By Fr. Robert Badger
For close to 1,500 years, the Rule of St. Benedict has guided the lives of Benedictine and Cistercian monks and nuns. The way of life St. Benedict sets out is one which balances work and prayer. While diocesan priests do not follow a set rule in the way which religious do, the Church also recognizes the need for diocesan priests to lead a balanced life. Though we are engaged in active ministry, we are reminded not only of our obligation to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, but told to make room for personal prayer and spiritual exercises. The Church’s law not only sets forth the amount a vacation a priest may take every year, but that same law also requires the priest to make a retreat once a year.
Since I was ordained a priest over a year and a half ago, I have participated in two retreats involving our diocesan priests. Our retreats take place at the Redemptorist Renewal Center near Tucson, AZ. Having studied for the Diocese of Gallup for some years as a seminarian, I have gotten to know the majority of our priests. Now that I am a priest myself, my relationship with them has changed. I am now learning to relate to them as brother priests. The retreats are an excellent opportunity to get to know them better.
Different dioceses have different policies with regards to retreat. Some dioceses require their priests to go on retreat together. Other dioceses permit priests to make their own retreats wherever they wish. The law does not state what kind of retreat priests must take. It does not mandate a silent retreat. It simply states that priests must take a retreat every year. Our diocese encourages as many of our priests who can come together for retreat to do so. However, it is not always easy to do so. Sometimes our priests may be called away due to funerals or other parish emergencies. It still is good to come together with one’s brother priests and spend time with each other.
Our retreats are not silent retreats. However, there are several spiritual exercises throughout the day. We begin with Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours. The Liturgy of the Hours is the official prayer of the Church and all priests, deacons, and religious are bound to pray from it every day. For most diocesan priests, the Liturgy of the Hours is prayed individually. However, the ideal is for it to be prayed communally. Therefore, we pray both Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer as a group on the retreats. Usually, there are conferences each day both in the morning and the in the afternoon. This year’s retreat was preached by Father Thaddeus Lancton, MIC, a priest of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception. The Marians of the Immaculate Conception are a religious institute of priests originating in Poland who are best known for their work in promoting the Divine Mercy message and devotions received from Our Lord by St. Faustina Kowalska. Mass is celebrated each day, usually with the Bishop presiding and with all of the priests concelebrating with him. Eucharistic adoration takes place daily. There is also a penance service where we may avail ourselves of the opportunity to receive the Sacrament of Penance from one of the Redemptorist priests or the retreat master.
Because the retreat house is located some distance away from the city, there are opportunities for hiking. However, one must be careful mostly because of the wildlife that one might come across! There are rattlesnakes and scorpions about. Some of the priests take advantage of the swimming pool. Retreat also can be a good time to catch up on some needed rest. Finally, there are opportunities for fraternity both in the meals and outside of the various scheduled activities.
Retreat is an important time for not only resting with the Lord, but for building and strengthening fraternity. Though we as diocesan priests do not belong to a religious community like the Franciscans or the Benedictines, we do belong to a definite presbyterate. Our presbyterate is made up of all the priests of the Diocese of Gallup. Our presbyterate is also scattered over a very wide area. It is very important, especially for the new priests, to come to feel a sense of belonging to this presbyterate and to see one’s fellow diocesan priests as brothers. We are also blessed with the presence of priests from different dioceses and religious communities in our diocese. Retreat affords us the opportunity to hopefully not only grow closer to the Lord, but also it also hopefully provides us with the opportunity to grow closer with each other both as a presbyterate and as brother priests.