August 11, 2019 - Pastor Message01/19/2020
THE YEAR OF PRAYER PART 24: RETREATS
“Rising very early before dawn, Jesus left and went off to a deserted place to pray” (Mark 1:35).
The practice of going away to a “deserted place” to pray predates Christianity, but was certainly familiar to Jesus. Today, we call this making a spiritual retreat, the theme for this month in our journey together through our Year of Prayer. We do this in anticipation of our 2nd Parish Alive retreat September 1314, 2019, here at St. Boniface. Last year was a great and prayerful experience for 40 of our parishioners who made that retreat, and we hope to see even more take advantage of it this year.
We know that the practice of leaving the ordinary setting of people’s daily lives in towns and villages and going to deserted places to cultivate the spiritual life was well known to people of the ancient Near East, practiced by Old Testament prophets, like Elijah, and the community of Jewish monks at Qumran, from which came the famous Dead Sea scrolls. This time away often also involved acts of asceticism, denying themselves luxuries, fasting, and living simply to remove any distractions from their focus on God. These early retreats from the world could be temporary, as we see in Jesus’s 40 day journey into the desert at the beginning of his public ministry, or they could be for the rest of a person’s life, as we see in John the Baptist’s dwelling in the wilderness near the Jordan River.
In early Christianity, the practice of retreating to the desert or mountains to focus on spiritual growth developed into the earliest forms of consecrated religious life. Whether living alone as hermits or in small religious communities, these people were considered to be wise and holy, and other people would often trek out to the desert to join them for a time to seek their advice. This remained a very informal practice until the 16th century, when St. Ignatius of Loyola developed a formal program for spiritual retreats called the Spiritual Exercises. He developed this program while himself on a sort of retreat, convalescing from wounds he received in battle (he was a soldier). He took advantage of that time to engage in spiritual reading and intense prayer, and, when he was well again, he left the military life to form a new kind of missionary religious community called the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits. Undertaking the Spiritual Exercises was mandatory for anyone wishing to join the Jesuits, and St. Ignatius also encouraged their use for other clergy and even lay persons.
Thus a more structured and formal approach to making retreats began to spread. In time, other religious communities developed their own forms of retreat, and norms were issued by the Church requiring all clergy to make an annual retreat, norms still in effect today. Over the centuries, various forms of retreats have grown in popularity among all Christians clergy, religious, and lay people and we are all encouraged to make going away to a deserted place to pray a regular part of our spiritual lives.
Fr. Marc Stockton