IV. – THE ADVANTAGE OF A RETREAT MADE IN SOLITUDE AND SILENCE
If, indeed, there were no other satisfaction in solitude than that of knowing the Eternal Truths, that alone would be sufficient to make a Retreat a most desirable thing. The knowledge of the Eternal Truths give the soul a perfect contentment such as is never found in the vanities of the world, which are only lying and deceitful things. Herein consists precisely the happiness which is found in the exercises of a Retreat gone through in solitude and silence. It is then one sees in the clearest light the Christian maxims, the importance of salvation, the ugliness of sin, the value of grace, the love God bears us, the vanity of earthly goods, the foolishness of those who, for the sake of the fleeting joys of the world, fling away eternal goods and prepare for themselves an Eternity of pain and misery.
Hence it comes about that, having convinced himself of these truths, a man takes the most efficacious means to secure his eternal salvation. In a Retreat he disentangles himself from earthly affections and unites himself to God in prayer, by desires of closer union with Him, by repeated offerings of himself, by multiplied acts of sorrow, love, and resignation. He thus finds himself raised so high above all created things that he smiles in pity on those who set such value on the things of this world which he so much despises, knowing how worthless they are, and how unworthy of the love of a heart created to love an infinite Good, which is God. It is certain that one comes out of the Exercises a very different man, and much better than he was when he began them.
It was the opinion of St. John Chrysostom that retirement was a great means of rising to perfection. And a learned author, speaking of the Exercises of a Retreat, says: “Happy, indeed is the man who, fleeing from the noise of the world, allows himself to be led by the Lord to the Spiritual Exercises, into that sweet solitude where he finds and tastes the delights of Paradise.” Sermons in the churches are good, but if the hearers do not reflect on what they have heard, the fruit will be little. Reflection will never be made as it should be unless it be made in solitude. As soon as the oyster receives the dew of heaven it shuts itself at once and sinks to the bottom of the sea, and there the pearl is formed. It is beyond all doubt that what makes the fruit of the Exercises perfect is the silent reflection alone with God upon the truths one has heard in a sermon or read in a book. Hence St. Vincent de Paul in his missions never failed to exhort his hearers to make the Exercises in some retired place. One single spiritual maxim well meditated upon is sufficient to make a saint. Thus St. Francis Xavier resolved to give up the world in consequence of the impression made on him by that maxim of the Gospel: What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul? (Matt. xvi. 26). A young student having once heard a maxim on death, changed his conduct and led a virtuous life. St. Clement of Ancrya was encouraged to suffer for Jesus Christ all the torments inflicted by the tyrant, by thinking of what his mother had taught him: “It is for life eternal we are fighting.”