By Gabriel Rodriguez, Ph.D., Guest Contributor, Office of Life and Justice

For years I have known about retreats, but had never been to one. My work had kept me busy, and included lots of stress and conflicts. I had been to Medjugorje three times in between 1989 and 1990. Those pilgrimages had awoken my faith as nothing had before. I began to pray the Rosary daily, and attend the charismatic Catholic conferences annually in New Orleans, and then in Lafayette when I moved to central Louisiana. Eventually, my fervor began to wane as time passed. I continued to attend Mass every Sunday, prayed before meals, and said a few prayers daily, but I stopped praying the Rosary on a daily basis. In 2016, my approaching retirement consumed my energy. I decided that I would spend my first retired year doing “nothing” and that is what I did. Sleeping late, lunches with friends, reading, searching for knowledge on my computer, and daily trips to somewhere were my daily activities.

As year two approached, I found myself needing to do something spiritual and spoke with Fr. Craig Scott, my pastor, about volunteering. After some time, he asked if I would co-chair the Office of Life & Justice for the Diocese of Alexandria. I felt honored because I would be doing something to help the poor.

However, there was still this lingering hunger for God and holiness. I knew my prayer life was not sufficient and I felt that I was not progressing in my quest to satisfy this hunger for wanting something more, something that would bring me closer to God and holiness. Somehow the thought of a retreat came up and I decided to explore the options available to me. I discovered that there are different types of retreats, some in groups, some individually, some active and some in relative silence. The Charismatic Conferences I attended in the past provided great group experiences, lots of joy, praising the Holy Spirit, feeling deeply blessed. However, I struggled with being able to meditate successfully or spend quiet time (except for fishing trips).

Through prayer and discernment, I realized that I needed an experience based on silence and registered for a retreat at the Mother of the Redeemer Monastery in Opelousas. It is located in a bucolic area, surrounded by farms and cattle. The accommodations were spartan, but comfortable. There are few distractions because there are no TV’s, internet, and other sources of noise. Though the Brothers and Fr. James were welcoming, I was left on my own when not attending daily mass, the Rosary, Adoration, or morning, afternoon, and evening prayers in the chapel. The first day was an awakening as I participated in the prayer life and then silence of the Monastery. The entire day was devoted to prayer, work, and the contemplation of God the Father, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Blessed Mother.

As I participated in the monastery’s prayer life, I began to realize that it was the path to what I had been searching for. The Rosary was a way of praying to and communicating with The Father, The Son, The Holy Spirit, and the Blessed Mother. Daily Mass was a way of taking Jesus into my body, heart, and spirit, fortifying my resolve to live a holier life and providing me with the grace to accomplish it. I realized that if I wanted to pray regularly, I had to schedule times during the day or I would not stick to the regimen. Since the first day of the retreat, I have continued attending daily Mass, praying two Rosaries per day, and follow the Missal morning and evening prayers. All of which take about three hours per day. Each person has to decide what is best for them. Any increase in prayer is a blessing. Jesus waits for us to knock, seek, and ask. A retreat allows time to focus on our personal spiritual needs, away from the day-to-day bustle and demands. I have found a sense of peace and a way to satisfy my hunger for Jesus. Taking time to focus on your spiritual needs through a retreat enhances discernment and experiencing prayer in a very personal and fulfilling way, drawing you closer to the Lord and His love.