According to The Good Retreat Guide, a retreat is a journey that can be religious or spiritual in nature, and is typically taken away from the confines of everyday living. Its purpose is to get closer to God and to rediscover one’s faith. Some adults will go on a retreat every few years and possibly every year. It might be the only time that there is an opportunity to escape the frenetic activity that characterises much of modern life.
Even at home, we’re constantly connected to work, friends and the wider world through our phones and devices. There barely seems to be time to think, never mind focus solely on God or our relationship with him.
It’s not only mature adults that need to focus on spirituality and get away from it all. Our teenagers and young adults are often under more pressure than we are with the stresses of school, work or college; balancing work and home life and the peer pressure to conform to a particular lifestyle.
Often, young Christians have no one else in their immediate circle who understands their deep desire for the things of the spirit. If they’re in college or living away from home, the difficulty of trying to practise their faith becomes apparent. It’s often during these years that the young drift away from their religion. It’s really important that they have a like-minded circle of friends.
Often it is on retreats specifically geared to the young that these valuable friendships are forged and a support network formed that will help young people through some of their most challenging years. I spoke to three young people who had attended retreats recently to ask them about their experiences.
Two had attended a retreat in Lismullin Conference Centre in Co. Meath, a beautiful location very close to the Hill of Tara. Inspired by the message of the organisation Opus Dei that everything in life can be a path to find God, retreats in Lismullin provide a pleasant atmosphere which supports personal reflection and encourages people to be active followers of Christ.
The other retreat attended was with Youth 2000 which is a Catholic youth organisation that organises lively faith festivals, retreats, prayer groups and other events for young people aged 16-35. Their retreats help guide the young in learning about their Catholic faith and discovering the great love God has for each one of them.
Even though the young people had different perspectives and different reasons for going on a retreat, they were all really pleased and reinvigorated by the experience. One young man I interviewed is a 20-year-old law student. He described the retreat in Lismullin as “very worthwhile” and said that it provided plenty of time to focus on just one thing, his relationship with God, his life, its meaning and, as he said, “the bigger picture”.
The other young man I chatted with is married with a young family. Having a very busy life, he really appreciated the time out, giving him a bit of space to be at peace with God and to receive spiritual guidance.
He felt it helped him to renew his commitment to his marriage, family and work.
My 16-year-old daughter was the third person who’d attended a retreat recently. It was a Youth 2000 retreat in Ashbourne, Co. Meath. It was her first time at a full retreat and she was impressed with how everything went and with the friendliness and support.
She had been a bit apprehensive before she went but, when we were picking her up, a very different girl greeted us. She couldn’t contain her enthusiasm as she told us about how great the retreat was and how fantastic all the talks and workshops were.
At a time when there is a lot of concern about young people leaving the Church, it was heartening to hear her talking about her favourite parts of the retreat being Confession, Mass and the healing service. She described it as “so calming and peaceful just praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament after a good Confession”.
She made loads of new friends and liked the fact that they had similar views on many issues. She felt the retreat really helped her to look at her life in a new way and see how she could improve.
I asked all the young people for their overall impressions of going on a retreat and got comments like “It’s good to be with other people who share your faith and there’s a great feeling of community and solidarity”.
One of the young men said that it wasn’t a place to catch up on college work; it was about larger scale things in life and about “playing God’s game and following God’s journey”. He talked about making life about something more than yourself.
My daughter said that, after the retreat, she felt on a high and as if she’d never do anything wrong ever again, but of course, this wears off and you still have to make an ongoing effort.
She’d recommend that every young person goes on a retreat as “It’s an amazing experience and anyone who is trying to get closer to God should go; even if you’re nervous or feel like you won’t fit in, you should give it a try.”
As well as a great learning and spiritual experience, it’s great fun.