Cornerstone: Silent Retreats

by Libbie Steiner


Sometimes the world we live in can feel full of distraction, noise, and chaos. The endless sea of obligations and commitments that make up everyday life can often detract from our spiritual well-being. We become caught up in life and forget to truly live. Making a retreat to purposefully come back into communion with God and ourselves can be renewing and centering.

Retreats in the Christian tradition are as old as Christianity itself. Jesus secludes himself in prayer several times in the Gospels. The writer of the Gospel of Mark shows Jesus “rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed” (Mk 1:35). In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus again retreats to pray: “In those days he departed to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God” (Lk 6:12).


The Desert Fathers, beginning around the third century AD, chose to withdraw from society and focus on spiritual matters by living in simplicity. These first monastic communities, founded by Anthony the Great, sought solitude as a way to rid the mind of material and worldly desires. The roots of modern retreats can be seen in their practices of taking meals together in silence, communal prayer several times a day, and spending time alone studying scripture.


The Jesuits, in the spirit of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, were the first order to make regular retreats. St. Ignatius spent months in Manresa, Spain reflecting, praying, struggling with God, and writing down what would later become his Spiritual Exercises. Many modern retreat practices can be traced back to the Spiritual Exercises.


The Christian and Ignatian tradition of retreats continues at Boston College with Campus Ministry’s Manresa Quiet Retreat. Offered for five days before the start of the second semester, it is a time of refreshment, reconciliation, and reflection. Alex Duran, A&S ’15, has made three Manresa Retreats during his time at BC.  Duran remarked that for him, Manresa “sets the tone for the entire year: God, here I am, and I want to get close to you.” Though the quiet can be difficult to adjust to at first, Duran says that it allows one to “get outside of your comfort zone, spiritually and otherwise. Our journey in life is to continue to grow with God, and the silence helps you do that… Sometimes the quiet calms down a lot of voices.”


During his time in Manresa, Spain, St. Ignatius had a profound spiritual experience by the Cardoner River. In his autobiography, Ignatius writes that “while he was seated there, the eyes of his understanding began to be opened… he understood and knew many things… and this was so great an enlightenment that everything seemed new to him.” As I sat by the Charles River, I could not help but think of this moment in Ignatius’ life. How was it that more than 450 years after St. Ignatius sat by the river and was renewed that I, too, would sit by the river and yearn to feel similarly transformed? It seemed that though time had passed, some things had remained remarkably the same.


St. Ignatius, pray for us.

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