The Priest's Spiritual Retreat
Second Meditation - How to Make It
I. I wish to make it well, with a real desire to profit by it, with deep recollection, in absolute silence.
There would be very little to commend me if through dissipation and levity of spirit, which ill becomes a priest, i.e., an "old man" in office and profession, I squandered an opportunity entailing so many sacrifices, mine and other people's, so much expenditure of time and money, and thus disappointed the hopes of the Church and the faithful, who expected me to reap a harvest of spiritual fruit both for their own benefit and for the amendment of my life.
And according to the moralists, I should with difficulty escape the imputation of serious sin if, having entered into retreat by order of my Prelate and in fulfilment of Canon Law, I were to idle my time away, not meditating, not listening to the instructions and readings, not preparing for confession; all of which is an essential complement to the exterior observance rightly imposed by ecclesiastical law.
If the Ordinary bids me take part in a collective retreat, I shall willingly obey. If the arrangements are left to me personally, I shall always prefer to make it in company with my brother priests; for the simple reason that if I am not fervent and pious I shall have the good example of others better than myself to make me so: and if I have the good fortune to lead a devout life, I shall contribute to the spiritual welfare of those around me; and in any case, I shall share in the fulfilment of the Lord's promise:
Where two or three are gathered together in my Name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matt. xviii. 20.)II. I shall observe strict silence, ignoring every enticement and commitment to the contrary inspired by a type of companionship or "camaraderie" which, in the present circumstances, is completely out of place.
There is no gainsaying the fact that a retreat where there is talking, gossiping, back-stair buffoonery, and hole-and-corner murmuring is a retreat run to waste, barren, and harmful. On emerging from such turmoil I should be in a worse condition than on entering; far better suppress retreats altogether than have them conducted in this manner. Why impose a burden whose final upshot is an offence against God and the lowering of standards and prestige among the clergy? But where a retreat is conducted in jealously-guarded silence, it may possibly bear no fruit in an individual case, yet the general rule holds good: a silent retreat is a fruitful one.
Experience is witness: however low a priest may seem to have fallen he always preserves deep down in his soul some vestige of the divine, and in solitude God will speak to him; his smouldering faith will burst into flame; he will glimpse the darkness of the abyss whither his wanderings might plunge him, and he will draw back aghast, striking his breast with a repentance unequalled by that of any other contrite sinner. And if he has not fallen so low, he will find his soul lit up by the loveliest of supernatural lights; he will charge his spirit with new energy, a renewed determination to forge ahead along the ways of virtue.
Empty chatter being the ruin of such high hopes, and silence the pledge secure of so much good, am I going to risk the loss of all the benefits of a well-made retreat just because my thoughtlessness and childish whim demand the pleasure of blurting out some hackneyed joke, or because I cannot disappoint one or other of my light-headed old pals?
III. To look for a quiet opportunity of stealing into a companion's room in order to while the time away in mere pleasantries; to evade supervision - if there is such a thing; far more in keeping with the clerical state not to have supervision and not to need it! - in order to play the same little pranks we left behind in the seminary; secret confabs and general criticisms; these and similar achievements may provide good cheer around the clerical dinner-table on the occasion of some big festivity; they might fit in well with the daily routine of a lay boarding-school; but surely we must agree that this kind of nonsense is not exactly a credit to a priest's retreat; it is not calculated to convey a very lofty idea of the good manners and culture (not to mention piety) of the priest, whose very name Presbyter implies that he is professionally mature, a man of years, destined to educate others, and who, as rector of a district or parish, would scarcely refrain from an outburst of temper if he saw youngsters acting in a similar fashion in church during the Rosary.
It would be a sad day for the reputation of the clergy in any particular diocese if two or three or more of its priests had to be branded, on account of their misbehaviour during the retreat, as mischievous, incapable of taking seriously the only religious exercise where they find themselves alone; and to be put down, in the last resort, as churls unversed in the rudimentary forms of good Christian breeding, which demands at least that no one should unduly bore and harass another.
It is with profound grief and depression that one sometimes hears priests declaring they will not make another retreat at such and such a place, because their companions, by their notorious inattentiveness and ill-timed chatter, deprived them of that peace and tranquillity which those days of holy and urgent endeavour demanded.
Lord, grant me grace and strength never to be numbered among those thoughtless ministers of Thine.
1. Let friends and acquaintances do and say what they will; let my natural craving to communicate with old pals protest as it likes; let those who seem ro have no use for the retreat look at me askance and leeringly; I am determined to observe strict silence during the retreat, even at the cost of giving offence; for of greater value to me are the interests of my eternal salvation and respectful consideration for holy things than all the pleasant companionships in the world; therefore, if it is courage I need, I shall often recall the words of my Divine Master:
For he that shall be ashamed of me and my words, of him the Son of man shall be ashamed, when he shall come in his Majesty and that of his Father and of the holy angels. (Luke ix, 26.)2. I shall refrain from proffering or countenancing the slightest criticism of what is said in the lectures, examinations of conscience, readings, etc., in the persuasion that adverse criticisms of this nature, especially when coupled with ridicule (whether just or unjust is beside the point), only serve to dry up and destroy in many cases all the fruit of the retreat, and can even give rise to incredible scandals.
Adapted from The Priest at Prayer
by Fr. Eugenio Escribano, C.M. (© 1954)
Translated by B.T. Buckley, C.M.
Please pray for our priests and pray for vocations to the priesthood!