In a conference given to her novices, Mother Mary Francis,—of happy memory—in her own masterful way, informed them that their virginal love of Christ must yet be a fruitful union by noting that in the Canticle of Canticles the Bridegroom (a type of Christ) calls His beloved a “garden enclosed”, but does not say: “…a chunk of desert is my sister, my bride…” However, in the profound paradox that Our Divine Spouse prefers, one must enter into what seems to be the Barren Beyond of the dessert in order not to become spiritually barren oneself. This is why Our Lord draws His loved ones into Dark Nights of the Soul and permits valleys of desolation; it is why fruitful apostolic ventures are often preceded by laborious toil, physically and spiritually, and why the birth of spiritual life comes at high interior cost to faithful souls—in a special way to His brides. It is why annually, in accordance with the mind of the Church, our community takes a retreat.
As our Reverend Mother puts it (and as she received it from another): “A retreat is a treat for the soul.” The period of annual retreat, held within the timeframe of one week, provides opportunity for rest from exterior apostolates and breathing space for much-needed recuperation. However, the retreat is not merely a sort of vacation from the outside world to relish the peaceful quiet of the conventual life, but is time devoted to the arduous work of getting out of God’s way in one’s own soul, clearing out whatever may impede His action and quieting all that may prohibit hearing and responding to His voice. Like the early Desert Fathers (and Mothers), the Sisters retreat from the clutter of the world to seek God alone. Within the profound silence of retreat, each Sister renews her commitment to the first and foremost duty of all Religious: “assiduous union with God, and the contemplation of divine things.” It may not be the case for all Sisters that retreat is a pleasurable dive into the sweet waters of contemplation (I would dare say this is actually the grand minority of cases); yet, however dry the desert of retreat may be, her Beloved finds her there—and finding her, seeking the face of Him who is all-beautiful, He finds her lovely.
Pray for us on our retreat dear friends, as we will carry you in our hearts to the desert with our Beloved.