Recently I took time out from my secular job to do my annual silent retreat. Like other consecrated people and clergy, this is something I am are required to do and look forward to doing.
However, is it something that only “Churchy” people do? The answer is, absolutely not! Everyone can do a retreat.
The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church refers to the “universal call to holiness”. Everyone is called to holiness. Everyone is called to develop a special, intimate union with God, not just “Churchy” people. A retreat can help develop that intimate union with God to which all are called to. A retreat will also help settle that yearning that Augustine refers to when he says “our hearts are restless until they rest in God”.
The only prerequisite to do a retreat is to give yourself permission to be open to the love and intimacy of God and to desire to settle some of that restlessness in your heart. It does not have to be a long retreat. It can be a day, a weekend or a few days. My usual time is six days.
So what’s it like to go on a silent retreat? Imagine even for a day or two to be totally disconnected from life – phone, radio, social media and talking. Imagine the only thing you should try to do, is to be with God and to be “in love” in that time with God. This is something that we all can do. It is something that we are all are called to do.
So why is silence so important? Have you ever looked at a sunrise in silence and be awed by its beauty? Try looking at the sunset with the radio on. You don’t enjoy it as much. The same goes for God. In the deep silence, you give yourself space for God to speak to you, to enjoy God and be holy and intimate in God. On a retreat, the silence of other retreatants supports you in your desire. Their silence helps you deepen your relationship with God. It sounds strange but it is true.
In the solitude, you are not alone. Your spiritual director, who you can talk to in absolute confidence, will help you in your alone time in God. They will listen to you and guide you in that solitude. They will help you to look at who you truly are. It can be a deepening and confronting experience. However, like coal, the difficulties you may encounter can reveal the true diamond that is in you and help you develop that intimacy with God. This is the treasure, that universal holiness that is in each of one of us, not just the consecrated and ordained.
When I first started doing retreats, I started with a weekend. Later, as I got used to the silence and being “in love” with God, I did longer retreats. During these longer retreats, I was introduced to the great mystics of the Church such as John of the Cross and the author of the Cloud of Unknowing. There was so much love and intimacy with God in their writings. I was like a kid let loose in a lolly shop. Over the years, I have been educated, enlightened, encouraged and challenged by my spiritual directors and the talks given on the various mystics of the Church.
These days, with a theology degree in my back pocket, I just try to let the Holy Spirit guide me. Sometimes we think we can be smart on retreats just because we have more “head knowledge”. However, this can lead to you missing those “God moments”. Spiritual union with God is more about the heart and the spirit than the head. God is ever loving and ever ready to be with us, where we are and regardless of how much we know.
For me, no retreat is the same but the intention for desire for intimacy in God in the silence remains the same. You can have good retreats and you can have difficult retreats but never are retreats a waste of time.
So I encourage everyone to do a retreat even if you are a newcomer in the Church, a regular churchgoer or a “Churchy person” or just plain curious on what it might be like. The only pre-requisite is the desire is to spend some time with God.
Let God and the silence take care of the rest and let the holiness and that diamond be revealed in you.
The following link provides a list of some of the retreat centres in NSW. Contact them and ask them what retreat might help you where you are at in your journey with God.
Zara Tai is a consecrated virgin in the Diocese of Parramatta.
 Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, 39, https://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html
 Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, 3.