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How can I effectively prepare for a retreat?

June 24, 2010 by  
Filed under Dan Burke, Spiritual Exercises

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,


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About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio - Resources Edition, Into the Deep Parish Programs, the Apostoli Viae (Apostles of the Way) Community, and the FireLight Student Leadership Formation Program, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep, Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux, and his newest book The Contemplative Rosary with St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Avila. Beyond his "contagious" love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN's National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN's Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

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  • Just be with yourself. Be open minded, relax, take a deep breath and clear your mind. During the retreat just focus on Christ and He will lead.

  • Teresa

    I go on a silent retreat every year and I find what helps is to pray to God to give me what I need during the retreat, not necessarily what I want or think I need. I come away with different insights every year.

    • Michael Joshua

      Thank you Teresa for the nice experience with the Lord, for sure i myself want to experience Gods love deeply in my heart and share it with the people around me. pray for me too.

      Michael Joshua from Sudan

  • inIpso

    Maybe its just because I’m a younger one, but one thing I have found helpful is cutting out music beginning at least a week prior to going on a retreat. (No car radio, ipod, etc.) It helps me start to quiet down. It would also be helpful to cut out other forms of media such as tv, internet, or too much news in the days preceding. Gets you ready for that active silence!

    And just like the post says, don’t go in expecting to feel a certain way. Just let our Lord surprise you with what ever He pleases. I discover fruits from a retreat even months afterward. His ways are certainly not our ways… because they are always better!!

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