Today we remember Antony of Egypt, a founder of monasticism. As a young man gave away a large inheritance and moved out to the desert for disciplined prayer. He lived alone for twenty years. When Antony emerged from that intense solitude, he learned of a great persecution of the church, and he “returned to the city and ministered to those under the sentence of death.”
He then returned to the desert but many people came out to see him and hear his wisdom. They stayed such that “the desert became a city.” Antony created a monastery and a rule of life for others to follow his life of prayer. But the monks couldn’t remain in solitude all the time. People sought out them out. Judges repeatedly called Antony down to the city to advise them in their rulings.
Monastic life by definition is a solitary whether living alone as Antony first did, as a hermit or with others as he Antony later did, as we brothers do. Solitude with God is key to our life and what we offer on retreat.
Retreat is a time away from our ordinary work, from doing much with many.
Retreat is a time for solitude, for one thing at a time, for being alone with God.
As with Antony and his monks, we’re drawn to retreat, but we can’t remain in it. The solitude of prayer and retreat renews us. Not only to be refreshed ourselves but to refresh—to love—others. Monks learned in the desert and we today learn on retreat, as Rowan Williams says, “not some individual technique for communing with the divine but the business of becoming a means of reconciliation and healing for the neighbor.”
When your prayer period or your retreat is over, when you get called back to the city, take the fruits, the gifts of solitude and build up the community God has given you. The gifts from prayer, the person you are becoming in solitude with God is “a means of reconciliation and healing for the neighbor.”
Remembering Antony and the monastics before us, seek God alone in prayer and share the gifts of that solitude by loving each other and our neighbors.
 Rowan Williams (2007) Where God Happens. Boston: Shambhala/New Seeds, pp. 32-33.
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