What’s it like to go on retreat?

| February 16, 2016 | 0 Comments


Retreatants pray in the quiet ambience of the chapel at Franciscan Retreats and Spirituality Center in Prior Lake. Bob Zyskowski/The Catholic Spirit

Retreatants pray in the quiet ambience of the chapel at Franciscan Retreats and Spirituality Center in Prior Lake. Bob Zyskowski/The Catholic Spirit

Following the signs to the end of a winding St. Francis Lane, I find Franciscan Retreats and Spirituality Center waiting in a white, wooded winterscape.

For 50 years now, it’s been sitting on these 59 acres some 20 miles southwest of downtown Minneapolis in Prior Lake.

Before I even get my suitcase out of the car Brother Bob Roddy has the retreat center door open.

Brother Bob Roddy, OFM. Conv.

Brother Bob Roddy, OFM. Conv.

Clad in a gray Franciscan habit — colorful red Crocs on his feet — he signs me in then leads me to Room 11, talking all the way, pointing out the features of the place, explaining some of the policies, sharing a bit of the history of the center, where he is the director.

My room — a suite really, with bed, bath, desk and comfy rocking chair — has the look of much of the rest of the center in the mid-century modern style of 1965, the year it was built.

Early arrivals for this weekend men’s retreat introduce themselves to one another. A couple of guys swap fishing stories before Franciscan Father Xavier Goulet leads a prayerful contemporary version of the Stations of the Cross.

Prayer seems to come easy everywhere in the building, but it strikes me right way as I snoop around in the circular chapel that this is the core of the place, its beating heart.

Icons of St. Francis and St. Clare flank the huge crucifix that dominates the space, reflecting its Franciscan roots. Statues, paintings and religious artifacts are reminders of the faith. And at all times spotlights shine on the stone altar and that beautiful, imposing crucifix.

After a light dinner the staff members for this retreat introduce themselves, and there’s a round of applause for first-timers like myself.

Brother Bob tells us that the director of the retreat is the Holy Spirit. “Listen to the Spirit as it leads you,” he says. “Slow down into your soul space.”

“You’re here to hear God,” Franciscan Father Jim Van Dorn suggests. “Be. Listen. Listen and receive.”

Chris Martin, the music minister, offers: “Maybe it’ll be the music that touches your heart this weekend, that takes you a little deeper.”

She is so right.

Setting the mood

The 17 of us enter the chapel in silence for night prayer.

Texts designed to bring us into an atmosphere very different from the everyday are read aloud, gently forcing out the busyness and encouraging quiet, listening and letting go to let God’s mercy take over to bring peace.

Lights are dimmed, candles slowly walked up the chapel aisles, and a moving refrain sung: “My soul is thirsting, my soul is thirsting, my soul is thirsting for you, O Lord, my God.”

I pick up the hymnal and search for the composer of that psalm’s setting. I should have known: Music by Father J. Michael Joncas.

Opening to forgiveness

“God’s tender mercy: Opening our hearts” is the theme of the retreat, a no-brainer, Brother Bob says, in this Holy Year of Mercy.

At morning prayer on Saturday he reads the Gospel story of the Woman at the Well, pointing to the passage as just one of the ways Scripture captures how Jesus taught us to be merciful.

Brother Bob encourages us to join with Pope Francis during this holy year. “Be bearers of God’s mercy and reconciliation,” he says.

Breakfast is in silence, and it helps me absorb the message and stay in the mood, stsill thirsting for what pushed me to go on retreat in the first place.

In the morning’s first conference or talk, Father Van Dorn gets real about how we are supposed to live out being “bearers of God’s mercy and reconciliation.” We need to ask ourselves when we are encountering Jesus in everyday life, he says.

“In the last judgment,” he adds, “Jesus is only going to ask one question: ‘Did you recognize me?’ ”

God comes to each of us “disguised as your life,” Father Van Dorn said. “Do you recognize Jesus in the most obnoxious people in your life?”

Because we humans often fail to provide mercy to one another and need forgiveness, because we too have been hurt and are in need of mercy, we need the grace and mercy of forgiveness that God freely gives, he adds.

Atop the chapel altar, a clay jar drips water through several cracks.

“We’ve all got cracks,” Father Van Dorn says. “We’re all broken.”

Time for confession

Later that morning, Brother Bob leads another conference that follows up on the theme that we all need mercy.

“All of us have messed up, we’ve made mistakes and we need forgiveness,” he says. To heal us God offers the mercy of the sacrament of reconciliation.

The schedule offers time to for confession as well as for spiritual direction. In fact, throughout the weekend there’s plenty of time to, as Brother Bob suggests,“listen to where the Lord is calling you and asking what the Lord sees in you. The Lord sees something more in us than we can possibly see ourselves.”

Mass Saturday includes Anointing of the Sick.

There’s lots more conversation around the dinner table that evening as people get comfortable with one another.

Saturday night we move to the Marian Lounge in the newer wing where Brother Bob shows a moving video.

It’s part of the PBS series “Sacred Journeys,” a segment which follows America’s wounded warriors to the Shrine of Our Lady at Lourdes.

They come in wheelchairs, with prosthetic legs and a variety of physical and mental injuries to take part in the International Military Pilgrimage held annually at the shrine since shortly after World War II.

There’s a lump in my throat almost from the start that doesn’t leave until well after.

Sunday morning, in the final conference, Brother Bob leans on the words of Pope Francis, challenging us to “go back to the basics of sharing the good news and doing what Jesus did.”

We’re urged to realize a merciful God loves us and that that should give us joy and hope.

Brother Bob quotes Quaker singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer about hope, noting that it isn’t wishful thinking:

“There’s like a hope that’s kind of gritty,” she wrote. “It’s like, the kind of hope that gets up every morning and chooses to try to make the world just a little kinder place in your own way. And the next morning gets up and does it again.”

Need for rest

There’s Mass again, and brunch before we all head for home.

The weekend — especially confession — has left me feeling cleansed of some lingering guilt, unburdened of some baggage, rested and wishing I’d taken advantage of retreats periodically through the years.

I probably would have benefited even more from getting away from the busyness of life 15, 25 or 30 years ago when I had young kids and wasn’t just months from retirement.

One of the challenges the Franciscans face is one Brother Bob talks about frankly.

“I lament we have a difficulty drawing younger retreatants,” he says. He knows the Catholic culture has changed and that so many other activities vie for people’s time.

“People work so hard today,” he says, “and what they so desperately need is something like this.

“You don’t realize how tightly you are wound until you step out of that routine.”

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