New Year Retreat in Chalais
Br Reginald shares his memories and some photos of a week spent with the student brothers of the Province of France over New Year.
We received a very kind invitation in October from the student master of the province of France to attend a retreat with the French student brothers between New Years Eve and the Epiphany. It was to be preached by Fr. Bruno Cadoré OP, the former Master of the Order, with the theme of the retreat as “Prayer with St. Dominic”. This invitation was accepted by myself, Br. John and Br. George.
We flew from Gatwick to Grenoble where we were picked up by the student brothers from Lyon and taken to the stunning convent of Chalais, situated in the mountains. I remember being completely taken by the magnificent view of the mountains which seemed more and more beautiful with every kind of angle of sun depending on the time of day! The convent is home to about 12 Dominican nuns who live a contemplative life. It was a real joy and a priveledge to be able to participate in their life by joining them for mass and the office each day. The nuns also provide for themselves by making and selling their own biscuits. It was a very interesting experience to be able to see the nuns in their work habits hard at work making biscuits. I was moved by how happy they were doing this and just how seamlessly they worked together.
The retreat itself comprised of praying the office with the nuns and receiving talks from Fr. Bruno. He delivered excellent, thought-provoking talks which led to long, interesting and often quite animated discussions on how we as young Dominicans can pray, study and preach following the example of St. Dominic. I was especially struck with how Fr. Bruno’s message delivered not only valuable content, but that his words were imbued with his own faith and devotion. A thought which I have pondered on since returning from the retreat is the idea that when one takes up the work of preaching, they take up also the responsibility to pray and to walk the way of the Cross; that interceding for those who may believe by our words is central to Dominican spirituality. Overall, the talks were a great reminder of the centrality of “praying without ceasing” in the life of all Christians, especially those who live the consecrated life, as the heartbeat of every aspect of their life.
Another great aspect of our time in Chalais was the opportunity to be able to get to know student brothers from both the French and the Swiss provinces. I was moved by how we were able to grow in fraternal charity even in a week and we formed a lasting relationship with our brothers, appreciating how much the different provinces of the Order have in common and pondering together how we can live in our own context the same calling to imitate our Saviour Jesus Christ and father St. Dominic. On the final evening, we came to the Priory in Lyon where we were able to see one of the apostolates of the studentate there. They have under their priory a bar, ‘La Cave’, where people can come to have a drink and have the space to socialise amongst themselves as well as with the friars. Such an apostolate provides those who may not be willing to come to Church the space to at least have contact and conversation about the faith and see that the friars are people with whom they can come and speak. At the end of the night, our own Br. John gave an excellent reflection on the Gospel of the Epiphany.
My favourite moment of the retreat was actually the very first night. We were in adoration together, all the friars, all the nuns, as well as some of the parishioners who frequent the convent, as the New Year began. I saw in that Church a reflection of Mother Church, adoring Christ, and consecrating the beginning of the New Year, praying in particular for peace around the world which is unfortunately ravaged by war. That set the tone for me of a time spent in prayer, community and a true abundance of joy and merriment.
Please do pray for our Order, especially in France and Switzerland, and for the nuns in Chalais and around the world, that we may be faith-filled and humble instruments for Christ for the Holy Preaching.