Pope Francis has called for the bishops of the United States to meet as a group for a one-week retreat beginning Jan. 2 at Mundelein Seminary near Chicago. What are your thoughts about that?
I don’t think there’s ever been a retreat like this in which the entire group of bishops in the U.S. gathered for a week. Our Holy Father has asked us to come together to reflect on some of the challenges the church is facing in the United States. I know it will be a new experience, especially for us from the South, trudging through the snow and the freezing temperatures, but in the midst of all of that, we will be called to spend quality time with the Lord Jesus and in support of one another as we continue our episcopal ministry.
What about the value of retreats in general?
As we know, retreats are not just for clergy, religious or those in lay leadership. Every person is invited to take time throughout a given year to retreat. Retreat involves removing ourselves from our daily routines and the responsibilities of life. When I think of retreat, I often think of Jesus’ words to his disciples: “Come away with me for a while.” He takes them away to a quiet mountain and calls them into conversation and reflection on their lives and how they are living out his teaching and values. The Advent and Christmas seasons are perhaps the busiest times of the year, and it is appropriate for us to think about slowing down, not that we can do it today or tomorrow, but to recognize the value of pausing and stepping back from our busy lives and spending quality time with our God.
What are some important questions a person can ask on a retreat?
We can ask the Lord Jesus: You have claimed me as your beloved daughter or son – help me to understand that. How do you see me and my gifts? What is your plan for me today, tomorrow and beyond? How have I been faithful to you? How can I grow in conversion of heart to be more faithful? Those are questions we can grapple with in our daily lives, but it takes getting away to be quiet, away from routine, away from technology and responsibilities in order to truly listen to what God is saying to us. For me, a retreat is one of the most important times of the year. It feeds me in a way that is unique.
Is it difficult initially to get into the spirit of a retreat because we are so wound up?
It is. I would say for most of us, it takes a day or two or more to just slow down and to refocus. That’s why a retreat of any length – even if it’s just a few days – is very valuable. But the longer it can be, the better. I realize that presents real challenges for some people, especially when they have family and work responsibilities. But even if it’s two days, it’s better than none at all. Some people can’t get away for a retreat. That’s where a regular time of daily prayer is so important.
Will there be any agenda for the bishops’ retreat?
No. The retreat will be directed by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, who has given many retreats to the papal household. I am looking forward to his spiritual guidance. Father Cantalamessa has given many talks here in New Orleans as part of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.
Do you recall your first retreat?
I was a senior at Cor Jesu High School, and the senior class went for three days to Manresa. There was some conversation, but it was mostly a quiet retreat, and we were encouraged to really enter into quiet prayer – not just to talk but also to listen. I remember it being a very sacred time. It was also a time when I think part of my vocation for priesthood became more concrete.
Where are retreats offered in the archdiocese and nearby?
We are blessed to have many retreat houses and spirituality centers in the archdiocese. There is the Archdiocese of New Orleans Retreat Center (dedicated to Our Lady of the Cenacle) in Metairie; the Abbey Christian Life Center in St. Benedict; the Archdiocesan Spirituality Center in Metairie; Camp Abbey Retreat Center in Covington; the Carmelite Spirituality Center in Lacombe; the Hermitage Retreat House in Garyville; the Sophie Barat House in New Orleans and the Teresian Spirituality Center in Covington. There’s also Manresa in the Diocese of Baton Rouge, where a lot of men from New Orleans make retreats, and Lumen Christi in Schriever, which is a ministry of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux. The Archdiocese of New Orleans Retreat Center just updated its website with all of its offerings – https://retreats.arch-no.org. The center’s theme is, “Come to the quiet, encounter the sacred.” I would encourage everyone to try to get away from the busyness of life and “encounter the sacred.”
Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.