Retreat! When running away is for the win


By Ryan LeBlanc, E.D. Feehan High School Chaplain

The Grade 9 members of the Feehan Family were recently on retreat. What’s that? They gathered in large, medium and small groups, and as individuals, to take a break from regular school routine, to build good relationship with each other, and to reflect on this moment of transition into the high school journey.

Sounds like a good idea. But why do we always do this, with every student, at the beginning of their Grade 9 year and at the end of their graduating year? Why do we call it a retreat? Isn’t that what you do when you’re losing? Are you calling us a bunch of losers?


The idea of retreat is a very important part of Christian tradition. Other cultures value time away to hit reset and realign with what’s really important. Indigenous traditions of the sweat lodge and the vision quest might have some similarities; I don’t know too much about those teachings. I do know that before Jesus got to his work of teaching and healing, he went off by himself for a while, and that prepared him to live for others all the way to the cross.

But the word “retreat” – what did that mean to the first Christians who used it to describe their time away? In the ancient world where Christianity started, and the medieval world where it went mainstream, military strategy depended on retreat. If you think of a crowd of thousands of men with pointy sticks trying to kill each other, with no texting, loudspeakers, or heads-up displays, you realize that armies could not easily change direction or approach or position as their commanders wanted them to. Imagine the first wave of a swords-and-shields attack, and it’s pretty crazy – everyone’s running and yelling and their kilts are flapping and limbs are flying… “For Scotland!”

But after that first wave, the commanders see what the enemy is trying to do and they want to respond to it. Maybe there’s a weak point, or maybe reinforcements are coming, or maybe the terrain is different than what they expected. But they can’t yell their instructions to their soldiers because the battle is utter chaos.

So they sound a retreat.

In a retreat, the army disengages from the battle, pulls back and regroups. The soldiers catch their breath, and the commanders relay any changes in the orders. It’s like a time-out in sports.

It has nothing to do with losing, instead it is called to make sure of victory. A retreat meansthat, after we gather and regroup, we’re going to attack again in a better way.

A retreat is not a rout, when the army is losing and the soldiers are running for their lives. It is on purpose, and it’s for the win

OK, so how is today’s experience for the Grade 9s like a retreat?

Well, they’ve made it a month into high school, and for all of us, high school is a struggle. They expected some things and were surprised by some things. They won some points and maybe took some hits. It’s a good time to disengage, take some time, and make sure they’re doing what leads to victory.

Because it is a struggle. Each of us is battling things that nobody else can see. Not swords and shields, but we’re fighting against bad spirits, or what I call evil inspirations.

Discouragement. Loneliness. Fear. Trauma. Bitterness. Envy. Laziness. Selfishness. These are powerful enemies, and it takes energy and strategy to win the victory.

The Feehan Family names victory as “I belong to the Feehan Family. Who I am makes a difference.” Today, the Grade 9s will be spending time on each part of our school motto, to receive the strength and the focus it gives us. Belonging. Identity. Agency. These are the good things we purify ourselves to see and to live. These help us win the victory.

Today, please join me in praying for the grade 9 members of our family. And also spend a moment to reaffirm what you really believe about yourself – that you belong, that you are loved, and that you make a difference in every moment you live.

Let us pray:
+Come Holy Spirit,
You are welcome here.
Fill the hearts of the grade 9 students,
With your power and healing.
You know how our battle has gone,
And you know what each of us needs.
Do not let us weaken,
but give us the strength we need
To embrace and live out
our own beautiful struggle.
We ask this in the name of Jesus,
Who gave you to us, and
In the sight of our loving heavenly Father,
St Kateri, pray for us.

(Find “ThinkCatholic” by Ryan LeBlanc online at )