Reflections about going on a silent retreat, experiences on retreats, spirituality, excitement about the New Orleans Saints
Going on Retreat – post Saints’ winning the Super Bowl?
As the year is coming to an end and we are approaching a new one, I’m reminded of my upcoming annual retreat at Manresa in Convent Louisiana. My group is # 7, so we usually go in the second weekend of February – much to the chagrin of my wife, since I’m usually away from home for Valentine’s Day! This year, could my retreat occur not long after a New Orleans Saints’ Super bowl Victory on February 7, 2010?
I’ve already received my little post card reminder from one of the retreat Captains who help organize the gathering of usually over 100 men who come from all parts of Louisiana and even from other states. Can you imagine all of us guys actually take almost 3 days out of our lives to not be allowed to speak?
In college, after my first Manresa retreat, I was so moved by the experience that when I went back to Loyola, I told all of my friends to check it out. Unfortunately, I was so much on “cloud nine” from that extended weekend gathering that I forgot to mention one very important fact to my female friends who had called to inquire for themselves: that Manresa is only for guys! Of course, there are other places for women who want to go for a similar experience.
Most people have heard of silent retreats and especially about Manresa if you live in the greater Baton Rouge and New Orleans areas. Essentially, a man is given the opportunity for reflection and spiritual renewal, which is greatly enhanced by the boundaries that are set for removing as many distractions as possible – verbal communication, being one of the biggest.
Of course, in this day and age, Retreat Captains almost need to use “geek device detectors” to remove all of the many barriers (reportedly communication enhancements) that we have become exposed to, such as beepers (who has one of those still?), cell phones, lap tops, iPods, phones, blackberries, game boys, Nintendo DS, etc. Nothing aggravates me more than hearing a ring tone at Mass – especially during the Consecration!
While I consider myself outgoing but still mainly with introversion traits, I wondered how I could actually go without talking from a Thursday night till Sunday after lunch as I attended that first retreat. How could I sit at meals and not say a word? How could I pass someone when walking on the beautiful grounds there without some sort of greeting, nod or gesture per ingrained politeness that we have learned as normative – especially at a gathering with religious connotations? How could I be sure to get the person sitting next to me at dinner to know the difference between requesting salt, pepper or tobasco – my tables usually have one shaking hand motion for the former, two motions for the middle and three motions for the latter!
Don’t ever let someone tell you that when we’re on retreat, that we have to fast – unless it pertains to the aforementioned geek equipment! Even if your retreat occurs during the season of Lent (like sometimes happens for me), when you certainly are trying to sacrifice something for sincere spiritual growth, the food that they serve at Manresa is some of the best in the world – which is saying a lot with all of the good food we are used to in this area. My wife got so tired of me telling her of the great food that I get there that I once was able to sneak her some of the famous chocolate pie that we usually have with the Saturday lunch!
We all have our Manresa rituals – year after year, some guys always like go back to their favorite spots for sitting in the dining, chapel, and Instruction areas. After silence begins on a new retreat, it does help that we are required to always go back to that same place we had first chosen that day, so as to establish a routine and keep a monitor on people. Every year, I purposely pick another spot so as to meet new folks at the beginning of the retreat and get a different perspective on things as the retreat progresses.
Usually, after lunch on Fridays, I like to take a long walk on the adjacent Mississippi River levee to the beautiful St. Michael’s Church and Lourdes Grotto. It is a great way to walk off some of those extra calories and take in the beautiful scenic river view. On Saturdays after lunch, I usually take a long walk behind the main Manresa grounds with the beautifully lined Oaks and forest area. And on some of the mornings, I love to take short jogs around the Fatima grounds.
The Jesuit Priests mainly give the silent retreats at Manresa, which are based upon the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Founder of the Jesuit Order. Recently, some Deacons and Laymen have also been Retreat Masters, who give men 11 - ½ hour Instructions over the course of the retreat. Also, retreatants are allowed to meet with a priest for confession and counseling during the free times. While not required for participation, there is a very structured schedule for all of the day’s meals, Mass, and other gatherings like the Rosary and Way of the Cross.
I have been to over 25 retreats, but every time, I am touched in a different way. With all of the recent excitement about the New Orleans Saints winning season, I’m reminded of one of my earlier retreats, when Danny Abramowitz was in attendance. He was one of the greatest Receivers from the early Saints’ years. I still usually get to see a relative of one of the famous Saints Quarterbacks every year – we keep hoping and praying for that elusive Super bowl participation and Victory!
So as I ponder my upcoming retreat and reflect upon this past year, as well as "big picture" life concerns, I’m anxiously looking forward to what lies ahead and what new spiritual growth may be in store for me. But I have to preface that / with a sincere “Who Dat?” How will I keep silence if the Saints go all the way? I just want to “be in that number!” "Geaux Saints!" - even if I have to whisper that in the confessional on retreat!
Keith John Paul Horcasitas, LCSW, MHA, 1133 Knollhaven Drive , BRLA 70810 , khorcasitas.yahoo.com, December 27, 2009.