Since I am going to complete blogging about my RCIA journey I need to pick up where I left off with the Visitation Monastery post. While going to a monastery is not part of RCIA, it played an integral part in my path to becoming Catholic. After reviewing my first drafts of writing my experiences, I have decided I needed to break it up into several posts, this being the first. In this post, I want to give some general information about the Visitation Monastery and the retreat in that it may assist in putting my monastic experiences into perspective.
So what even got me thinking about doing such a thing? After all to become Catholic you don’t have to intern at a convent or a monastery. Going to the monastery retreat was not part of RCIA but a retreat that I wanted to do because it sounded like fun and how cool would it be to spend time in prayer in a monastery? (OK I know I am a little different and I walk to the beat of a different drum.) What initially got me interested in doing such a thing was a fellow blogger, who sadly has stopped blogging. Anyways, when she wrote about her experience she got me wishing I could go on a silent retreat too. Soon after reading her blog I saw an ad in my church bulletin for something similar to what she did, I couldn’t believe the timing! I could not sign up fast enough. Now that I have a reservation, what is this going to be like?
Going into the retreat I had absolutely no idea of what to expect. I had never done anything like this before. So I was a little nervous but mostly very excited for this opportunity. I had spoken with a lady at my church on her experiences there and she spoke very highly of her time and how much she enjoyed it. She explained that there is a structure to the retreat but I don’t have to follow everything that is offered. I can do as much or little as I want. I am there for my spiritual needs and to do as I need for my spiritual growth. Now that I have attended two ladies silent retreats I can share how it works. The retreats last 2-3 days. Most are two days, you arrive Friday afternoon and leave Sunday afternoon. The three-day retreats start Thursday afternoon and leave Sunday afternoon. The three-day is my favorite because you can really immerse yourself. That extra day really allows me to go “deeper” into my praying and contemplating and frankly spend more undisturbed one-on-one time with Christ.
The retreat is led by a priest who may have a theme for the retreat or a general spiritual direction. The priest is also available to speak with you individually for confession or just to talk. You do spend most of your time in silence but you do find times when speaking is OK, like in the daily group conferences where discussion may be held. Since it is a group of 3o+ women we would sneak a few whispers here and there outside of the daily conferences but you want to remain very mindful of others and that if you are talking on a cellphone or to another retreatant it could be very disruptive for others around you. The silence is in place for you to spend the time thinking, contemplating, praying, listening, writing, or however else you want to spend the time as long as it is quiet. When you let go of the noise and demands that rain down on you everyday and just open your heart and ears to Jesus….He really has a lot to say if we just would take the time to listen. He wants to talk to us, He loves us! That is the beauty of the retreats and what keeps me eagerly returning as often as I can.
As I have mentioned there is a structure to the retreat but retreatants may do as much or as little of the scheduled activities. If you choose to do all the activities you will find yourself quite busy. I decided since I had never been to one before I may benefit the best by doing as much as I could. I was very glad I decided to do that. A typical day started with morning prayers at 8:00am followed by breakfast. By the way, the food was awesome! After breakfast was the morning conference. The conference was a lecture or talk presented by the priest leading the retreat which lasted about an hour. It usually included bible readings and group discussion. After the morning conference, there was a little free time until the late morning when the stations of the cross were offered. You could do it either in the chapel or the courtyard where different stations were posted on the trees in the courtyard.
After the stations, another conference was given followed by lunch at noon. After lunch was free time until the late afternoon when the rosary was said in the chapel. The rosary was followed by another conference until Mass which was said about 5:15. We ate dinner after mass. In the early evening we said evening prayers and the final conference was given. So you can see you could stay quite busy! This does not mean all silent retreats follow the same schedule but the two I have attended have followed this same pattern. Again you could do as much or as little as you wanted to do.
OK you may be wondering now, where are the nuns? I am in a monastery after all. At the Visitation Monastery the Visitation Order of cloistered nuns works, prays, and resides there. Being cloistered means they remain in their own quarters/areas where most retreatants/public are not permitted. The monastery is quite large and there are many places for retreatants to spend time; the courtyard, your room, reading areas, gazebo, or the chapel. I spent most of my time in the courtyard and the chapel. I could not get enough of those two places. The nuns do not intermingle with us as a group everyday but I would see one or two who would always be out in the parlor welcoming visitors and with whom you could speak. I would also see them at the Masses but they were within their cloistered area of the church. If you so desired, you could request a private audience to speak with one of the nuns privately. At the end of the retreat the silence is lifted at the Sunday lunch. After lunch the nuns meet with us in their parlor and we could speak openly with them. They could even raise the screens and you could hug or shake hands. I’m a hugger and any chance I’ve got to hug a nun I’ll take! Over my time at the monastery I developed a very deep respect for them. Unfortunately I did not arrive at the monastery with that opinion but I certainly left with it. These are hard praying and hard-working women. Being within the cloister is not an easy choice nor an easy life, but they are choosing to live that life for the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and in devotion of Him. I greatly admire them and the powerful praying they do for others.
As things tend to happen in life, I got more than I ever expected at this retreat and it has been one of the most profound spiritual experiences of my life. My time there most definitely gave me roots for completing RCIA and the roots that will continue to grow for the rest of my life. I reflect on my time there very often and I am eager to return when a retreat becomes available which is thankfully offered three times a year. I have been able to attend one more time since the retreat I am writing about in July of 2011.