What is a Retreat?

10-28-2023Weekly ReflectionFr. Robert Aliunzi

Dear Friends,

Last week, I joined a section of the priests of the Diocese of Phoenix for a five-day retreat at Picture Rocks Retreat Center in Tucson. When I told my nephew, Saviour, that I was leaving for this retreat, he promptly sent me a sympathy note from Uganda wishing me a quick recovery. He thought I was seriously I’ll. Another one thought I was on a vacation. This is what inspired me to explain briefly what a retreat is.

Many of you may know what it is but some others may not. But before I go onto saying what the common understanding of retreat is, there is something interesting Bishop Dolan said about retreat which intrigued me. I hope to expound on in a later article. On the last night of our retreat, Bishop Dolan joined us for the last supper. In a part of his prayer of blessing over the meal, he described the retreat as “wasting time in the presence of God”. Indeed, in a world so addicted to noise, activities and constant mobility, retreats can be considered a waste of time. This is because a retreat from the religious perspective, is a moment of time spent in silence, in prayer and in reflection about God and our relationship with Him and about spiritual reality in general. It is a time meant to enable us to maintain a healthy perspective about life in general but on our spiritual life in particular. For that reason, a retreat is not synonymous with a vacation as it is often characterized by an intentional austerity and mortification.

Picture Rocks Retreat Center is located in a radically simplified and isolated environment tucked away at the foot of a hill, away from the noise and bustle of the city of Tucson. Its very location and amenities discourage inner clutter and distractions and its common neighbors and inhabitants are snakes, scorpions, squirrels and coyotes, among others. The center has no games, no loud noises, no televisions, no ‘busyness’, no luxury whatsoever. Instead, there is silence all around, simple food, simple small beds on which one had to sleep carefully lest he fell off as I did once. But, on the other hand, the environment also offers the security of being surrounded by a praying community and a sacred space to ponder the beauty and love of God. So, even though a retreat in such an atmosphere may present a sense of “wasting time” in the eyes of the world, it was a perfect place for those of us who often get trapped in crowded schedules and in the labor-intensive life of a pastor. It was a perfect place of solitude and prayer characterized by the desert and silence that allowed God to speak to our hearts and refresh us. It was just where I needed to be at the time I went on this retreat.

One of the wittings in the chapel at the retreat center which deeply struck me says: “The desert will lead you to your heart where I will speak.” Indeed, in the silence of that desert and through the retreat master, God spoke to my heart and confirmed my mission among you which is to help lead you all to heaven through focus on the Eucharist and dedication to Mother Mary. I will share more about what I got out of the retreat with you in a future article. So, watch this space! I am now happy to be back fully refreshed and spiritually rejuvenated to serve you. Thank you for your prayers while I was away. God bless you all most abundantly.

I love you!