Returning to God ‘with whole hearts’ through retreats

February 25, 2014

HOUSTON — Retreat themes during the season of Lent often emphasize God’s love and His desire that all return to Him and grow in intimacy with Him. 

A Lenten retreat serves as a wonderful time to experience God’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and presents an ideal opportunity to pray with the Scriptures of Holy Week and learn about saints and other men and women who have lived their lives as Christ has lived.

With the Lenten season approaching, Sister Herlinda Cardenas from the Mt. Carmel House of Prayer urges individuals, families and groups to simply make time to participate in such an experience.

“There are different kinds of spiritual retreats that help us to strengthen our relationship with God.” she said. “Lent offers us an opportunity to reflect upon our own life, deepen our relationship with God and to set aside all earthly cares and return our heart to God.”

While God always invites everyone to grow more in intimacy with Him, Lent provides several weeks to focus on His invitation and the response to Him, said Sister Mary Guido, rc, ministry coordinator at the Cenacle Retreat House. 

Referencing the First Reading for the Mass on Ash Wednesday (Joel 2:12-18) — which begins with God calling to the people, “return to me with your whole heart” — Sister Guido said the call is directed to each person in the midst of the noise and rush of life today.

“A retreat can give us the time and the quiet space we need to hear God’s voice,” she said. “It can help us get in touch with what might be blocking us from responding to Him with our whole heart. The Gospels of Lent give us Jesus on His way to Jerusalem, where He will be rejected, betrayed, arrested, tortured and killed — before God raises Him up in triumph over death.”

Jesus wants each person to accompany Him as He preaches, teaches, heals and carries out His mission through to the end of His earthly life, according to Sister Guido.

“A retreat in Lent can help us experience His great love for us and His desire that we remain with Him every step of the way of His journey,” she said. “God’s graces and blessings to us on retreat equip us to return home and live them more deeply in our homes, schools, parishes, workplace, neighborhoods, cities and out into the wider world.”

Flavia Schroeder credits the retreat experience for transforming her own life. The Our Lady of Lourdes retreat center director said her faith blossomed after she and her husband attended a Worldwide Marriage Encounter weekend. 

While learning to place less emphasis on material possessions, their time of careful reflection and prayer ultimately inspired them to devote their life to operating a retreat facility.

“God got a hold of us so strongly that we wanted to learn more about Him. The retreats were the instrument God used to bring us back to Him,” she said. “Our lives have been blessed. God has worked so many miracles in our lives. I could go on and on for the rest of my life thanking Jesus for having taken us by our hands and hearts and for giving us a purpose in our lives. We now just wish to do what God wants us to do and discern what He would like us to continue doing for His glory.”

Letting go of the life one plans in order to live the life God plans for them is among the popular retreat topics explored during Lent, according to Mary Starkey from the Mother of Perpetual Help Retreat Center. 

The self-accountability that comes from attending retreats with others — spouses, family members, friends, co-workers — is another key benefit to retreat life.

“Family members learn how to communicate with each other in good ways under God’s guidance,” Starkey said. “(When) attending retreat with friends, we build up the good relationship with God and with one another.” 

Starkey listed several other positives that result from the retreat experience, particularly during Lent: The opportunity to “unplug,” or disconnect from technology and the outside world — even for just a moment; the “power of the pause” — the importance of stopping and evaluating where one is in life and what role faith plays in their life; letting go of high expectations and being true to oneself; and learning how to pray, meditate and contemplate.

There are multiple retreat centers available with various options for registration and attendance opportunities. From single to multi-day to weekend retreats, there are also programs that feature every day or once-a-day meetings. 

The “busy person’s retreat” series can last several weeks with participants only meeting once a week for a few hours — a format that is conducive to numerous Lenten programs.

“Retreat is a chance to just get away from the noises and the busyness of life to find some peace and quiet for oneself,” Starkey said. “Going to a retreat helps one to know oneself better, to relieve stress, to renew faith and to strengthen the intimate relationship with God.”

To learn more about Lenten programs available in retreat centers around the Archdiocese, visit