Retreats hold a special place in my heart. As a junior high student, I enjoyed the high energy retreats of my Catholic elementary school that fired me up about my faith. As a high school student, retreats moved from an external experience that created a short-lived high to an internal experience that created longer-lasting impact on my relationship with God. It was the more contemplative retreats of my high school years that fueled my passion for retreat ministry. And it is a ministry that I became actively involved in as a senior in high school and continued to remain involved in through college and now into my young adult years.
Witnessing God work in people’s lives on retreats, I am reminded of St. Ignatius’s instructions to the director leading another through the Spiritual Exercises, “Therefore, the director of the Exercises”¦should permit the Creator to deal directly with the creature, and the creature directly with his Creator and Lord” (SE 15). Whether I am facilitating a retreat or working as a spiritual director, it is gift to watch God’s graces unfold in a person’s retreat experience and to watch the Holy Spirit move and stir within a person’s heart. The retreatant’s time of silence with God is powerful. In the silence, God finds us and wells up from within to deal directly with us.
My role is simply to listen and to watch the magnificent unfolding of God’s plan for that person. Ever increasing my own faith as I watch God work in others, I witness people experience intense healing, a new ability to surrender, and clarity of direction. I witness people open to God’s love for the first time or God’s love sweeping over a heart, turning it fully to Christ. Often, God lets the retreatant know what is getting in the way of a deeper relationship with God.
St. Ignatius had it right: God most certainly works with the limited time God has with a person on a retreat! This intimate time with God on retreat, while often short, creates long-lasting impact on our relationships with God.