In a good many parishes there are summer activities that demand attention, like the vacation bible school or the summer church fundraising festival (at least in the temperate parts of the U.S.) Hopefully these activities are staffed by “summer crews” so that the year round catechists, ministers and school teachers can get some personal rest and enjoy the leisure to reflect upon their work from a safe distance. Summer is also rich with opportunities for continuing education.
Summer is a fine time for a personal retreat. There are many religious orders and communities around the country that make them available. I learned today that the annual posting of summer retreats, institutes, and academic seminars will be posted on May 8 by National Catholic Reporter. This annual project of NCR was once a much-awaited event and its listings from around the country numbered in the hundreds, if not thousands. Today, perhaps due to increasing advertising costs, today’s summer issue is a shadow of its old self, but it still remains a very interesting site to peruse.
Retreat houses with long traditions continue to thrive, however. My personal favorite is Mepkin Abbey, about 50 miles from Charleston, South Carolina. Mepkin is an active Trappist working community which offers accommodations to those wishing to get away from the world. Retreatants can join the monks for prayer and Mass as their needs dictate. My then-fiancé and I were directed to Mepkin by our pastor as a substitute for the pre-Cana program of our diocese. Given that we were both 50 at the time, he wisely adduced that the intensity of this Trappist environment for several days might best prepare us for marriage instead of “classes.” If you visit the website, Mepkin has a suggested offering for your stay, but no one is ever declined due to lack of funds. Oh yes, be prepared for a vegetarian diet and lots of silence…and liturgies with majestic simplicity that you’ll want to take home.
Not all retreats are offered in this fashion. In fact, monastic settings are something of the exception. Many dioceses and religious communities have gotten into the “retreat business,” to best utilize existing properties such as seminaries and houses of formation. Your own diocese may sponsor a retreat center. Aside from NCR, there are some retreat clearing house websites, such as here and here. These retreat centers offer “directed retreats,” where you would attend a program of talks and liturgies around a particular theme; a “private directed retreat” in which you establish a relationship with a spiritual director who guides your prayers and meditations according to your needs; and a “private retreat” in which you follow your own lights, joining the larger group for Mass and meals as you see fit.
Another summer experience might be summer school. I pulled up just one, from Catholic University, to show you what a beehive of activity our Catholic colleges are during the summer. My happiest summers were the early 1970’s when I worked here, in the days when hundreds of sisters came down from Buffalo to earn 5-summer M.A. degrees in theology. (I was the music director for the daily 5 P.M. campus Mass and worked with eight of the best Franciscan scholars in the world—an eccentric group, to be sure.) You have many options—you can take courses you need for your basic skill set, or you can indulge yourself in a theological field of interest. Remember my rule: always take your courses for credit, not audit, if you possibly can. This will add to the power of your resume and increase your earning potential. Get your parish cover your costs: ethically I think you are owed that.
We have talked about on-line courses before, but summer schedules may allow you more time to do the readings reflectively. Again, check with your diocesan web page to see if there is a recommendation from the faith formation office. In my home diocese or Orlando, our catechists are referred to the University of Dayton’s on-line certification program, which I see has five-week courses starting on May 31 and July 19. Again, don’t be afraid to ask your parish to pay the freight. If you have questions about a particular program, let me know.
And then, of course, we come to the wonderful world of books. It is encouraging to see that more of better mainstream theology books are now available on tablets. However, you might want to go the extra mile with a hard copy if you are going to use a book over and over as a source, which is certainly true with Scripture commentaries. At a minimum, this is the time to read a commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke, who will take us through the C Cycle starting late this November. For those of you who have asked me about St. Luke, I am still tracking the best new commentaries.
I will be posting book recommendations on the welcome page as well as discussing texts on the Saturday “Books and Apps” posts for the foreseeable future.
Be careful not to get sunscreen cream on your new acquisitions.