Don’t feel guilty about taking a retreat from Trump

President Donald Trump waves as he boards Air Force One at Morristown Municipal Airport, in Morristown, N.J., Sunday, July 22, 2018, en route to Washington after staying at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)President Donald Trump waves as he boards Air Force One at Morristown Municipal Airport, in Morristown, N.J., Sunday, July 22, 2018, en route to Washington after staying at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

I started feeling guilty even before I reached the retreat house. I was on my way to spend a weekend of prayer and silence at a Jesuit center in rural Pennsylvania. This was a chance to withdraw from the hectic pace of daily life and enter into the peaceful quiet to hear God’s voice more clearly.

Meanwhile, I left behind a world in chaos.

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Earlier that week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ruled that victims of domestic abuse and gang violence did not qualify for asylum in the United States. As we reeled from this decision, journalists toured a detention facility for children in Texas and emerged with disturbing images and stories.

I was relieved to step away from the news cycle for a couple of days. Like many others, I struggle with what some call “Trump fatigue”: the exhaustion that comes from the relentless cycle of crises, the need to remain constantly alert and engaged in social action, the creeping sense that nothing I do makes any difference.

Like many others, I struggle with what some call “Trump fatigue.”

That exhaustion leads to Trump fatigue’s greatest danger: It can make you numb, a privilege that many do not have.

And so, as I drove deeper into the countryside, my guilt intensified. Was I taking care of myself or just burying my head in the sand? With the world on fire, what good could a weekend of prayer and silence do?

As a disclaimer, I have some professional bias in favor of retreats: I run them for a living. But one of the ironies of being a high school campus minister is that I am often so busy helping others deepen their faith lives that I cannot find time to nourish my own. So when I arrived at Wernersville, my primary goal was to settle in, quiet down and focus on God.

With the world on fire, what good could a weekend of prayer and silence do?

But shutting out the world was more difficult than I thought. At one point, I found a copy of The New York Times in a breakroom, featuring the now famous photo of a 2-year-old girl screaming on the side of the road as her mother is frisked against a border patrol vehicle. She reminded me of my own 2-year-old daughter. I left the room, shaken and feeling guilty.

What was I doing here? What did any of this matter, when children were being terrorized and detained, torn from their parents’ arms? How could I be so selfish as to step away?

Early the next morning, I met with my spiritual director, a Jesuit who did not have his head in the sand. Like many priests I have known, he was passionate about his faith and caring for Christ’s poor. Still, when I spoke to him about my exhaustion, he did not try to rally me with a speech about fighting injustice. Instead, he encouraged me to spend the weekend surrendering to God and recognizing who was really in charge.

“You don’t have to save the world,” he said. “That’s someone else’s job.”

If Jesus was not too busy to take a break, then neither are we.

I was amazed by how much trouble I had with this. I want to believe I have some power to change things in this country and in the world. Maybe I do—but probably far less than I would like to think. That fear drove my action, made me believe that if I did not sign a petition or read a news story or make a call to Congress, then everything would fall apart. That fear prevented me from taking breaks, even to spend time with God.

And now I was exhausted. What had it really helped?

I thought about the person whose job was saving the world. Christ knew the value of stepping away. Yes, he was active, frequenting towns and cities, and working directly with the poor. But he also found time to be alone with God: “The report about him spread all the more, and great crowds assembled to listen to him and to be cured of their ailments, but he would withdraw to deserted places to pray” (Lk 5:15-16).

Thinking about Christ gave me some much-needed perspective and humility. Instead of nursing my guilt, I took up my spiritual director’s challenge to surrender my will and worries to God. In return, God led me through that weekend, offering me rest, peace and a chance to learn a little more about God’s limitless love for the world. When I left on Sunday afternoon, I found that my strength and faith were renewed. I was ready to return to the chaotic world outside and to meet its challenges with love and courage.

Perhaps, in the age of Trump, Merton is the sort of model that Catholics need.

All of this from a few days away. It made me wonder if maybe one of the most important things that people of faith can realize in these days of struggle and outrage is that if Jesus was not too busy to take a break, then neither are we. Even if it is just a few minutes of prayer each day, we—like Christ—need to withdraw to the wilderness every now and then.

In New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton says that retreating into solitude should not be used as an escape from the world but as a means to live more fully in it. “Go into the desert,” he wrote, “not to escape other men but in order to find them in God.”

Merton spent the better part of three decades in a Trappist monastery and still managed to be active in the tumultuous world of his day. He was friends with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., opposed the Vietnam War and spoke out against many other injustices. Perhaps, in the age of Trump, Merton is the sort of model that Catholics need: a holy man committed to living his faith through activism and solidarity, who nevertheless knew the importance of retreating to a quiet place and surrendering to God in silence. Like me, you may find this difficult. But if done with the right intentions, stepping away can be a truly radical and powerful act.

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J Cosgrove
3 weeks 6 days ago

It's not Trump. Take a retreat from Trump bashing Fake Media sources. You seem susceptible to Fake News. Each week they create a new outrage. Trump is the salvation of the media. People flock to their negative Trump stories. The media depend on Trump hate for click bait and the ad revenues it brings.

The world is getting much better. Read Hans Rosling's Factfulness. It will help you adjust to the real world and not the fake world the media inhabits.

Rose Tait
3 weeks 4 days ago

J Cosgrove says it all.....fake news.....
I believe Donald Trump was sent by God to save our country and others.
The anti Trump rhetoric is a show of mob mentality in my opinion.

Sue Harvey
3 weeks 6 days ago

What I see, hear from Mr Trump directly causes my fatigue.maybe it's because I can't understand how critical matters can ricochet from yes to no In a day's time. Chaos seems to reign. Media isn't my guide to thinking this way.
I consider how would my personal relationships survive if I conducted myself in such a scattershot manner? Trust, belief in a person's word is very important to me.

Cynthia Suprenant
3 weeks 5 days ago

I feel just as you do about this. Some of the media simply reports "fact", and the President certainly gives us much direct content to consider right from his own mouth and Tweets. I'm not manipulated by anybody. The President's truth is whatever he says it is at any particular moment. I'm a scientist, and that's not how it works -- not in science and certainly not in civil society or relationships. I find him utterly exhausting.

James Haraldson
3 weeks 5 days ago

If you make the claim that ideological bias does not exist in scientific practice, you are lying about being a scientist. I find phonies utterly exhausting too, especially those willing to be submissive to the anti-Christian bigots who dominate the main stream media, almost exclusively, with their perverse world view, of whom Donald Trump so heroically takes to task on a daily basis.

Steve Magnotta
3 weeks 5 days ago

Amen, Sue.

Concerned Citizen
3 weeks 1 day ago

Trump is mentally ill and dangerous for our country and the world..

Sandi Sinor
3 weeks 6 days ago

Take that retreat. I feel that if I don't do something like that soon, my health will be in danger, literally.

The country has not been this polarized since the Viet Nam war, and what Trump is doing is even worse. He is destroying almost everything that is good in America, replacing it with a creed of me-first and greed. Goodness and compassion are nowhere to be seen. Jesus' teachings are ignored, while bigotry is encouraged. The values of the America I have known and loved my whole life are being destroyed, and millions of Americans are cheering.

Randal Agostini
3 weeks 6 days ago

Sandi,
I know exactly what you mean. Before our World was going to pieces with the loss of family values, discrimination against people of faith, the promotion of abortion, belittling motherhood, inability to follow our religion in our schools and hospitals, the abandonment of gender, the promotion of at will divorce and same sex marriage, single parent parenthood, government leaders who lie, the establishment of a State Secular religion .... the list goes on.
Fortunately there are people of faith who understand that virtue and compassion comes from our hearts and not from a government, which is heartless. Fortunately there are now political leaders who are willing to speak the truth and expose the greed and power of government. The danger is so real against those threatened with losing their power that they prefer to abandon common sense and logic and descend into a life of despair and hate.
A retreat at this time sounds positive and encouraging.

Toby Gillis
3 weeks 4 days ago

" Fortunately there are now political leaders who are willing to speak the truth and expose the greed and power of government. " Congratulations, you have just described President Trump to a T.

Concerned Citizen
3 weeks 1 day ago

Trump is a pathological liar and tells hundreds of lies daily...repeating his lies constantly so that those who do not fact check start believing his lies as facts....Trump is very Orwellian...Repeat lies enough times and the sheep will believe it as facts.....

Steve Magnotta
3 weeks 5 days ago

Amen, Sandi.

Anna Ryan
3 weeks 6 days ago

Yes, John! Thanks for this eloquent, relevant reminder.

Rhett Segall
3 weeks 6 days ago

Dorthy Day , so vigorously involved in social justice efforts as well as corporeal works of mercy, experienced deep frustration at the apparent fruitlessness of her efforts. However, she found renewed inspiration in the life and teachings of Theresa Martin-the young Carmelite nun. Dorthy came to the realization through the example of the "Little Flower" that if our efforts at helping others is rooted in a relationship with Christ, nourished by time alone with the Lord, then success is assured.

Steve Magnotta
3 weeks 5 days ago

Amen, Rhett.

Boreta Singleton
3 weeks 6 days ago

Amen, John. Thanks for reminding us that the only people we can change, with God's grace, are ourselves!

Boreta Singleton
3 weeks 6 days ago

Amen, John. Thanks for reminding us that the only people we can change, with God's grace, are ourselves!

Will Niermeyer
3 weeks 6 days ago

He enjoys golf so what is the noise about it. All the Presidents need and escape on a regular bases since that job can make one nuts. To much responsibility for one person it should be shared equally with 12 other people.

T. Saenz
3 weeks 6 days ago

Your reflection glitters like sanctimonious kitsch. The conflation of your political preferences with righteousness and a "God is on my side" attitude smacks of delusion or dissembling... or both. The Catholic Church has had hundreds of years to put out the fires it helped to create across Latin America but has lacked the courage and conviction to do so. Now it wants U.S. citizens to clean up its mess and spews detraction at leaders like Trump who are doing exactly what they were elected to do: protect Americans and place their interests first. Catholics are tired of seeing and hearing a lazy, weaselly church foist its responsibilities around the world onto the shoulders of secular governments while clerical concupiscence runs rampant. You want to engage? You want to do something meaningful? If you can find your faith, pack up some clothes and your politics and get your butt down to Latin America and put out the fire where it actually is raging.

Baron Corvo
3 weeks 5 days ago

Amazing how you insult a Catholic that recognizes and calls out the godless hedonist that has taken over American politics with his vicious racist and misogynistic prattle that inflames the basest Know-Nothing instincts of the citizens South of the Mason-Dixon Line where, curiously enough, the RepubliKlan Party has, since Reagan's Racist Declaration at Philadelphia, Mississippi, been squarely on the march against civil rights for all men. How do you justify supporting the Pussy Grabber ? What do you think of his Child Concentration Camps, where children are no even permitted a cuddle ? What earthly difference does your fantasy "clerical concupiscence" (sic) make while ICE break down doors but the EPA is nullified and oil companies drill in National Park lands ? You call yourself "catholic," but your politics mark you as a shoeless Baptist following your uneducated preacher who speaks in silly 'tongues.'

J Cosgrove
3 weeks 5 days ago

You should revise your remarks and tone down the personal criticism. No one on this site should use the better/Catholic or lesser Catholic argument. It would be easy to point that same argument at many of the editors and authors here. Disagree but present rational arguments not emotional ad hominems.

I could make a very strong argument that it is the Democratic Party that is racist.

Baron Corvo
3 weeks 5 days ago

Master Cosgrove - The only thing YOU are upset about is someone else having their say on a board on this website without YOU butting in. attempting to not only regulate other Poster's comments, but setting rules you yourself ignore.

I asked about the Pussy Grabber. What do your daughters think of that term ?

I asked about the Child Concentration Camps the RepubliKlan are operating at great rewards for their faithful Corporate Sponsors that are equipping, staffing, and running these modern-day Dachaus. What do your grand daughters think of the photos of the crying children ?

I am not even interested in your fantasies on how, in your opinion, "...it is the Democratic Party that is racist."

J Cosgrove
3 weeks 4 days ago

Thank you Baron for your support of my position. Ad hominems are always the best reinforcement of the other's point of view.

James Haraldson
3 weeks 5 days ago

He, like you, has done shameful things in his life, but I call your bluff. Name one racist thing Trump has ever said. And don't come back with that media manufactured contrivance of his calling Mexicans murderers and rapists, because he never said what they said he said. He spoke only about what the particular practice of the corrupt Mexican government intentionally assisting their criminals to cross the border rather than house them in their overcrowded prisons. I call your bluff to back up your infantile caricatures.

Baron Corvo
3 weeks 5 days ago

I am not here to engage you or your fellow ignorant RepubliKlan Baptists masquerading as Roman Catholic faithful here, reading a Jesuit publication. You are all probably Russian Bots anyway, since I don't think there are ANY ACTUAL Roman Catholics that did not hear Pissident Drumpf call Senator Warren 'Pocahontas,' on at least one of the many public occasions he uttered that contemptible racist slur....or is it "OK" in YOUR parish to throw around terms like that one with the casual ease his father, the slumlord, taught little Donnie TwoScoops to throw it around.

James Haraldson - your venal stupidity is astounding.

Toby Gillis
3 weeks 4 days ago

Although I am not a RepubliKlan Baptist, I would rather be that than a Pagan Roman Catholic

Stuart Meisenzahl
3 weeks 1 day ago

Baron
You do not argue ....you erupt and spew. Your maladroit word contractions are more indicative of your intellectual smugness than any apparent elucidation you think you bring to the table.

Concerned Citizen
3 weeks 1 day ago

These phony Christians and phony Catholics that accept Trump are accepting a false leader, false prophet...Who lies continuously....Has zero plans....Never reads....Has zero analytical skills....Speaks at the 4th grade level according to linguistics experts....Says one thing to his followers and then just signs without reading far right Republicans proposals to completely dismantle the social safety net that all Catholics and its Church should be supporting......Otherwise, why even be a Catholic?! If you ignore the teachings of Jesus?! Republicans overwhelmingly voted last week in Congress to slash Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid for the vast majority of Americans to pay for huge tax cuts for huge profitable corporations and billionaires and millionaires?!?! Welfare for the Rich.....Public insurance Programs paid for by the Middle Class their entire working lives are falsely derided by the Trumpistas as "welfare"?! Think!!! They paid for those programs...You are being completely lied to.....As Warren Buffet stated recently: there is a War going on Against the Middle Class and my Class is winning"....Dems have blocked the plan at least temporarily....
Stop being Sheep!!
Your Wolf in Sheep's Clothing, Trump, who promised to help you is not helping you. He is only interested in tax breaks for his own family and rich cronies.
His policies are hurting America and the World..
Mueller will be handing down dozens of Indictments in the next few months including Trump and his Family.
Trump's Fake News ploy against the honest media is only a ploy to try to save his own, crooked corrupt a**.
If you fall for Trump's BS, then you do not realize that you have been played by Trump and the Republican Congress.

And, Trump could care less about life....He paid off many women to keep their mouths shut.
He also paid off at least one woman to have an abortion and put the payoff in someone else's name.
This is the kind of man you support!?!!
You are lost souls...

Concerned Citizen
3 weeks 1 day ago

Many Catholics are complete hypocrites and use Church as a social club....think they are so pious and devout....Then the spew hatred, racism, sexism, xenophobic garbage and support Trump....Go figure....

Steve Magnotta
3 weeks 5 days ago

Amen, John Dougherty. Spiritual focus and balance are essential in confronting this evil.

Andrew Strada
3 weeks 5 days ago

It could have been a productive weekend if the author reflected on whether sustained hysterical overreaction is a sign of deep commitment to Catholic social justice principles or just a form of masochistic self-indulgence.

Michael Gerrity
3 weeks 5 days ago

My father used to take me to Malvern Retreat House in Pennsylvania when I was a teenager. I protested mightily at the time, but now remember the retreats fondly. Mr. Dougherty, please don't feel guilty about taking a little time to regroup from our current stresses and strains and just catch your breath.
Unhappily, the comments have reminded me about the high percentage of Catholics who voted for that moral degenerate in Washington. It really makes me wonder what the point of a Catholic education is, if it can bring people to such depths.

Rose Tait
3 weeks 4 days ago

J Cosgrove says it all.....fake news.....
I believe Donald Trump wassent by God to save our country and others.

Mary Finnegan Weeldreyer
3 weeks 4 days ago

Yes, you should continue to pray for President Trump as he protects your religious freedom, something that was threatened with the last administration.

Concerned Citizen
3 weeks 1 day ago

You have been duped and lied to....President Obama was voted the most admired leader in the World for 8 straight years...He represented what was best about the USA....Trump represents the darker side of America....

Concerned Citizen
3 weeks 1 day ago

John Dougherty...I feel for you brother. Trump is the Face of Evil. Trump's policies, beliefs, tweets, speeches, interviews are diametrically opposed to everything that Jesus Christ stood for. Shocked, amazed and flabbergasted that anyone claiming to be Christian or Catholic could support such a pathological liar, a incompetent anarchist intent on destroying the very fundamental freedoms and institutions that have made the United States the hope for the world. Trump has definite Fascist tendencies similar to Mousolini and Hitler, Trump has attacked Pope Francis. Trump has also attacked: the free press, attacked immigrants, attacked minorities, attacked law enforcement, attacked the FBI, attacked the Justice Department...attacked and assaulted numerous women, attacked any one who disagrees with him...especially those who are investigating his illegal activities...The only one Trump cares about is Trump...Trump will throw anyone and everyone under the bus to save his own a**.....Trump is a Patsy who CONSPIRED WITH PUTIN to Steal the US Presidential elections...Trump attacks and weakens the NATO Alliance that has kept the peace in Europe for over 70 years...Yet, Trump grovels at the feet of and appeases brutal dictators like Putin and Kim?!?! Trump's extreme deference to Putin is very suspicious....Putin is responsible for the murder and exile of dozens of opponents and over 60 Russian Journalists.. The Catholic Church has a duty to stand up to and oppose the Evil Menace that Trump represents....Otherwise, the Catholic Church has become an accomplice to the evil that Trump perpetrates on this country, its people, other countries and innocent people around the world.

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