminarians spend a lot of time in silence, both in their own daily prayer and meditation but also on more rigorously structured retreats. Many of my friends in the internet world often seem confused when I talk about going on a silent retreat, so I thought share some information here.
Like everything in the Church, the practice of making a retreat goes right back to scripture. In his gospel, St. Mark recalls how at a certain point in their ministry, the apostles had become so busy, and new disciples were constantly “coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” Can you imagine? We all have experienced times of great stress in our lives, but to have no time even to stop and eat? This kind of stress can lead to burnout and cause the apostles to take their eyes off the prize and become weary and fall away from their mission. But Jesus looks gently at them and says, “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place , and rest a while.” (Mk 6:31).
This is the invitation the Lord has set before me and my 170 brother seminarians in Omaha this summer. The rush of the school year, of final exams, of graduation, of preparing for Major Seminary and graduate studies in Theology can all be very stressful. Indeed, all of our lives, whether we are priests, seminarians, religious, or lay faithful, are usually very hectic. This is very dangerous!
The Lord’s invitation to my brother seminarians and I rings sweetly with the sentiment of a savior, of an advocate, of a friend who is concerned about us.
But 8 days of silence? Doesn’t that seem a bit excessive? The real question is this: How far am I willing to go for Jesus? How much am I willing to give up in order to give myself completely to him? From this perspective, 8 days is nothing! It will take a lifetime to be conformed to Jesus, to be perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect, but it’s a lifetime I’m willing to live!
It gets even easier when I realize that God calls us first. God has called me to a more meaningful communion with him. God calls us first and all we have to do is respond to him and follow his lead, with a little help from the Church and our spiritual directors, of course.
Please pray for me as I begin this retreat tomorrow. Know that I am keeping you all in my heart as I go away and rest a while with my best friend, the King.
“God calls man first. Man may forget his Creator or hide far from his face; he may run after idols or accuse the deity of having abandoned him; yet the living and true God tirelessly calls each person to that mysterious encounter known as prayer. In prayer, the faithful God’s initiative of love always comes first; our own first step is always a response.” Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 2567.