The beauty of a retreat…

Sacred Heart Retreat House

Sacred Heart Retreat House

I spent the weekend at the lovely Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House in Sedalia, CO for our annual Knights of Columbus retreat.  Until this point, I hadn’t been on a retreat since I was 16 (almost 20 years ago!) so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

This particular retreat house is situated on 280 acres outside the small town of Sedalia, over an hour drive from where I live.  On the way down, I was thinking about my last retreat experience and how this might measure up.  I arrived to the beautiful grounds and immediately understood that this was going to be a peaceful, relaxing place oriented towards true reflection.

The two day program was divided up around the primary principles of the Knights of Columbus: charity, unity, fraternity, and patriotism.  Father Ed Kinerk was our spiritual director for the weekend and provided us several presentations to move us toward prayer and contemplation of each of these themes.  Father Ed presented some very complicated theological concepts in an approachable way… I especially found the discussion on charity, love, and forgiveness the most inspiring.  He spoke at length about the importance of love in the practice of our faith, and that we could not continue to true charity and unity without focusing on loving like God first.

Christ by the waterfall

Christ by the waterfall

Most of the time in between presentations was spent in silence, to allow us to truly pray in an introspective manner.  Father Ed counseled us regarding how best to image Christ as we prayed, so we could make a more conversational and real connection.  He encouraged us to speak to Christ as if we were speaking to a friend, but not to apologize as we did this.  It was an interesting challenge for me, because I didn’t realize how much my inner prayer life was based on apology for my inadequacies.  You can read more about this philosophy of prayer in Father Ed’s article “Meeting God for Lunch“.

A beautiful tree along the trail

A beautiful tree along the trail

After the first afternoon of presentations, I ventured out onto the 30 acre area that had paved pathways.  The views of the fall colors and the prayer areas were astounding.  It was inspiring to look around and see other men in silence, many with rosaries in their hand or sat in quiet reflection.  We were welcome to talk during our lunch and dinners, pray on our own, go to Confession, or just continue to explore the grounds.  After Mass, we returned to silence and I once again made it out onto the trails praying on my own and listening to the nighttime sounds.  I had brought a few books with me on the trip, so I closed the evening by reading “Lukewarmness: The Devil in Disguise” by Francis Carvajal by the fireplace.  Sleep came easily after that, and was very restful thanks to the silence in the building.

Saint Jude at night

Saint Jude at night

We concluded the retreat with two more sessions, closing with a special session to take these lessons and apply them to our daily life.  This was followed by Mass and then some social time, however I left quickly after Mass so I could be with my family for the remainder of the day.

I took away some practical advice from this weekend.  First, silence is important in prayer.  Second, trying to understand God’s love as it relates to charity and forgiveness is a lesson that I will be thinking about for quite some time.  Third, learning to image Christ as I pray in more real terms really helps to deepen the experience of prayer.  It becomes less of recitation and petition and more conversing with a friend that goes far beyond any other friend we can have in this life. Last, and most important: I’m not going to let it be another two decades before I go on a retreat again.  The amount of spiritual benefit that was had in two days was far worth the time spent away from my family and the small amount of money that was charged.  I returned to the “real world” feeling very recharged this afternoon, and I look forward to carrying that feeling into the work week with me.


2014: The Year of Beauty

SunriseThis is the time of year when many people set forth resolutions.  Sometimes these mission statements are over before they start, and it seems like a few make any lasting changes.  I have had a checkered past with making successful resolutions, and I want 2014 to be a year to remember.

My thoughts kept coming back to the address given by Bishop James Conley at the Catholic Answers Apologetics Conference. He spoke about the role of beauty in restoring the Catholic Church.  He then suggested that beauty can evangelize in many ways: via the liturgy, an appreciation of ancient Christian culture, and an openness to beauty of all forms.

In 2011, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about the universal human response to beauty as “something bigger, something that speaks, capable touching the heart, of communicating a message, of elevating the soul. How many times, then, can artistic expressions be occasions to remind us of God, to help our prayer or the conversion of the heart.”

I thought about the beautiful things that go under-appreciated in my own home.  I thought about how the din of our modern world steals experiential beauty from us.  Art and music, travel, family time, adoration… of these things that I express a desire to do but lack in time and attention.  I thought about some of my own simple pleasures.  My woodworking hobby and the childlike fascination I feel when I look at a figured piece of curly maple wood.  The joy of dancing around the kitchen with my daughter to a song on the radio.  The meaningful connection felt when having a real conversation with my beautiful wife.  I wished there could be less noise and more of these experiences.

A few days later, I was thinking about the Year of Faith and how Pope Benedict gave the world this wonderful gift and I wondered if Pope Francis would declare another type of focus for the coming year.  It dawned on me that I didn’t have to wait and see… what Pope Benedict did for the Church, I can do within my own home.   I had my resolution:

I resolve to make 2014 the Year of Beauty.  I will appreciate simple experiential beauty in any way possible: art, music, sculpture, travel, silence, prayer, meaningful conversation, and family.  The goal is to elevate my soul to God, the source of all beauty.

I want to spend more time in January getting reconnected with music, and I would also like to experience a Latin Mass for the first time.  Have you ever been touched by a beautiful experience in your life in the way that Pope Emeritus Benedict describes above?  If so, share with the class.

For those interested: The National Catholic Register covered Bishop Conley’s address here and it is now available from Catholic Answers in both digital edition and in a CD collection.  Check it out for some great inspiration!

Won’t you join me in ushering in a beautiful 2014?