How can I effectively prepare for a retreat?

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Dear Catholic Spiritual Direction, I am going to a silent retreat soon. I know that I really need this and I really want to deepen my relationship with Christ. Is there anything in particular I can do to effectively prepare?

Dear Friend, this is a difficult question to answer without knowing some details about your spiritual life but we will give it a shot.

First, a great deal of the benefit of spiritual exercises or retreats is the ability to break from the day-to-day grind of life and spend dedicated time listening to God. Often, the most challenging aspect of these retreats relates to our ability to really break away from the routine of noise and busy-ness and to quiet our minds enough to hear God’s “still small voice” with any measure of clarity. So, often, a good preparation is simply making the commitment to set aside all the cares of the world for a while. This preparation can be as simple as ensuring you have someone you trust to let the dog out and care for whatever matters you might be leaving behind for a few days.

Second, in today’s world of hyper communication one of the harder things to do is to shut down all the means through which people can contact you. This will likely mean leaving your cell-phone and computer at home. This can be hard to do. Many protest, “what if there is an emergency?” My thought is always, “what did they do a hundred years ago when there was an emergency?” Will a few hours of prayer without disruption really mean that the world will fall apart if someone cannot reach you?

You will likely have enough of a challenge finding peace within your own soul without having to fight off external distractions. The more channels of communication you leave open, the greater the probability that you will be interrupted. This is particularly true with those seeking to deepen their spiritual lives. The enemy will do everything he can to reach you, to keep you from the retreat, and to distract you as you seek to turn your heart and soul to God. Worst case, take your cell phone with you if you must, but leave it in the car. You can always leave the number of the retreat center with family members in the case of a real emergency.

Third, it is a good idea to pray for wisdom and insight as you head into the retreat. If you can set aside an additional five minutes a day to pray a decade of the rosary with the intention of a successful retreat, that would be a good step in the right direction. You might also increase your time of scripture or other spiritual reading. Believe it or not, a few minutes here and there can provide a great deal if insight into your spiritual journey. It is also a good idea to pray a prayer to St. Michael to ask for protection and to St. Ignatius as he is the father of much of the great benefits we receive in modern spiritual exercises.

Finally, and most importantly, relax. Bring yourself to God with love and openness. Trust him to give you whatever you need in the retreat. Trust that if it should be a dry period, that he will work in it. If it should be a delightful time of consolation and peace, the praise be to him in his great mercy. Don’t construct in your mind what he can, will, or should do for you during this time. Just rest in him, turn your heart to him, follow him and listen carefully and peacefully. Regardless of what you hear or don’t hear, experience or don’t experience, keep your eyes on him.

Yours in Christ,

Dan

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