Catholic Voices - Want to know God's will more deeply? Take a retreat - or a sabbatical!

  • Written by Father Bryan Dolejsi
  • Published in Catholic Voices
Photo: Courtesy Palisades Photo: Courtesy Palisades

After 11 years as a priest and six as the vocation director for the Archdiocese of Seattle, I can assure you of one thing: If you want to know God’s will more deeply, spend more time with the Risen Jesus Christ! While ongoing engagement with the sacraments, Scripture, community, catechesis and ministry all fundamentally deepen our relationship with the Lord, spending extra time in a retreat always bears fruit. A retreat helps fill our souls with “rich soil” that can produce fruit “a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.” (Matthew 13:8)

Jesus spent time on retreat, both in his 40 days in the desert (see Mark 1:12-13) and throughout his ministry: “Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.” (Mark 1:35) If Jesus, the Son of God, needed time away to pray, how much more so do we need similar time!

Retreats are so important in the life of the church that those preparing for ordination or solemn vows are canonically required to make a retreat prior to making their permanent commitments. Most marriage and confirmation preparation requires a retreat of some sort. School and parish staffs often make retreats prior to a new academic year. High school, college and parish groups, and lay movements such as Cursillo, Retrouvaille and Project Rachel, make regular retreats. The bishops of our Pacific Northwest region make an annual retreat. Our archdiocesan retreat center in Federal Way offers regular retreats open to everyone. In short, the church values retreats!

In my experience, retreats help us in four ways (though the benefits are not limited to these):

  1. We center ourselves more closely on Jesus through listening and meditation.
  2. We get much-needed rest and a change of rhythm from our often very tightly scheduled daily lives.
  3. We humbly remind ourselves that the world can go on without me, but not without God.
  4. We step away from our normal lives so we can return and enter more fully and intentionally into our vocations to help build the kingdom of God.

A retreat will help you to listen more closely to God in prayer, in Scripture, through a retreat director, and sometimes through others on retreat with you. A retreat will help you more clearly understand your own motivations, desires, hopes and expectations and bring them to the Holy Spirit to be purified and conformed more closely to the will of Jesus. A retreat will help you to make adjustments to your daily life so that you are best able to utilize your gifts for the Lord.

The bigger the decision you are trying to sort out in your life, the more time is needed to allow the Lord to speak to you. Perhaps you are trying to figure out a new career path, or which school to attend, or who to date. Or maybe you’re in transition in your primary relationships, or you have serious health issues, or you are trying to sort out your primary vocation. Or maybe you just need some spiritual renewal. Make a retreat!

This fall I am blessed to be taking an extended retreat during a three-month sabbatical. While priests make annual retreats already, we have opportunities to take extended time away to re-center and refocus ourselves and our ministries more closely on the will of Jesus. I will visit religious sites in Europe, visit priest friends in the Southwest and complete a 30-day Ignatian silent retreat. This is a great gift. Hopefully I will grow in holiness and return as an even more fruitful priest for God’s people in the church.

Enjoy your upcoming retreat — or sabbatical!

Father Bryan Dolejsi is the director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Seattle ( and a parish priest at Seattle's St. Benedict Parish.

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Northwest Catholic - October 2017