Ladies! Go on Retreat!
My Christmas gift to you is to offer you something you might like to try in the New Year. I had a friend who suffered a lot from loneliness and isolation during lockdown, and we chatted from a safe distance.
It helped me to realise that while we need real-life sacraments from a real-life priest, we also need real-life other Catholics around us to keep us grounded and humbled (and entertained).
I don’t know about you, but I find that a change of scene and the Blessed Sacrament are a great remedy for lots of issues. This is why it’s good to make a regular spiritual retreat, even just for a weekend.
It’s much easier to stop completely when you’re away from home, especially if you switch off or hide your phone. This might not sound very appealing.
But being in silence, apart from all our usual distractions, can give God the space to bring our unanswered questions up. He can also start answering them.
This takes courage – but you must decide whether you want a relationship with a God who is pure Relationship, or not. If you do, you need to spend quality time with Him, and sometimes that means making a sacrifice to carve that time out.
So back to my lonely friend. I decided I would use a pre-existing group weekend booking I had at a local retreat centre at the end of 2020 (after the WA lockdown ended) to take myself on a private retreat. But I also invited other likeminded women (including her) to join me. Each of us would be making our own private retreat, but we’d be doing it with a bit of company if we wanted it.
I was lucky enough to rope in a friendly priest to hear Confessions and say Masses, and he had a mini break himself.
It was a great success. Women who were initially scared of an undirected retreat found that they liked having more time on their own. Women who wanted to be alone found that they didn’t mind a friendly chat at mealtimes.
So since then, I’ve tried to do this twice a year. I book 10 rooms somewhere with a chapel and catering for a Friday to Sunday. I then email a list of Catholic women who I think would mostly get on with each other.
Whoever wants to come, comes. They all pay for themselves, but if anyone is hard up, we have some generous women in our extended group who are happy to help on a strictly anonymous basis.
I find that most women relish an opportunity to have some peace and quiet away from their families, and to have time to spend with God.”
We don’t always have a priest, but usually there’s a nearby parish church for Confession and daily Mass. We have catering, because no one gets a break if they have to cook, and these are women who have to cook all the time for other people.
There are no rules for these weekends – also no talks, conferences, activities, or icebreakers. I ask participants to respect each other’s time and space, and they always do. We have no group name; we are just like-minded Catholic women.
I offer the opportunity to say Lauds, Vespers, and Compline in common, but no one has to attend. I also try to have a Holy Hour each evening before bedtime – again completely optional.
You could do something like this if you have a local retreat centre that provides catering. You need no special qualifications to do it. All you need is the willingness to make a list of people who are coming, and make sure they all pay on time. After that, they’re on their own.
I have an email list of about 20 women who I know are likeminded and who are interested. They can’t all make it, but they like to be kept in the loop about when the next one is coming up.
Sensitive point: there are some Catholic women who are not ready for a retreat like this, so I don’t invite them. This is a question of maintaining as much peace and quiet on the retreat as I can.
I have no idea how this format would work for men. But I find that most women relish an opportunity to have some peace and quiet away from their families, and to have time to spend with God.
All I’m doing is clearing a very small space in time and providing an opportunity. Everything else is up to them and God.
This is my Christmas gift to them and to you. You should try it.