I recently made a Holy Week retreat at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale, Arizona, known locally as "the Casa," which is short for La Casa de Paz y Bien. The title is descriptive. Since this was the first retreat I have made in a very long time, I regret to say, I was not sure whether to expect a lot or a little of it and of myself. The place has been important to me for decades, though. In my early twenties, I would bicycle with my friend John along Glendale Ave. onto scenic Lincoln Drive, which runs along the foothills, undulating terrain that makes for an exciting ride, to go to Mass at the Casa. I was not a Catholic then, but I recall how happy it made me to arrive at this small, modern church full of worshipers and to see a throng of children among the congregation invited to sit around the foot of the altar as the priest spoke and, at times, explicitly included them. John and I were accepted and welcomed genuinely, even though we arrived hot and sweaty, wearing shorts and sometimes carrying tennis rackets. In those days, the Casa sat north of the city, beyond the traffic jams, a desert spot of solitude. Its grounds included date palms (still there), gardens (now more profuse), and a natural desertscape of cactus, palo verde and mesquite. Homes did not touch the perimeter of the property then. Years after I moved away from Phoenix I became a Catholic. Yet I have come to the Casa for Mass, at Christmas or Easter at times when visiting family. So others choices of scenic retreat houses by water or on mountaintops had no pull on me. I chose the Casa, an odd homecoming of sorts, where I could count on hospitality, beauty and a landscape that I love. From past walks about that the grounds, I knew there was a labyrinth for ambling prayer, several outdoor ramadas (small arbors providing shade, seating and a table), a swimming pool, not to mention a miniscule adobe prayer chapel that wraps itself around you like a shawl, protects you from the sun and delights you with strips of deeply colored glass. What I wasn’t sure about was the program--two talks each day on Scripture and liturgy by Friars--and who the other retreatants might be. What I was sure of was that I needed quiet and focus and prayer. So I booked it. In my next blog post, I’ll focus on the Triduum celebrations, which made my experience especially powerful. Meanwhile, a question: Have others made an especially meaningful retreat recently? When and where? What were the highlights of the place itself? For all my posts on the Casa, simply click on my name above. Karen Sue Smith
Pilgrimage to 'the Casa'