What happens when you spend the first nine days of the new year on a Catholic retreat?
SO MUCH GOODNESS, that’s what.
Sorry, let me back up a little. I’ve just gotten back from nine wonderful days at the Immaculata Mission School, an annual retreat for young Catholics down in Melbourne, Australia. It’s run by the Sisters of the Immaculata, a new religious order who are all about loving Jesus with the Heart of Mary. Through Eucharistic Adoration, Marian devotion and an openness to the Holy Spirit, they seek to renew parishes, inspire young people — and be ridiculously adorable! (Seriously though, the adorableness is a requirement.)
Being on a retreat like this is always such a blessing.
You have hours of Adoration, prayer, talks, singing, rosaries, spiritual direction, community life, confessions and of course, daily Mass. You get absolutely drenched in the love and mercy of God: my cup runneth over! (Ps 23:5)
But what happens when you leave? When you go back to the “real world”?
It’s easy to think that time on retreats like this is some kind of spiritual “high”. Surely, it’s unnatural to have that much joy. And yes, it is!
It’s supernatural. But that doesn’t mean it’s less than natural. The joy we find in immersing ourselves in prayer and devotion to our Lord is real. It’s what our hearts are made for. It’s shows us that we really are made for heavenly joy in the presence of God.
Going a retreat like this is like climbing to the top of the mountain. Sure, you can focus on how it’s all “downhill” from now on. And it’s true, that spiritual high does disappear. But from the top of the mountain, you can see the lay of the land. You have a better idea of what’s out there, where you want to go, and how to get there.
The one thing I left the Immaculata Mission School knowing, even more deeply, is that we are made for the love of God. We are made to live in His love and to know His closeness. The joy of knowing Him? That’s the real world.
This year, I want to spend more time in the real world. Not just less time in virtual-internet-screen-land where I waste donkey’s years, but the really real world.
This year, I want to:
1. Spend Regular Time in Adoration
One of the highlights of Immaculata Mission School was beginning every day with an 1.5 hours of Adoration, followed by Mass — followed by more Adoration in the evenings.
Sitting before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is such a powerful experience because it’s just you and Him. You can’t run, you can’t hide, you can’t pretend it’s all fine and dandy. In that openness to Christ, however, is perfect freedom. We can bring everything we are to Him and let Him fill us up with His presence. If I want His joy — and I do! — then I need to spend more time with Him and Adoration is the perfect way to do that.
2. Trust Mary More
Mary and I have had a bit of bumpy journey so far. I always love the idea of Mary but I still don’t completely trust her. I don’t know if I completely trust the grace-filled Mother of my Lord and Saviour who wants nothing more than for me to love Him more… I know, crazy!!
This year, I want to see if I can trust Mary more and trust her to bring me closer to Jesus. I know she will. If the Father trusted her with His Only Begotten Son, then I think I can probably trust her a little more too.
I’m not 100% sure what that will look like yet but you know what I say? Lord, be it done unto me according to Your will.
3. No More Litanies of “Shoulds”
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good litany but litanies of “shoulds” have no place in our lives. Sometimes, my mind can turn into a constant drone of “what I should’ve done”, “who I should be instead”, “how everything is wrong, wrong, wrong”. Needless to say, this isn’t healthy.
Spending time in prayer, particularly before the Blessed Sacrament, showed me how constant these negative thoughts are and how unhelpful. They aren’t of God! They aren’t true! They aren’t honourable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent or praiseworthy — so why am I thinking about these things!?
They are three changes I want to make this year: more Adoration, more Mary, and less Shoulds.
But above all, I want to remember this joy. I want to remember that the “real world” isn’t real.
God is real. God is good. God is joy!
In thy presence there is fullness of joy, in thy right hand are pleasures for evermore. (Ps 16:11)