At significant moments in the life of Jesus, he pulls away from the surroundings and communicates with his father. Two very significant times would be the 40 days in the desert and the Garden of Gethsemane. In the desert, Jesus was confronted by Satan and challenged in the mission that he is about to assume. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is preparing to receive the suffering and the cross for the sake of our redemption. At various times in the scriptures, Jesus pulls away and seeks communion with his father, then proceeds with important actions. There is a need to form the basis of all actions in a proper response to God’s will.
The Church in her wisdom demands that all who are being received into orders (bishop, priest and deacon) make a retreat. This is also true for those who are professing vows to religious or consecrated life and for commitment to various ecclesial societies. It is obvious that the pattern is to pull away and consider the relationship they are receiving. How should one respond to the will of God and the call they are receiving? This can only be accomplished through prayer and meditation.
Having been in the military, the word “retreat” seems to indicate a failure of the mission. But I would offer that it is a strategic reevaluation when confronted by forces which are insurmountable. One retreats not to give up but to reassess and devise a more tenable offensive or defensive position. In a certain sense, the religious retreat is a withdrawal from the forces confronting us in order to properly assess our response to the challenges that confront us.
I made the three retreats corresponding to the order that I was receiving. For priesthood and diaconate, I made the retreat with the 38 members of my class. It gave us all time to contemplate the significance of our ordination. For many of us, this was the end (or beginning) of an 11- and 12-year journey. We needed to contemplate the reality that we would now be empowered to serve the Church as public ministers — preaching, teaching and sanctifying. As a priest, I continued to observe the canonical requirement of a yearly retreat. It was important that the work of the priesthood doesn’t become routine and the relationship with Jesus is not forgotten or taken for granted. As a bishop-elect in preparation for ordination, I made my retreat in the silence of the major seminary of St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois. It was fitting because this is where I served for the majority of my priesthood. I was given some sage advice by a friend — the Bishop of Fort Wayne/South Bend, John Darcy. He told me that in addition to the Sacred Scriptures, I should review the documents of Vatican II and especially the role of the bishop. I came across a statement by St. Augustine, who said: “Where I’m terrified by what I am for you, I am given comfort by what I am with you. For you I am a bishop, with you, after all, I am a Christian. The first is a name of an office undertaken, the second a name of grace; that one means danger, this one salvation.” (Sermon 340) I prayed over the insight offered by St. Augustine, another bishop of the Church, and I quoted that work in my first address after my ordination as a bishop in Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago.
Retreats have always been an important aspect of living a full faith-filled life. It is a reminder of the mission that confronts us and the need to be in touch with God through prayer. In my years as a bishop, I have always enjoyed the yearly retreats with the bishops of Region VII at the Cardinal Stritch retreat house at Mundelein Seminary. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee is gifted with a number of spiritual fathers — Fr. Ken Omernick; Fr. Michael Berry, O.C.D.; and Fr. James Kubicki, S.J. — and they were invited to share their spiritual insights with the bishops of the region at their annual retreat. This retreat also gives me an opportunity to pray for the faithful of the archdiocese and give thanks for the great witness of faith that the bishops, priests, deacons, religious and lay faithful provide for our community.
The Archdiocese of Milwaukee is rich in the number of places that are designated as retreat centers — St. Benedict’s in Benet Lake; St. Vincent Pallotti Center in Elkhorn; Holy Hill in Hubertus; Casa Romero Renewal Center in Milwaukee; Rieti Hermitage in St. Francis; Inspirio Youth Ministries in Nashotah; Our Mother of Perpetual Help Redemptorist Retreat Center in Oconomowoc; Siena Retreat Center in Racine; and Schoenstatt Retreat Center in Waukesha. These places have dedicated staff who understand the importance of the formation and development of the spiritual life.
I would encourage everyone when possible to make a yearly retreat. I realize that many may say “my life is too busy,” or “I can’t afford the time.” But it becomes easier when we make it a priority. A retreat is usually three days. I realize that it is difficult with our family and careers to pull away from our responsibilities, but I suggest that you try to plan in advance and see if there is a men’s or women’s group that can facilitate the details. I have been impressed by the number of men and women who take advantage of the day offered by the Men of Christ and the Women of Christ. Although this is not a substitute for a retreat, this becomes almost a day of recollection and is a welcome reminder of the importance of the Church’s teaching and its integration into the challenges we face on a daily basis from our secular society. I have witnessed the growth of the spiritual commitment in the lives of the men and women who are members of these organizations.
During my retreat, I will pray for you. In your generosity, please pray for me and the bishops of our Region VII as we make our annual retreat Aug. 21.