My friend Pat, who helped run college retreats, had a roommate once tease him about how he was always “retreating.” “When are you going to start advancing?” he quipped.
While on religious retreat we temporarily retreat from the secular world, it’s so we can advance in the spiritual life. We step away from the hustle and bustle of daily living seeking to achieve not safety, but clarity, and as a result, live our lives more effectively for God.
This clarity comes in two ways. Going away to a quiet place and leaving the noise and distractions behind helps our racing mind slow down so we can listen and hear God more clearly. We also hope to gain clarity of perspective. Imagine someone working on a small portion of a wall-sized painting. Attending to a limited area, we could easily lose sight of the bigger picture. To regain perspective, we need to step back from the painting so we can see how the smaller part fits in with the rest of the image. Similarly, we can be so enmeshed in the details of daily life that we lose sight of how it all fits together and where our life is headed. Improving our view could take more than just stepping back, however, as many obstacles can block our view or we need help with interpretation. God’s word and the Church aid us in finding perspective.
While we gain clarity through daily prayer, often our devotional time is no more than ten to twenty minutes a day. Sometimes we need more time to come to quiet and solitude, where we give ourselves to God alone. People going on retreat often find it takes a full day before they achieve this inner quiet and sense of presence. We need to set aside more time (1-3 days) if we want to realize the full benefit of a spiritual retreat.
Retreats come in different shapes and sizes. For many people, their first experience is a group retreat. Someone else makes the arrangements, and all we have to do is show up. The testimonies, conversations, and support are up-building. But group retreats also tend to be busier and allow less time for solitude.
You can find great retreats online. These usually include a brief meditation and scripture passage, followed by questions to aid reflection. These retreats are designed for busy people who can devote only a few minutes a day to prayer. The retreatant works her way through multiple topics over the course of several weeks.
The STEP Retreat
The STEP retreat is an intensive, structured, private retreat for men and women that is also portable and usable either online or offline and in a variety of settings. One can follow STEP while on private retreat at a retreat center, or if circumstances limit accessibility, even in your home.
The retreat incorporates about twenty hours of presentations, prayer, reflection, celebration of the liturgy, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It’s designed to run from Friday evening to midday Sunday, or if you prefer, over two successive days of the week. It’s even possible to add in a group experience if you are part of a small faith sharing group. The current format is not designed, however, for large groups.
If you have Internet access, you can view all the materials online at STEP Retreat. As many retreat locations don’t offer Internet access (and for a good reason!), you can also download the audio portions of the retreat from Google Drive and the written part from the website as a .pdf file.
I hope you find the STEP retreat to be a useful and effective tool in your journey as a disciple of Jesus Christ. May you know the Lord’s presence and the guidance of his Spirit.