LOOKING FROM THE INSIDE OUT
In last year's tribute to Cardinal Hume,* there is a quote about monastic life (which I think may be from Dom Guéranger) which I like : 'The true monk is the man who, while living apart from the world, has his heart in the midst of the masses'.
There is a tendency, I think, particularly nowadays, for people to conclude that religious - particularly contemplative religious - are people 'running away' from the world, misanthropes turning their backs on 'real life'.
My own perception is very much the opposite : contemplatives are those who love God, and their fellow men, so much that they want to devote themselves totally to them - and their withdrawal from the mundane things which take up so much of our 'ordinary' lives allow them to do that.
If you live in the world, it is so easy for trivia to overtake you, and overwhelm your time; for the banal to obscure the glory and grandeur of God. For the contemplative religious, with all these distractions ruthlessly cut away, there remains only God, and God's world; which means that these things can receive the attention they really deserve.
A Retreat is an opportunity for us all to share this clarity of vision, if only for a few days. Directed Retreats are fine; and for many who have little opportunity for 'spirituality' in any serious sense, this can be their one chance in the year to get some clear guidance on this important aspect of life : but I do think that there is a great deal to be said for having a Retreat which is as silent as possible, and which allows us time to appreciate the reckless generosity of God.
Then, deep in God's love, we can see the world more clearly, and see and understand not only what it means to others, but also our own place in it, looking - as it were - from the inside out, with a new and sharper vision.
* Basil Hume Ten Years On, ed. William Charles (Continuum, 2009)