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Sister Maria Felicity of the Daughters of Our Mother of Peace prayed in the Mary the Font Solitude chapel Feb. 12 in High Ridge. Members of the Society of Our Mother of Peace community spend several hours of the day in solitary prayer.
Sister Maria Felicity of the Daughters of Our Mother of Peace prayed in the Mary the Font Solitude chapel Feb. 12 in High Ridge. Members of the Society of Our Mother of Peace community spend several hours of the day in solitary prayer.
Photo Credit: Jacob Wiegand

Lessons from the desert: Sons and Daughters of Our Mother of Peace offer tips on encountering God through solitude and silence

Sons and Daughters of Our Mother of Peace offer tips on encountering God through solitude and silence

In the Gospel for the first Sunday of Lent, “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and He remained in the desert for 40 days” (Mark 1:12).

Down a quiet gravel path off Antire Road in High Ridge, the Society of Our Mother of Peace finds solitude and silence not in the desert but in tiny hermitages that dot the tree-covered hillside.

The community, which includes the vowed religious Sons and Daughters of Our Mother of Peace, lives as apostolic hermits, filling their days with both solitary prayer and active evangelization.

Looking for more “desert time” in solitude and silence this Lent? Members of the community offered their lessons learned.

Lesson 1: Put yourself in a physical space conducive to prayer.

Mary the Font Solitude has several hermitages with just the basics for retreatants to use.
Photo Credits: Jacob Wiegand
When retreatants come to the Society of Our Mother of Peace, they stay in private hermitages with just the basics: a twin bed and a desk, with a small lamp and an icon of Mary, a crucifix and a bottle of holy water placed on a shelf above. Each also has its own bathroom and shower, and a small porch overlooking the trees on the hillside.

When retreatants return to their daily lives, Father John Hansen encourages them to set up a prayer corner somewhere in their home to mimic the intentional space set aside to connect with God.

“They’ve discovered that simplicity, that silence has really helped them to appreciate a deeper relationship with the Lord,” Father John said.

Keep it simple: A crucifix or religious image near a favorite chair is all you need.

Lesson 2: To get better at solitary prayer, you have to spend time doing it.

Father John describes solitude and silence as “my best friend.” But like any friendship, it takes time to get to that point, he said.

“It’s a trust walk. As I entrust myself time and time again in the means of solitude and silence to come to God, my taste for it grows,” he said. “Just like any person that I would meet, I have to start as an acquaintance. But if I meet, day by day, in that context, I will get to a point where I find it to be my best friend.”

Before entering religious life, Sister Maria Felicity started praying by setting aside just 10 minutes a day. That seemed like a long time at first, but as she practiced quieting herself, she was able to slowly increase the amount of time spent in silence. “We need to be patient with ourselves,” she said. It’s not going to happen overnight — it’s a whole process. And the process itself is beautiful, because grace is there, God is there, at every point on this journey.”

Lesson 3: Pay attention to where God is leading you in prayer. It’s OK to use different tools and change it up.

The Sons and Daughters of Our Mother of Peace spend about six hours each day in solitary prayer. That doesn’t just mean kneeling in their hermitages in contemplation for that much time, though. They also use spiritual reading, devotions like the Rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet and eucharistic adoration to encounter Christ in silence.

Sister Mary Grace recalled a time early in her formation when she was getting used to the stretches of silent prayer time. “I was forcing myself to read, and I could feel a tension,” she said. “So I put it down and listened to God, and when I listened, I had peace in my heart. The Lord was telling me, I need to say something to you — listen.”

Some people might avoid silence because it opens room for sometimes-uncomfortable self-examination. But one gift of solitude is that it allows us to be completely honest with the Lord, Sister Mary Fidelis said.

“If you want to cry, or you want to laugh, or you want to dance — nobody else has to know,” she said. “You can really just be yourself with the Lord.”

Lesson 4: Solitary prayer trains your mind and heart to be attuned to God throughout the day.

Building a connection with God through silent prayer helps us to be able to live prayerfully all day, able to welcome surprises and challenges with grace.

Members of the community use the word “recollection” to describe the practice of tuning into God’s continued presence outside of the dedicated prayer time.

“You can just take a moment here, a moment there — it doesn’t have to be long — and just close your eyes, take a deep breath, and say, ‘Lord, I love you.’” Sister Maria Felicity said.

Lesson 5: Let your prayer time prepare you to bring Christ to others.

In addition to offering retreats at the hermitage, the community also has an apostolate of door-to-door evangelization. When brothers and sisters are first getting used to the community life, some have told Father John that it’s hard to “switch gears” between solitary prayer and going out to evangelize, he said.

In fact, the prayer time is what gives them strength for the apostolate, he said. That connection with God, the attunement to His voice, stays with them through conversations with others and whatever work they have that day. Rather than separate boxes — prayer time here, meeting with retreatants here, going on visits here — God’s presence is a continuous thread that runs through all parts of the day.

Sister Mary Fidelis experienced this when she first entered the community. It took her some time to realize that “we immerse ourselves in Jesus, in our life with Him, and then we take Him out to others….I realized it was a flow. I was flowing out of my prayer, out on the apostolate. Because our work is very much person to person, and our prayer is person to person (with Jesus).”

“The New Evangelization has to start in our hearts, in building up that relationship so we can overcome any fears we have,” she said.

For more information about the Society of Our Mother of Peace and retreats at Mary the Font Solitude in High Ridge, call (636)677-3235 or visit marythefont.org/retreats.

>> Vision of Peace Hermitages

Vision of Peace Hermitages is an archdiocesan-owned retreat center in Pevely offering nine hermitages for individual retreats. Daily Mass and a nightly Holy Hour are offered in the chapel, and spiritual direction is also available.

The individual retreats offer the chance to explore simple practices that can then be carried back into daily life, said Barbara Murray, the on-site manager of Vision of Peace. Besides Mass and adoration, that might include reading the Bible or other spiritual books, quiet walks in nature and even simply disconnecting from technology.

“It’s amazing what people can experience if they enter into the desert, enter into the presence of the Lord,” Murray said.

“In Psalm 46:11, we have the line: Be still and know that I am God. That’s our ministry here at Vision of Peace,” said Msgr. Gregory Mikesch, retired priest in residence at St. Joseph Parish in Imperial who serves at Vision of Peace.

To contact Vision of Peace, call (636) 475-3697, email [email protected] or visit vophermitages.org.

A short method of quiet prayer

Pray: O God, I believe that You are present here and within me. Please increase my faith, my hope and my love for You! Help me to want You more. Help me to find my peace in You. Help me to know what You want me to do to please You. Help me to be the person You have called me to be in Jesus. Amen.

Read: Use the Gospels or a good Catholic book. Read enough until a word, a phrase, a sentence or an image grabs your attention. Stop and spend some time thinking about it. (Sometimes looking at a crucifix or a holy picture can be a good prayer starter.)

Think: What do You, O Lord, want me to get from this reading? How does it apply to my life today as Your disciple and witness, as one purchased by Your precious blood, the “property” of Your heart?

Rest: In silence and love, rest in God’s presence. God loving you and you loving God is the heart and life of prayer.

End: A. Make a resolution of what you will try to do to live what you have prayed about today — your daily practice.

B. Thank the Lord for the wonderful gift of being in His loving presence. Pray for the grace to desire to stay with Him throughout the day.

C. Going along with this time spent with God in prayer, make up a one-sentence prayer for today. Color the whole day with this prayer.

—Society of Our Mother of Peace

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