A new retreat house has opened, and it's not to be missed.
“Flee, be silent, and pray.”
What if you were given that advice? How would you respond?
Maybe you would ask, “What would I be fleeing from?”
That would be a good question to start with.
There is a wisdom that would tell you: “Flee from what distracts you, addicts you, seduces you, deceives you, entices you. Flee from what would take all from you and give you nothing—and less than nothing.”
Okay. That’s a good place to start. But it is incomplete. You have to ask another question: “What would I be fleeing toward?”
There is a wisdom that would tell you: “Flee toward what will feed you, heal you, enlighten you, enliven you. Flee toward what will welcome you, console you and perfect you.”
Why be silent?
There is a wisdom that would tell you: “What is most important—what is most true, good and beautiful can only be found in a silence that you allow to surround you and that you allow to reign within you. And that silence cannot be found if you are defenseless against the chaos around you and all-too-tolerant of the chatter with you.”
Sounds like common sense, doesn’t it? Well, it is sensible, but we all know that it is not very common …
Pray. That’s the hard part, isn’t it? How? When? To whom? With whom? Why? How do you know if you are doing it right?
We are all surrounded by addictions and illusions; we’ve all become accustomed to chaos around us and bedlam within us; we’ve all despaired of satisfying that hunger that saints tell us that God alone can fill.
If only … if only there were a place to flee from the noise and towards the quiet; if only there were a place where the quiet around you can lead to quiet within you; if only there were a guide to teach you how to pray, and to pray always. Well, there is such a place, and I’ve been there.
Just outside of Omaha, Nebraska, a new retreat center has recently opened up: the Cloisters on the Platte. Two weeks ago, I preached a retreat there.
Two years ago, before the retreat center was even built, I agreed to preach a retreat from Thursday evening to Sunday afternoon. All I really knew about the place was that they wanted to offer retreats based on the Spiritual Exercises of Jesuit founder St. Ignatius Loyola. To a Jesuit, such an invitation is irresistible.
I assumed the center would have two things: a chapel for people to pray in and some kind of dormitory for people to sleep in. I was right—and yet I was very wrong.
Set on 250 acres of enclosed wilderness, the Cloisters offers lakeside lodges (reminiscent of Swiss chalets) for the retreatants to reside in. The spacious chapel is dignified, bright and refined. Anyone could sense that something important happens there. Perhaps the most significant feature on the grounds of the retreat center is the outdoor Stations of the Cross. These are exquisitely detailed, slightly larger-than-life bronze sculptures. These are so lifelike, so beautiful, so compelling, that I could scarcely bring myself to pray my way through the full Fourteen Stations. These sculptures seize you and immerse you in the horror, grace and drama of the last hours of Christ. You will be poorer if you do not see and pray your way through the Stations of the Cross there.
The heart of the work of the Cloisters is weekly retreats based on Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises. Once the retreat begins, you will be offered eleven spiritual conferences, daily Mass, Rosary, the Angelus, confessions, Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction, and the opportunity for individual spiritual direction—all in the context of silence.
The retreats are segregated by sex, and alternate between men and women each week—80 retreatants for each week. There is one retreat master to preach at the Masses and offer the conferences; three other spiritual directors join him in making one-on-one spiritual direction available. The rosters fill up quickly. I’ve already been invited back to preach retreats for 2020 and 2021. Make your reservation early to avoid being put on a waiting list.
In our busy and often manic lives, we’ve all found the world to be both crazy and crazy-making. We all need some time away to disconnect from business as usual so that we can rest, and allow God to heal us, purify us, refresh us and instruct us. The Cloisters on the Platte are a privileged place to heed the call of the Desert Fathers to, “flee, be silent and pray.”
When I write next, I will discuss surprising advice from St. Thomas Aquinas regarding what we today would call “retail therapy.” Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.