As a self-proclaimed ‘retreat junkie,’ a few days after a retreat I would often find myself thinking, “Last week I was going to change the world, change my ways and change the way I pray, and now, with the change of the week, I don’t feel like I can change the laundry, let alone my prayer life!” I would resign myself to wait for the next retreat, and resolve not to let the ‘high’ wear off so quickly next time. The transformation in our lives from a retreat can have a lasting impact; it is just a matter of bringing it home in the right way.
Going on a retreat is like going to a good movie. Not just any movie, but one of those that sucks you in, your eyes are opened to a world that you didn’t know existed. The Gospel drama flashes before our hearts, and we don’t merely watch, but we participate. We are in the scene: we anoint Christ’s feet at Bethany, we are the sinful woman he pardons, we are Simon of Cyrene, helping to carry his cross with our own sufferings. The hero is the One who saved you and loves you. The characters are the apostles who fought by his side; in the battle you are the prize to be won and all are fighting for your eternal life or death. Yet how often passion fades as quickly as the excitement from going to a Friday night movie? We feel the urgency of making a retreat impact our lives more than a girls night out, but how?
To make a retreat change your day-to-day life, your relationship with Christ, and your charity towards others, you’ve got to bring it home with you. When you see a good movie, you buy the DVD to watch it over and over again. Then six months later, you find yourself buying the DVD again because it has new special features. You look up the bios of the actors, you blare the soundtrack in your car, and you even read the book it is based on. When the Gospel drama has come to life before our eyes, we have to dive into it with as much zeal as we do a good movie.
Here are some simple ways that bring the retreat experience home to your life and to your heart. The path is daily prayer.
Try taking 10 or 15 minutes in the morning and start by saying an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and a prayer to offer your day to God. Then take some time to just talk to Jesus, heart to heart. Tell him you believe in him, you trust in him, and that you love him above all else. As a child, come before a merciful Father to ask forgiveness and to ask for everything you need, trusting in his love. It helps to use a passage of the gospel and place yourself in the scene. Hear Christ’s words to you, see him interacting with those around you, and see him come before you. Let him touch your own reality, your own struggles and joys. End by making a practical resolution, something specific and realistic.
For example, this morning I was praying about Christ’s encounter with the woman at the well (John 4). I thought about myself in that situation – he takes the initiative to come and speak with me, to forgive me, and offer me another chance. He is so tender that this woman was not afraid to take down her masks, which she had so firmly secured facing the rest of the world. It is a glimpse into Christ’s heart, a heart that loves me and a heart that I want to imitate. My resolution was to react with compassion and loving correction when my coworker talks about her immoral life, rather than to judge and preach, and to turn to him with trust right away to ask forgiveness for judging others.
To compliment this morning meditation, take about 10 minutes at night for prayer. In the first few minutes, look over your day and try to see it through God’s eyes. What blessings did he grant you today? Where did he give you the grace to be strong in doing what he wanted? Where did you fail to respond to what he was asking of you? How much does your heart, your thoughts, and your actions resemble like his? Thank him for the graces he has given you and ask forgiveness for where you have fallen, full of trust in his love and mercy. It is extremely helpful to think about and jot down some ideas for your morning meditation the next day. Read the passage you want to pray about and write down the virtue that you want to grow in from the meditation. Then put down a few ideas to pray about in the morning regarding that passage. I always finish the day with a ‘visit to Mary’, a prayer before her image, putting the day in her hands, asking for her motherly blessing, and begging for the graces needed for the next day.
By taking these two moments of prayer every day, it’s possible to hold off the painful retreat withdrawal sensation, and make your life an extension of the moments of grace you experience in a retreat. Take the retreat home – continue the retreat throughout your life. The same Jesus you encountered on a retreat is waiting for you to buy the DVD and take it home, and you’ll never find reruns of this ‘movie.’
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