Holy Week retreat at Pantasaph, N. Wales

Pantasaph retreat 0308 - 04, originally uploaded by bro_james.

Most years us English De La Mennais Brothers go on retreat together during Holy Week. This year we went to the Franciscan retreat centre at Pantasaph, up in the Halkyn "mountains" in the middle of the rugged N. Wales countryside. This is an area I know well from cycling through this area many a time with my club, Birkenhead North End. I was able to ride out there from Liverpool and got a few more rides in during the week, including a suitably tough 60 mile ride on Good Friday afternoon in hail and snow. Good extra miles in preparation for my next sponsored ride at the end of May (8 days, 900 miles).

But obviously the main reason for such a retreat is to have the opportunity to take a step back from the daily routines of teaching and community life to reflect, pray, listen, be silent, read... In other words to take away for a few days many of the distractions that can come between me and God and revitalise my relationship with him, getting back to basics spiritually speaking.

I always enjoy such weeks. I will probably always have a certain hankering for "the desert" and contemplative monastic life. I nearly tried out as a Cistercian monk before finally committing to the De La Mennais Brothers. But I know that as a teaching Brother living in an urban community I am where God wants me to be and the hankering for a quieter, idyllic kind of monastic experience is, for me, a temptation to run away from the challenges of my daily life. I am realistic enough to understand that if I was to up sticks and join a monastery of my own accord, I would not automatically find peace there and would be faced with a different set of challenges. Ultimately, peace comes from knowing that I am where God wants me to be.

During the week at Pantasaph, I prayed a number of times in front of the statue of Padre Pio shown in the photo. It is situated in a garden next to the retreat centre that functions as the National Padre Pio shrine of Great Britain. One night I went there at about 10.30pm and stayed standing in front of the statue for about an hour. It was a most moving and spiritual experience. My mother has always had a great devotion to him and would often mention him in passing (as long as my Dad was not in ear shot!). It was certainly a time of great consolation during which I prayed for my parents and brothers and sisters, all of whom have great crosses to bear which the rest of us have only found out about in the past few years.

In my prayer back in community in Liverpool I sometimes imagine myself in that garden before the statue and, silly though it may sound, I talk to him. I thank God for this grace.

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