a weekend retreat

Two posts in close proximity to each other.  Don’t get spoiled.  But I had a beautiful weekend and thought I’d share it.

It’s pretty fitting, the way my life is right now, that my “weekend retreat,” was actually a retreat I was helping to lead, not one I was on…  But it was still a retreat for me.

As most of my long-time readers know, my job entails teaching throughout the state most Saturdays of the fall and spring.  Sister and I drive to a parish, teach five classes in one day, and drive home.  If five classes sound like a lot in one day (it’s actually four one-hour classes and one half hour class), well, it is.  And people have told us it’s overwhelming, it’s like drinking out of a fire hydrant, it’s like eating a meal before digesting the one you just ate, etc etc etc.  But we can’t really do that much about it — unless the people are willing to come for a longer amount of time.  (Of course, when we surveyed them and asked if we could extend the Saturday schedule an extra hour so that everything wouldn’t be so crammed, they said no.)

For four years, Sister and I have wanted to extend the Saturday schedule over a day and half and provide the option for the catechists to take the classes in the context of a retreat.  Now that the Sisters’ have their own retreat house, this fall that desire became a reality.  After teaching the Saturday schedule seven times over the past two months, this past weekend we taught the same classes in the context of a retreat.  And it was lovely.

It helped that we had 12 fantastic catechists who came eagerly desiring the classes, prayer time, and fellowship.

It also helped that we had an amazing retreat house and a staff of five Sisters who took care of us.  (“We are Martha this weekend, so you can be Mary,” Sister Mary Agnes told us at dinner on Friday night)

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The retreat house – “Bethany” – is gorgeous.  It was made possible by Tom and Gayle Benson, who besides being donors to the Sisters, are also the owners of this little football team named the Saints.  The Sisters have taught in the French Quarter of New Orleans for many years, and their school was one of the first to open after Katrina (the Sister quoted in that article is now one of my coworkers in the office.  She’s awesome.)  The Bensons have been quite generous with the Sisters, and in return, the Sisters decided the retreat house should be a gift to the entire Church.  So while it was built for their own personal use, they’ve now opened it for use by the laity.  The first two wings are complete, while the third and final wing – the permanent chapel – is still in the works.  (For now, the dining hall – the refectory- is split in two and half of it is used for the chapel.)

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That is the great room.  Since I taught Friday night, I had Saturday morning free and spent a leisurely morning by the fire reading Pope Benedict’s new book.

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Not only is the retreat house beautiful, but the Sisters are awesome.  I knew most of them beforehand, but it was fun to get to know them better.  Sister Mary Andrew, who is from New Orleans herself, is the chef behind the incredible meals served at Bethany.  Blueberry pancakes and bacon for breakfast… bbq and cherry cobbler for lunch … It was out of this world.  And all the Sisters were so hospitable and willing to do anything we needed.

One of my friends, newly-ordained (as of June) Father Jayd Neely, came with us for the weekend to say Mass and hear confessions, and he even taught one of the lessons for us.  Along with the classes, we also had time for prayer — which is such an important part of catechesis. We had a holy hour on Friday night, and prayed the Liturgy of the Hours and the rosary.  And after the holy hour on Friday night, we had Catholic fellowship with conversation, food, and wine.

IMG_2577The silence was best of all.  The whole weekend wasn’t silent, of course, although they’ve had silent retreats there this fall.  But most of my Saturday morning was silent, since I wasn’t teaching and everyone else was busy doing various things.  I just got to sit and read and pray and enjoy the stillness.  Before morning prayer on Saturday, we did ask the catechists to remain silent– which meant as we all got ready for the day in our cells and as we all ate breakfast, everything was silent.

As I sat there eating breakfast in the quiet, I marveled at how loud the silence was, and how peaceful the act of eating breakfast had become in the stillness.  It struck me as odd, since I always eat breakfast in silence in my apartment — there is no one to talk to, I don’t listen to music in the morning, and it’s a rare day I turn on the news.  So why was this silence so different?

Because I generally eat my breakfast in front of the computer, catching up on email and checking the blogs.  So despite the aural silence, there is a lot of non-auditory noise in my mornings.  That morning, while I was surrounded by people, the only thing that occupied my attention were my blueberry pancakes, my bacon, my warm applesauce, and my own thoughts.  Not the thoughts of others.  Just mine.

I’m sort of glad our Saturday teaching is over for the semester, because it would be hard to go from this format back to squishing it all in a single day.  That won’t happen now until February.

All in all, a good weekend.

Happy Advent, all!

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