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The Annual Retreat

by St. John Eudes

Nothing is more useful or necessary to a Christian, and especially to a priest, than the annual retreat. It represents the most powerful and efficacious means for the purification and sanctification of the soul. So, too, it is of paramount importance for our advancement in grace and our preparation for a happy death.

For your annual retreat to be well made, five things are required: 1. Purity of intention; 2. Dispositions; 3. Proper disposal of time; 4. Subjects of meditation; 5. Retreat books.

1. Purity of Intention

You should make the retreat for three principal reasons:

  1. To please God and in memory of the sublime seclusion and retreats Our Blessed Lord observed, as well as those of His Holy Mother who was always united with Him. He observed a long retreat in the stable at Bethlehem, in Egypt and later at Nazareth. For forty days He lived in the silence of the desert; and now He hides Himself in the bosom of the Eternal Father as well as in the Blessed Sacrament. You should choose one of these periods of Christ’s retreats to honor Him during your own annual retreat.
  2. Offer the retreat as an atonement for the innumerable sins and offenses committed in the past.

  3. Make it with the intention of disposing yourself for the worthy reception of new light and graces for the future.

2. Dispositions

To make your retreat with required dispositions, you should make seven preliminary acts.

First, humble yourself because of your great unworthiness. Secondly, enter into the spirit of true solitude, with utter renunciation of all worldly ties. Relinquish your study or any other kind of work. Do not leave the place of retreat unless it be absolutely necessary. Keep rigid silence except during recreation periods. Give yourself wholeheartedly to Our Blessed Lord with those sentiments which animated His own Sacred Heart, and the hearts of Mary and Joseph and all the saints who practiced mortification in solitude.

Thirdly, be faithful to every exercise of the retreat. Fourthly, make use of each moment of your time as if this retreat were to be your last and were given to you as a final opportunity of making reparation for all your unworthiness and sins. In every act of your retreat, or at least in the principal acts, have this thought in mind, “I wish to perform this particular act so well, with God’s grace, that I may fully atone for my past sins, and I desire to perform it in the same manner that I would if this were my last day on earth, and if I knew this would be the last opportunity I should ever have of performing it.

Fifthly, follow the guidance of the retreat master and be docile to his injunctions. Sixthly, make a complete renunciation of your own desires, will and self-love, abandoning yourself entirely to the will of God. Let Him guide and direct you during the days you will spend in this holy duty. Seek no human consolation. Trust alone in God.

Seventhly, invoke the assistance of the Blessed Virgin Mary together with the prayers of St. Joseph, Saint Gabriel, your Guardian Angel and all the angels and saints of Heaven. On the day before you go to make your retreat, spend at least an hour in prayer, preferably in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.

3. Proper Disposal of Time

A. Morning

Arise promptly at the sound of the bell, pronouncing the blessed names of Jesus and Mary. Make the sign of the cross and renew your baptismal promises in these words, I renounce you, satan; I adhere to Thee, Lord Jesus. Then, say with great devotion: “I will rise, and ... I will seek Him Whom my soul loveth” (Cant. 3,2).

While dressing, recite some vocal prayers or recall passages from Sacred Scripture or from the previous day’s spiritual reading, or concentrate on the meditation which you are about to make.

Then, kneeling beside your bed, honor and salute the Blessed Trinity by reciting the Gloria Patri. Adore Christ Our Lord, saying, We adore Thee O Christ and we bless Thee because by Thy Holy Cross Thou hast redeemed the world. Thou who hast suffered for us, Lord Jesus, have mercy on us. Recite the Ave Maria to salute the Blessed Virgin Mary. Invoke your Guardian Angel saying, Hail, Holy Angel, who art my guardian, be blessed in eternity, and deign to intercede for my salvation and for everyone.

Address all the angels and saints in Heaven thus: Hail, all angels, and all saints of God; be blessed forever in eternity and deign to intercede for our salvation and for the whole world. Ask Jesus and Mary to give you Their blessing; Blessed be the most loving Heart and the most sweet name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and His most glorious Virgin Mother, forever and ever. May the Virgin Mary together with Her Divine Child bless us. Amen. At the Angelus bell, recite the words of that beautiful prayer; then, begin the meditation period.

If the retreat is to be made in common, the schedule will be followed as set forth by the director. But, if the exercise is to be private, it might be well at this point to recite the Little Hours. Then you may say Mass if it is convenient at this time. After Mass, a period of profound thanksgiving is a prime requisite.

After breakfast you should spend a half hour reading the New Testament. The rest of the morning should be devoted to the exercises as prescribed for a retreat in common, or if it be in private the beads and litany should be recited, followed by a period of spiritual reading and a thorough examination of conscience.

B. Afternoon

After noonday meal, some time will be assigned for recreation in which all the retreatants will participate. During the remainder of the afternoon, there will be various exercises, lectures, spiritual reading, visits to the Blessed Sacrament, recitation of the Divine Office and the Rosary, until dinner or supper time.

C. Evening

The evening meal will be followed by recreation in silence, preparation of the points for the next day’s meditation and a sermon. The day will be brought to a close by night prayers and the reading of the points of meditation.

Sometime during the retreat, the retreatant will prepare his soul carefully and devoutly for the most important exercise of the retreat, namely, Confession.

4. Subjects of Meditation

Ordinarily these will be outlined by the Retreat Master. They should be adopted wholeheartedly, with the fullest spirit of cooperation and with the help of God’s grace and guidance. Before meditation, the Veni Sancte Spiritus should be said.

5. Retreat Books

The only books you need for the retreat are the Bible, the Breviary, the Following of Christ, and the Lives of the Saints. There are, however, numerous excellent spiritual writings which might be read more profitably at your own discretion or upon the advice of the Retreat Master.*

When it is a question of reading the Scripture, the parts which might be chosen with most profit are the Four Gospels, especially chapters five, six and seven of St. Matthew, and chapters eleven to seventeen of St. John. Then the Epistles of St. Paul and the other apostles may also be read with great benefit.

    *Note: If it is an Ignatian Retreat, you will also need The Golden Key to Heaven by Saint Anthony Mary Claret.