Many of us find taking a weekend or a week away for a retreat is not an option, for time, money or family reasons.
Some take “stay-cations,” turning a weekend or week at home into a retreat by unplugging the phone and the computer to set aside quiet time for prayer, reading and meditation.
But I find it hard to do either. As a journalist, my work depends on being plugged in, at least for good chunks of the day. I never know when I will have to work — my schedule is always in flux — and I often have to attend conferences or weekend events.
So, aside from the twice-yearly quiet day at my church during Advent and Lent where we gather for lectures, long stretches of quiet time and a silent meal together, I haven’t been to a retreat in more than a decade.
I have discovered, however, the simplest, most flexible way for me to make a retreat is to find my way to the nearest adoration chapel and stay there for an hour or two. Over the past year, I have done this frequently. I have also been blessed with the grace to pray three novenas that included a minimum of an hour of adoration for every one of the nine days.
This budding habit began about a year ago, after I had visited the relatively new religious community Famille Marie-Jeunesse (FMJ) in August 2010 and interviewed some of the young people who were preparing to make permanent or temporary commitments to consecrated life.
What a joy to be with them! Love and happiness shone in their faces and the peace emanating from them instantly lifted my spirits. I could benefit through just being with them in the three to four hours they spend a day in prayer.
Their prayer disciplines include at least: daily Mass; an hour of Eucharistic Adoration; and the slow, meditative praying of the rosary that is one of the movement’s hallmarks. They also study the Word of God and the Church’s teaching. The rest of the time they are free to be themselves.
Being with them, hearing about their life of prayer and most of all sharing in the fruits of the Spirit so evident among them, I felt wistful.
I joked about maybe having missed my calling, as I have always had a contemplative streak and have considered myself more of a Mary than a Martha. Was the FMJ mixture of contemplative and active life something I was meant for and somehow missed in my life?
When I returned to Ottawa from FMJ’s motherhouse in Sherbrooke last August, I wondered if I could incorporate a little more of a FMJ lifestyle into my active life. Could I add to the prayer disciplines I already have?
St. Mary’s Catholic Church, which is closer to downtown Ottawa than to my home in the suburbs, has an adoration chapel in its basement. When I started to go there, I was tempted to sign up to cover an hour or so a week.
But because of my unpredictable schedule, I signed up to be a substitute adorer instead. That means I get a phone call every now and then asking me if I can fill in for someone who can’t make it for their scheduled hour. Sometimes it’s on short notice.
But I love those calls. I am being summoned to watch and pray with Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and I can’t wait to be with him.
Sometimes when I’m driving home from Parliament Hill, I’ll get a little nudge, as if the Lord is saying, “Come and visit me. Sit with me for a while.” Once I went and found myself alone with him — what joy! But I also realized the nudge was a summons that he might be left alone, which should never happen when he is exposed.
This past year has been especially stressful, but those hours in Our Lord’s Real Presence, were oases of peace and such a consolation of God’s love in Jesus Christ no matter what the world was throwing at me.
I bring my prayer book, Ordo and Bible, and do the Lectionary readings for the morning or evening office (or both if I missed the previous one) and Scripture comes alive. It is so much easier to concentrate when I am so conscious of his presence and that I am directing these psalms to him. I also pray the rosary, slowly, the way they do in FMJ, and sometimes I add a prayer intention on every bead in light of the various mysteries.
I came across a blog that posted a beautiful passage by St. Claude de la Colombière. I printed it off and began taking it in with me to pray as I start my time in adoration.
“Jesus, thou art my only true and real friend. Thou dost share all my sorrows and takest them upon thyself, knowing how to turn them to my good. Thou dost listen to me kindly when I tell thee of my difficulties, and thou never failest to lighten them. Wherever I go, I always find thee; thou dost never leave me, and if I am obliged to go away, I find thee waiting for me.”
The letter closes with this prayer:
“My Saviour, do I still desire something which is not thee? Art thou not sufficient for me, shall I not love thee alone and be content to be loved only by thee! What have I come here to seek, O my God, if it be not thee?
“What does it matter what they say of me, or if I am loved or despised, well or ill, occupied with this work or with that, placed with these people or with those? Provided that I am with thee, and thou with me, I am content.”
We’re asked to remain silent in the chapel, so you might hear the clicking of beads, the rumble of the air conditioner or dehumidifier, the odd sigh or even the occasional snore. But when the room empties and it is just me alone with him, I might sing a hymn.
As I go regularly now, I recognize many of the adorers. While we usually don’t converse, there is a fellowship of love and peace that shows Jesus is present as two or three gather in his name.
Jesus also wants us to share with him our joys as well as our sorrows. And he wants to share his joys with us as one of my favourite devotional writers, Oswald Chambers, writes in My Utmost for His Highest:
“Many people will confide their secret sorrows to you, but the final mark of intimacy is when they share their secret joys with you.
“Have we ever let God tell us any of his joys? Or are we continually telling God our secrets, leaving him no time to talk to us?”
So I also spend time in silence, listening, gazing upon the vulnerable Lord under the guise of the Host, watching the monstrance gleam in the morning sun, letting him transform me, knit my heart to his so that when I leave I am a little more able to love with his love, to be, like my friends in FMJ, a little oasis of peace and joy for the sake of others.