In May, 1977, a friend of mine drove me from Washington, DC to Berryville to begin my postulancy. Fr. Andrew Gries, who would be my Novice Director, showed my guest around and. among other things, pointed out a hermitage for monthly retreat days.
As we were making our goodbyes, me friend noted, “This Abbey is in the middle of nowhere, there’s less than thirty monks, you’re cloistered and you need a hermitage for monthly retreat days!??” I made some sort of answer but I had no good answer. Of course, in the middle ages, no one would have conceived of “retreats” except as the name for remote places where hermits lived.
I’ve grown to appreciate that Canon Law and our Constitutions, which stipulate an annual retreat for all religious, have more common sense than surface appearances would yield. Yes, we’re off the beaten track and, yes, each day is protected by silence and a predictable schedule of prayer. But we also live much longer than people did even sixty years ago and, over time, even the best of routines degenerates into routine. The saints of almost five hundred years ago realized that life demanded that we step aside from routine and refresh our perspective on the spiritual life. St. Ignatius of Loyola formulated his Spiritual Exercises and St. Teresa of Avila established the tiny retiro, or pavillion for her nuns to retire in solitude from time to time.
Monks and nuns of our day run businesses and network with the local community; computers are one of the tools employed in the cloister; we must meet deadlines and find our place in the current economy. We are shaped and limited by the same forces that shape and limit your life. If you’ve ever found spiritual refreshment by making a retreat at one of our monasteries, you know the need for “recharging”. We are not exempt from that need; perhaps it even helps us to provide the hospitality you need for a good retreat.
Here at Holy Cross Abbey we schedule the community retreat during the beginning of Lent. Lent was the original Liturgical Season of the Church. preparing catechumens for Baptism at the Easter Vigil. The community retreat is something like a renewal of that basic commitment to our faith and our vocation. Let us pray for one another during this graced time.