A Vacation With The Lord by Fr Thomas H. Green SJ (Ave Maria Press, 1986, 175pp, RRP $9.95. Available from AD Books (03) 9326 5757)
Participating in a retreat once or twice a year is quite common nowadays amongst practising Catholics. Usually it involves large, organised groups with one spiritual director leading the entire retreat.
But, as Fr Green points out in the introduction to his book, A Vacation With the Lord, a retreat was originally meant to be an individual encounter with God, with just one retreatant and one director.
Retreats began when St Ignatius of Loyola wrote his famous Spiritual Exercises in the 1500s, originally intending these to be used by individuals for a one-to-one retreat, with a director for guidance.
However, since the retreat movement expanded during the 20th century, the retreats themselves have often become large-scale affairs, not always conducive to the provision of the all-important individual spiritual direction.
People wishing to follow St Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises today often find them too rigid and foreign to their modern spiritual thinking. For this reason Fr Green has written A Vacation with the Lord to make the exercises more accessible for the present-day retreatant.
Designed as an eight-day retreat, A Vacation With the Lord leads us through reflections - or spiritual exercises - encouraging a deeper understanding of ourselves in relation to God and a desire to be even closer to Him. Each day progresses a little further along the path of self-examination and reconciliation.
The book can be used for individual retreats or as a guide for directors of group retreats. Fr Green recommends that individuals wanting to make a personal retreat with this book still should have a spiritual director to give the guidance needed.
As the title indicates, a retreat should not be seen as something to fear just because we are laying our souls bare to the Lord. It should be like a vacation. If we follow St Ignatius' exercises as he intended them to be then they are "the means to a truly joyous and liberating encounter with a loving God." This is an excellent guide to making a spiritual retreat.
Catherine Sheehan is a Melbourne Catholic writer.