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Going Away with the Lord to Pray Awhile

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Where this prioritization is perhaps most important, and difficult, for many Catholics today is with regard to taking extended time away with the Lord for him to refresh us.

Father Roger J.

To live a Plan of Life effectively, we must be willing to make God and the things of God a priority.

We must, for example, make time to pray, even and especially in the midst of a busy life. We must recognize that, since the most important thing happening in the world that day is what happens on the altar, we need the hunger and courage to reorder our schedule concretely to make the Mass the source and summit of our life. We must grasp that Jesus' new commandment to love others as sacrificially as he has loved us requires that our charity can't remain just a spontaneous series of "random acts of kindness" but ought to be planned and prioritized just like any other really important activity.

Where this prioritization is perhaps most important, and difficult, for many Catholics today is with regard to taking extended time away with the Lord for him to refresh us.

In the Gospel, we see how Jesus, after the apostles returned from many days of preaching the Gospel, told them, "Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest awhile" (Mk 6:31). He saw that they were obviously tired. He also wanted to review with them all that they had experienced on their journey. So he took them in a boat apart from the crowds to spend time alone with them.

In a similar way, Jesus seeks to draw us away on occasion from the daily hustle and bustle, television and gadget screens, so that he might similarly refresh us, helping us to review with the grace of his light what we have been experiencing in the various aspects of our life. It's an opportunity for him to help us press the reset button on our life, to strengthen us in struggle, to move us to thank God for blessings, to help us to see things more clearly, to go more deeply in prayer, and to renew us in the sense of spiritual prioritization that is essential for making and living a Plan of Life.

Many saints and spiritual writers have taught by word and witness the importance of two activities by which the Lord regularly seeks to have us come away with him for a while in this way: a monthly Day of Recollection and an annual Retreat.

A Day of Recollection is at least a period of a few hours -- but depending upon our circumstances and availability can extend to a half or full day -- of consecutive prayer. It can be done at any time of the week. Some are able to dedicate one night a month. Others will carve out time on a given Saturday or Sunday. Many priests, whose nights and weekends are the fullest parts of their pastoral schedules, make time on a set afternoon. There are organized Days of Recollection at retreat centers or by various ecclesiastical movements in parishes and shrines but someone with self-discipline can also fruitfully do one on one's own.

One of the most rewarding experiences of my priesthood was offering a monthly Day of Recollection on first Saturdays at Sacred Heart Chapel in Yarmouthport to which many parishioners from St. Francis Xavier in Hyannis and surrounding parishes would come for Mass, quiet prayer and Eucharistic adoration, a couple of talks on the spiritual life and a good monthly examination of conscience and Confession.

An annual Retreat is a more extended time of prayer in which we are able, in God's presence and ordinarily with the help of a retreat director offering various meditations or one-on-one guidance, to give God our full attention for an extended period of time, so that, in addition to all the fruits of a Day of Recollection, we can review with Him the previous year and receive his light and encouragement to make resolutions for the upcoming one.

Traditionally most retreats last a week, which, depending upon the format, can be five to eight days. But for those for whom that would be too difficult, it's possible to do one from Friday night through Sunday. Retreats are normally done in retreat centers away from daily distractions. To facilitate more people making them, however, there are various movements that have begun effectively to host weekend retreats in parish centers and Churches.

The key is to make the time each month for a Day of Recollection and each year for a Retreat. Many people are phobic of that much silent time alone with the Lord. We make excuses as to how our lives are too complicated and busy. Somehow, however, we nevertheless find time each month for dinner engagements, our favorite television shows, and going to a child's or a grandchild's baseball games or plays. Somehow most of us also find time each year to spend various weekends, whole weeks or even more for various forms of vacation.

It's a question, frankly, of genuinely prioritizing God, the things of God, and the good of our soul. Even the busiest of us have the time, but we often spend it on less important things than God. We may have to arrange a babysitter for our kids or a caregiver for elderly parents, but if we're able to do it for other activities, we can do it for God. It's worth it.

We should note that the Devil will also throw everything, including the kitchen sink, in our way to talk us out of accepting Jesus' call to spend that extended time with him, because the devil knows how important it is for our continual conversion and pursuit of holiness. And so we should be ready, immediately before retreats and recollections, for "other things" to come up, trying to tempt us to deprioritize the time with Jesus -- not to "cancel" but just to "postpone" it, indefinitely.

Each month and every year, Jesus is waiting in Peter's boat beckoning us to come away for a while with Him in prayer. Those who take him up on his offer never regret it. It's an open secret to setting and sustaining a Plan of Life.

Father Roger J. Landry is a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, who works for the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations.

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