The Last Retreat

By the time that this post appears, the entire community at the Dominican House of Studies will have begun our annual house retreat. This time, in which we meditate on the word of God and pray more intensely, is a period of refreshment and revitalization of our religious vocations. While all members of religious orders and institutes make a retreat every year by canon law (CIC, c. 663, §5), retreats are highly recommended for the laity as well. Having attended several retreats, from the lively kind in high school youth group to a silent weekend in my mid-twenties, I (along with my fourteen classmates) will be making my first canonical retreat since simple profession a year ago. Yet as the retreat approaches, and after having spent the summer in hospice ministry, I have often wondered: how would you make a retreat if you knew that it would be your last?

This situation is exactly the one in which Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, a cloistered Carmelite nun at the turn of last century, found herself. At 26 years of age, the French sister was dying of a kidney ailment called Addison’s disease, and she knew that she would not live to the end of the year. Although she had lived in the Carmel for five years, she was confined to the infirmary with her illness, and thus she could not join the community for their annual silent retreat of sixteen days (ours is only six!). Instead, she had to pray the Divine Office alone, and her silence was punctuated by the sisters and doctors who visited and cared for her. Yet, through all the distractions, Elizabeth was able to spend several hours each day in intimate prayer, and she wrote down her reflections each evening throughout late August, 1906. These writings have been collected under the title The Last Retreat.

What was on her mind as she made her retreat, parallel to that of her community, for the last time before her entrance into eternal life? “Nescivi—I knew not,” said the young bride of Christ at the beginning of her retreat, along with the bride of the Canticle of Canticles (6:12); that is, she desired to know nothing but Jesus Christ, to Whom she had professed her love, and to Whom she would go a few months later. In the days that followed, Elizabeth would focus on other Scriptural passages relating to the joys of heaven to which she looked forward, saying that she will be known as the “Praise of Glory” (cf. Eph. 1:12) on earth.

In order to attain this glory, however, one must become detached from the things of this world, and even oneself, and order them all to the love of God, as Elizabeth writes, ever aware of what lies soon before her:

To walk in Jesus Christ seems to me to want to leave self, lose sight of self, give up self in order to enter more deeply into Him with every passing moment, so deeply that one is rooted there, and to every event, to every circumstance we can fling this beautiful challenge: “Who will separate me from the love of Jesus Christ?'”

This act of pressing on to the goal of union with Christ resonated within the nun about to leave her earthly life behind, just as it resonates within the religious who has sacrificed many goods of the world in order to follow our Lord more closely, and within the layman on retreat who has taken the time to focus on prayer and putting his life in the perspective of eternity. No matter our state in life, no matter if it is our first retreat ever, our first in new circumstances, or our very last one, a retreat is always an opportunity to reorder our lives towards the ultimate goal of the human race: eternal happiness in the presence of God in heaven.

Image: Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoi, Christ in the Wilderness

You May Also Enjoy:

The Jorrowful Mysteries No, that’s not a typo. “Jorrow” is a term meant to capture the ties that bind the Joyful and Sorrowful Mysteries. For bound they are. Just think, for example, about the Joyful Mysteries themselves, and the experience of perturbation, grief, and affliction found within them. Not that these emotions dominate, but they’re certainly present: the fact that the Archangel’s greeting troubles Mary initially, or Simeon’s prophecy to Mary of a sword-pie...
The Roots of Charity This summer, I have been working in Youngstown, Ohio, at the St. Vincent de Paul Society Soup Kitchen. Each day, we feed about 200 of the poor in the city. Some are homeless, some have been abandoned, some are sick or disabled, but all of them need mercy, and all of them are beloved of Christ. This is something St. Vincent de Paul can show us, something that came to be the center of his life. St. Vincent de Paul was born in 1581 to a peasant f...
When the Word Speaks Editor’s note: This is the first post in a series commenting on the first words of Christ as presented in the Gospels. The words of Christ are powerful. In the beginning, God spoke, and through his Word, the heavens and earth were made. As the Incarnate Word, Christ speaks with this same power. His word has power to teach, amazing his hearers, “for his word was with authority” (Lk 4:32). His word has power to heal, to cast out demons, to forgi...
Dominic’s Rule “Et quicumque hanc regulam secuti fuerint pax super illos et misericordia . . .” In one corner of the cloister of our house of studies in Washington, D.C., there stands a statue of St. Dominic holding a lily in his right hand and an open book in his left. The lily--a traditional symbol of virginal purity--draws Dominican minds to a line from the O Lumen that calls our founder the “ivory of chastity.” Since we sing this chant nearly every night...
Br. Humbert Kilanowski, O.P.

Written by:

Br. Humbert Kilanowski was born in Connecticut and calls Columbus, Ohio home. He did his undergraduate studies at Case Western Reserve University and earned a doctorate in mathematics from The Ohio State University. While a graduate student, he met the Dominicans at St. Patrick Church. He entered the novitiate upon graduating in 2010 and made solemn profession in the Order of Preachers in 2014. On DominicanFriars.org