“I need to get away.” These words, at this time of year usually means winter is getting the best of us. For those with the resources, a quick plane trip to Florida or Arizona makes cold weather tolerable. Others start walking around in t-shirts when temperatures hit 40 degrees, enthusiastically expressing how wonderful the weather is – and it is! Getting away also can mean finding solace in solitary activity – out of the realm of day to dayness.
After graduating from high school I had the chance to “get away” for a whole year. Most post-high school mythology paints a picture of exploring the limits, whether living on the edge or in a different culture. For a young man growing up in the Roman Catholic world of the early 60s – a retreat to the monastery or religious life was the choice.
I had been educated during high school by the Christian Brothers. Yes they do more than make a fine brandy and good wines. Their founder, St. John Baptist DeLaSalle had the education of youth as his goal. After high school, I chose to join these men to become an educator myself.
The first year of the training was a kind of religious boot camp. It was divided into the postulancy and the novitiate. The postulancy was three months in a hot Winona Minnesota summer after which time you assumed a different name and were given a religious habit.
My new name was Brother Terrence Bruce, after a couple of high school buddies. The robe or religious habit was a plain, black, floor length robe with what looked like two white index cardsunder the neck in front.
Our days were filled with prayer. We rose at 5:30 AM and were in chapel by ten to six. The first twenty minutes was devoted to mental prayer. Six AM was awfully early for most of us, so we could stand during meditation if we needed to stay awake. After mental prayer came the office, a recitation of psalms chorally, mass, and then breakfast.
Throughout the day we would interrupt study and work, mostly housekeeping chores, to
pray. At the end of the year I had callouses on my knees.
Most of our day was spent in silence; the rule of the house. The quiet provided the opportunity for thoughtful reflection on scripture and spirituality classes, not distracted by conversation. The rule was not in force during recreation, a great deal of soccer was played, and on occasion during meals when the superior of the house felt discussion was appropriate.
The world we lived in was a naive one in some ways. We were insulated from the struggles of our peers. That however, was the purpose of the retreat. The self-examination was a luxury that few young men of that age have the time to engage in. It was also an experience in communal living, at a very intense and personal level.
When life gets nuts like it frequently does, I think about the quiet of that period and the chance to dream, to examine the larger questions of life.. I hope someday to be able to return in some small measure to that luxury.