5 things to know when booking a retreat

With the beginning of Lent just a month away, Catholics everywhere will be in the mood to do a little spring-cleaning of the soul and it’s a great time to consider going on a retreat. If you’ve never been on a spiritual retreat before, or haven’t gone since school, here are a few things you might like to keep in mind.

Who is running the retreat

If you don’t know much about who is running the retreat, the place where it is being held, or its associated charism, try to find out through someone who’s been there before, ask your parish priest, or at a pinch, use Google. You need a retreat experience that as much as possible is aligned with your particular needs and values, particularly if you have a busy life and time allocated for retreat-going is infrequent and precious.

See related story: An oasis of silence on Sydney’s doorstep

A retreat is a very special place for a personal encounter with Jesus, and you will meet and rest with him more readily in a place where you can quickly feel comfortable and settle in.

The cost

Every retreat centre must factor considerable costs into its fees, but also, every Catholic should be able to go on at least an annual retreat. There are usually discounts for seniors and students. If you aren’t one of these and cost is genuinely an issue, let the centre know when booking that you would like to access a discount.

St Benedict XVI Retreat Centre chapel
University students pray at The Benedict XVI Retreat Centre chapel at Grose Vale west of Sydney. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Even at full price retreats tend to be great value for money, usually comparing well in financial terms to other kinds of weekend getaways while they provide much more value to you, and through you to your family and friends back home, than a simple holiday.

Other retreatants

If it’s a silent retreat, try to text rather than talk if you have to speak to someone by phone and keep it off or on silent. If it isn’t a silent retreat, and part of the reason of the retreat is to benefit from time with the other retreatants, try to remember to spend at least a good part of it alone in quiet reflection and prayer, or in the solitude of your room, the chapel, or outdoors.

See related article: Why my annual retreat is a necessity for living

It’s perfectly acceptable to excuse yourself from a conversation if you need to get some time alone on your retreat.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a popular option at many Catholic retreats.

Confession and spiritual direction

Retreats are a special opportunity to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation as well as to seek some more detailed advice and guidance in spiritual direction than is usually possible in the confessional. Ask when booking into the retreat if you would like to make use of these and aren’t sure if they will be available.

What to bring

You may be given a list of things to bring, but generally you’ll need a few basics:

• Comfortable changes of clothing and shoes
• Any necessary medications
• A torch
• Your own pillow and slippers, earplugs and eye mask if needed for sleeping
• A favourite prayer book
• Your own Bible and perhaps another spiritual book, or audio book or podcast downloaded on your smartphone (in which case, it’s best to use earphones)
• A notebook or journal for writing or drawing in, and a pen
• A pocket-sized packet of tissues
• A camera (to take out on a nature walk)
• A couple of favourite tea bags or soup packets etc.
• A simple knitting or crochet project to work on while listening to talks, if you are so inclined