With retreats around the country canceled and the faithful stuck at home, now is a good time to participate in a virtual retreat or create a stay-at-home retreat.

Many retreat centers both locally and elsewhere are providing resources for people wishing to take a bit of their quarantine and find spiritual growth.

When creating an at-home retreat, there are some key elements most retreats have: Mass, an uplifting or eye-opening talk and time for quiet prayer and reflection.

One option not open to most Catholics is a chance to spend time with Pope Francis. Anyone with an internet connection can watch daily Mass presided over by Pope Francis from Casa Santa Marta in the Vatican. A morning retreat can be rounded out with the Vatican’s daily meditations and the Pope’s daily Regina Caeli Angelus prayer.

For those in search of a more academic experience, the Thomistic Institute at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. is offering a series called the Quarantine Lectures. Topics have included the rationality of believing in the Trinity and St. Aquinas on original sin. Subscribing to the Quarantine Lectures also will give aspiring retreatants access to the institute’s book, “Prayers in the Time of Plague.” The book is a spiritual aid consisting of classical prayers from the Dominican prayers in times of plague, sickness and spiritual trials.

The absence of retreats at Mount Angel has left many Oregonians without the calm solitude of escaping to the abbey for a few days to reconnect with the Lord in a cloistered setting. Luckily, the monks at the abbey are bringing monastic life into the homes of Oregon’s Catholics. The Abbey is not only livestreaming daily Mass but also the chanted Divine Office. To complete an at-home retreat experience, Abbot Jeremy Driscoll is offering a video series on the pandemic, “The Risen Life within Us.”

Other Benedictine communities are offering virtual retreat experiences. The monks of St. Benedict in Kansas created a complete multi-day retreat experience for Holy Week. The virtual retreat includes a printable retreat guide, recorded Divine Office prayers, talks, panels and Holy Week liturgies. That, or the “Retreat from Quarantine” offered by the Dominicans at the Thomistic Institute, would make a great way to end the Easter season.

Not all virtual retreats blossomed out of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Ignatian Prayer Adventure experience online by Loyola Press has been around much longer than the coronavirus. The eight week course is an adapted version of the Spiritual Exercises by St. Ignatius of Loyola. The retreatant leaders recommend finding a prayer space and spending 30 to 40 minutes meditating on the retreat each day of the course.

Those longing for the majestic gardens of the National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother, or The Grotto, may not be able to actually visit them; however, they can make their own retreat experience by reading the Grotto’s daily reflections and watching video messages from the Servite priests. The crew at The Grotto have also composed a Servite rosary of our Lady of Sorrows for the pandemic. The rosary offers reflections that consider life under the pandemic for each decade. For those really missing the spring fauna to aid in their meditations, the staff are bringing the Grotto into the homes of the faithful with images, prayers and videos each day. The gift shop also is offering curbside shopping.

If none of the above options fulfill one’s need for a retreat, the faithful can make their own. Connect online with a preferred Mass, read some Catholic spiritual literature, plan prayer time and watch a spiritual talk or two, like those featuring Bishop Robert Barron and Scott Hahn. For a fun ending to an at-home retreat day, watch a movie on the life of a beloved saint and cook up a liturgically-based dinner from My Catholic Kitchen or Cooking with the Saints.



Preparing for a virtual retreat

When getting ready to have an at-home retreat, one still must act as if they are on a retreat. Benedictine Brother Louis de Montfort Nguyen, who works at the guesthouse at Mount Angel Abbey in St. Benedict, recommends a  few things:

1)   Begin all prayers by asking for God’s assistance. Brother Louis quotes St. Paul: The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans”  (Rom 8:26-27).

2)   Silence external noises. “We need to silence the external noises, find a quiet place with little to no distractions, preferably a place of solitude where one can be alone with God. The best time to pray is early in the morning when our mind has just woken up and is not preoccupied with the business of the world like work, family life, etc. or in the evening before sleep,” says Brother Louis.

3)   Silence internal noises. The monk recommends reading a short passage from Scripture, the daily missal readings or taking part in repetitive vocal prayers like the Jesus Prayer (Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner) or saying the rosary. These prayers can be accompanied by deep breathing exercises  to take “our concentration from the world and reorient our mind to be sensitive to our being and living in the present moment.”

4)   Silence our heart and soul. “Using Scripture as a tool to listen with the ears of our hearts is one of the most powerful tools available. We are not silent for the sake of silence, but it is a means by which we can encounter and experience a real, personal and all loving God,” says Brother Louis.

5)   Encounter God. “In the end, it is not the destiny of the process or the fruits of prayer or whether it was a productive time that matters.  It is the fact that we spent time with God, it is about the encounter,” says the monk.

“We need to pray with our whole being — the body, intellect, memory, imagination, emotions, heart and soul ­— not just with our mouth, mind or heart. Prayer is a total-person activity and we need to engage all of the faculties, just like we need to love God with our body and soul,” concludes Brother Louis.