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My Summer Travel on Retreat

“So many of our family have either moved this year or are travelling or have transitioned their usual life in some way, that I thought it would be a good idea to tell my story of a summer travel – my travel on retreat! So here goes…

During the latter part of August, I decided to go on a trip – this time on my private annual retreat. The trip was to our hermitage, Our Lady of the Cape, a really beautiful little cottage in a beautiful woods at a beautiful time of year! Really the trip was quite simple, a little walk from the back of our monastery.

HermitageLet me give you some of the details of each day’s journey. I would need to pack myself a lunch. So I took a blue vinyl shoulder bag in which I packed my breviary, a book for spiritual reading, a thermos, and a little bag of doggie treats. In a little yellow lunch bag I would have a cheese sandwich, a fruit, and a muffin. Then at noon I would leave all the Sisters and head out to our woods with two small shelties carefully watching where I was heading. I would go down the back ramp, past our orchard of apple trees, quince, and elderberry bushes, past the small chicken coop where we raise the young chicks, and take the road into the woods. Then at the fork of the road I climb a small hill and at the top take a left turn deeper into the woods until I finally reached our hermitage flanked by wood piles on either side. At this time of year it is quieter than in June when all the birds are chirping that new life is coming. But there are still so many birds, and I can still hear their songs. The woods are in the fullness of summer growth, with the sweet scent of mature growth in the air. And all is so peaceful, so restful for the spirit.

Once I enter the door, I bless myself with holy water, and then turn to the right where we have our altar on which stands a lovely wooden triptych of Our Lady of Mount Carmel with St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross on the side panels. I kneel at the prie-dieu and greet Our Lady.

Our hermitage is a remodelled shed that was given us, with now three rooms, two at the back, one room with a lounge chair if a Sister needs an afternoon stretch-out. And the other as an alternative little hermitage room with prie-dieu, table, chair and lamp. The main room has a great little wood stove (from Quebec) which heats up the whole place very quickly. And there is a supply of wood in a little adjacent closet, with everything to start a fire. The stove divides the room into chapel and prayer section from the kitchen section.

After a brief prayer I settle into the little kitchen and start the little warming oven on the counter. Cheese sandwiches on retreat are best heated until the cheese is all melted. In the meantime, 2 little dogs are keeping careful eye on me. Once all is ready I settle at the table and enjoy my simple meal, and enjoy the quiet. All about me the trees tower about and everything is so beautiful. On one of these days, it had become very dark and began to rain. The metal roof was being pummelled with a heavy, driving rain, and thunder and lightning were displaying the nature of a southern Ontario storm. I sat there eating my sandwich and felt so safe in Our Lady’s little hermitage, and felt God so close – He who holds these elements in His hands.

SheltiesAfter lunch, and a couple of treats, the dogs and I will head for a walk deeper into our woods. We take an old well travelled lane used by the Sisters and by our woodsman who takes care of our woods, and travels up and down nearly every day with his diesel tractor. Usually I trekked up the hill to our cemetery where I worked this summer, mowing the lawns and keeping the flowers on our 6 graves well watered and weeded. It was a good thing I spent extra time there because when our Sister Agnes died at the end of September we didn’t need to spruce up the cemetery; it was ready.

After the walk I would return to the hermitage and chant None, our midafternoon Divine Office. Usually we recite this small office in recto tono, but since I was by myself, I decided to pray the whole office with Psalm tones. Only God, Our Lady and His angels were there, and I think they were as delighted with the chanting as I was.

Afterwards I would pray and do spiritual reading. There really is something special about praying in a hermitage. The solitude does the soul much good, the quiet is soothing to the spirit, and a good book is an antidote to so many ills that can come to us from the trials and overwork of life. It is very good medicine. And God is such a good friend that He bends over backwards, as it were, to make us feel at home with Him.

St. JosephI should mention that in the hermitage we have the original altar that was used by the Nuns when the Monastery was still in Kitchener. When they moved to our present location they got a larger altar top and used only the bottom part of the old altar. Eventually we were given a wooden altar rail, and I asked a local carpenter to cut it in three places to make it as a bottom structure for this altar. The wood was similar in colour and it looks really nice. Also near where I sat for reading is a large hand-carved statue of Our Lady that was given us upon the closing of a small Catholic Church in a nearby Diocese. The statue of Mother and Child were carved with Native features, and then painted, though I think it would have looked better before it was painted. But we take what we are given, and it is nice to have such a statue in our hermitage. Given that it is wood, it sits well in our hermitage with its gothic ceiling. A few years ago, racoons got into the hermitage through air vents at either end of the roof, and did a real mess of the whole place. So the ceiling was ripped out, and new roof panelling was installed giving it a Gothic look. During one retreat, I spent time staining with a dark mahogany stain all the beams, which really accents them nicely against the white oak roof panelling.

As with every trip, there is a start and an end. So on September 1st, my retreat finished, and I left the little hermitage for someone else’s retreat days. And I must say, I still relish those days, and am grateful for the spiritual insights, and spiritual rest that I was given. Thanks be to God!

Written by one of the Nuns of the Carmel of St. Joseph, St. Agatha Ontario