The Life & Work Of Joseph Cardijn: Retreats and Recollection


Retreats and Days of Recollection1


The Tradition of the Y.C.W.


From its start the Y.C.W. has shown the great value that it attaches to Retreats and Days of Recollection for its leaders and members. In the Y.C.W. manual which appeared in 1925 which lit the Y.C.W. flame and showed the first leaders the way, we find the following indications: –


“In the circumstances in which we live and exercise our apostolate, the supernatural formation of our organisers and leaders is of capital importance.


“Recollection, reflection, prayer are indispensable in our daily lives and must be periodically stimulated and strengthened. This is the task of our three-monthly Days of Recollection and annual Retreats.


“At all costs let us remain faithful to them, leaving the field of our action, in order to ensure the efficacity of our Y.C.W. apostolate by an intense and regular interior life.


“Having carefully prepared and foreseen all material details, we must guard above all the spirit of fervour and recollection both in the Days of Recollection and the Retreats.”


After all these years of constant effort, we can affirm with joy that the Y.C.W. has remained faithful to its first resolutions and that the majority of leaders have carried out these proposals. Our movement owes the quality of its leaders to regular attendance at its Retreats and Days of Recollection. There, in reflection and prayer they have come to find those solid convictions and that generous zeal and unshakeable commitment which marks them out.


We still have much progress to make in this service of Retreats and Days of Recollection, both in the regularity and full number of these each year in each region, as in the follow-up in keeping and renewing resolutions made and in the exercise of apostolic zeal.


These Retreats Must Be Specialised


In every region there is no difficulty in organising retreats exclusively for militant Y.C.W.s, Regional and local leaders should not be sent off to general Retreats on the score of unity and collaboration. The purpose of Retreats and Days of Recollection is not for leaders of different movements to get to know and work with one another. Special meetings, study days, etc., can be arranged for that. The object of the retreat is to give the retreatant an opportunity of sanctifying himself in recollection, reflection, and prayer. To attain this object, it must be specialised and adapted. Now the needs of a genuine Y.C.W. leader are very different from those of a leader in the university or the professions. Nor can we agree with the mixing of Y.C.W.s in general men’s retreats. Such practices are quite opposed to pontifical directives. In well-organised regions one can easily specialise still further with separate retreats for the younger and older leaders, and it may well be useful to separate, where it is possible, leaders over eighteen years who have already made a good retreat, from those who have not.


This principle of adaptation and specialisation brings a second consequence; for Y.C.W. Retreats we need priests who know the situation and needs of militant Y.C.W.s; who can adapt their way of speaking, the examples and advice they give to the mentality and the life of young workers; priests who can easily win their confidence. Finally, in these more specialised retreats, it is much easier for the priest to adapt his approach in a still more real way by arranging for a personal talk with each of the retreatants.


Unless our leaders are really able to benefit from an annual Retreat through the right priests and premises, it can be a waste of time, energy, and money to organise them.


In the matter of the choice of leaders for these Retreats, we must send those who are balanced and sensible, capable of taking in the conferences and learning to reflect on them seriously, capable of persevering In a plan In a spirit of generosity. If there has to be a choice, let it be given to those who, having these qualities, have already given signs of real devotion towards the section or region or who have a real influence over a group of their comrades. We must exclude those whose only idea is to fool about and who will only break the silence for the rest. There are lads who are generous and ready to help in selling papers or in other action but who are light-headed and irresponsible. If through them there is a risk of the Retreat being spoiled, they must not go. On the other hand, we must not hesitate to have those who have obvious faults and little devotion or action so tar to their credit. Our Retreats are not just for our best Y.C.W.s but for those who are capable of so becoming.


Choice of Place for the Retreat


Before there is any question of bookings, the date and premises must be fixed. We need a house, as far as it is possible, where nothing is going to distract the leaders from the one important business that will be dealt with during these blessed days of quiet. Each retreatant needs a room on his own where he can settle in and in which he can reflect, pray, write, and read, where nothing will upset this. It should not be necessary to stress that the house should be warm and agreeable and the food sufficient and well cooked.


Y.C.W. Retreats should be of two full days. The retreatants should arrive and leave at the same time and the organisers should be firm on this point. The Retreat begins, then, in the evening, with an opening instruction and finishes on the third day, in the afternoon, with the closing Benediction. This duration of two full days is a strict minimum for a really fruitful Retreat, it is only on the first full day that the retreatants are really gripped by the exercises and they need the second day to make use of the impressions produced and to work out their necessary resolutions. The first conference leads on to the second, the second to the third, and so on. For this reason we cannot allow retreatants to come in after the Retreat has started. Some regions make sure of bookings at retreat houses for the long week-ends, i.e., dates when ther£ is a holiday following on from the Sunday, but with the multiplication of Y.C.W. Retreats it seems we have to resign ourselves to a full week-end, particularly since we should not take leaders away from their parishes and homes for all the big feasts.


The Retreat Should Be an Important Event in the Life of Every Section


The whole section and each of its members will benefit in proportion to what its best leaders have drawn from the Retreat. There is, therefore, no happier event for a section than a good Retreat made by its leaders. We should therefore interest all the members of the section in the Retreat and its success, talking about it, asking their prayers and a donation towards the fund for Retreats and Days of Recollection. In this way we can help all the members to understand the importance of spiritual values, and perhaps lay the seeds of a vocation to leadership among them. It is a good idea to get them to come and see the leaders off at the station or bus stop on their departure.


Exercises of the Retreat


  1. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Each day of the Retreat begins with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The Y.C.W.s will assist at it, associating themselves intimately with the great drama taking place on the altar, offering themselves with the Holy Victim in order to obtain for their companions in Retreat and for themselves the pardon for faults committed, the grace to see themselves more clearly and to will to change themselves for the better. They should learn during the Retreat how to participate truly in the Holy Sacrifice.


  1. The Conference. The Retreat giver has the task of putting to the retreatants, in a clear, understandable, striking, and moving manner, the truths which they need. He must show them how to apply these truths to their daily lives, point out to them the dangers they are running and the means at their disposal to become better and happier and to do more good for their brothers. The conferences should not last longer than 40 minutes.


  1. Reflection in Rooms. This is a most important part of the Retreat. Everything else in the Retreat can in some measure be done elsewhere, but nowhere else will young workers be able to find such facilities for serious and deep reflection as in a Retreat.


Back in his room after the conference, the retreatant should kneel down in the presence of God and reflect at length on the subject of the conference, make a personal application of these eternal truths and talk familiarly to God. He may well use the resume which he has been given, reading it over slowly several times. Finally, he can write down his own points in his Retreat note-book.


On no account should these periods of reflection, each in his room, be omitted, neglected, or cut short. These should last at least a half-hour after each conference.


  1. Vocal Prayer. Vocal prayers should be sufficiently frequent and varied during the course of the Y.C.W. Retreat. The retreatants will find great joy and fruit in them if they are said with their hearts and with attention. Let them think of all the graces they can win for their work-mates and their sections through these prayers. Among the retreatants leaders should be found and chosen who can be trained to lead well the saying of the Rosary, the Way of the Cross, and the singing. They can be of great service also in the three-monthly Days of Recollection.


  1. The Free Time. This is made up of the intervals which are so precious and yet possibly distracting. Having seen to small matters which cannot be attended to during the times of reflection or other exercises, the retreatants should use the free time to complete their notes, re-read certain passages, review certain facts of the past, make visits to our Divine Master in the chapel, and, on their own, take some fresh air and exercise in the grounds.


  1. Y.C.W. Talk. During the course of the Retreat, the regional chaplain or an experienced Y.C.W. leader may talk to the retreatants of the immense benefit of the Y.C.W. to the young worker and above all to good leaders, in achieving their magnificent destiny and in giving this same opportunity to working youth.


  1. Meals and Recreation. In most Retreats the silence is kept at table and a book is read. This system is good, provided the book is interesting and clearly read, and provided the meal service is so organised that each retreatant can receive what he needs at the table easily without having to talk. Without this it is difficult to keep the silence and it may be better to make of these meal times a period of recreation. With regard to the latter, any such periods should provide a good break and rest and avoid anything which is likely to upset or dissipate the spirit of the Retreat. The meals and recreation should do good to the retreatants, and in an atmosphere of peace and joy, dispose them to pray and reflect better.




Y.C.W. Days of Recollection have as their object:—


To renew the memory and good dispositions of the last Retreat made.


To give previous retreatants the opportunity of checking on progress in the carrying out of their resolutions and where there is need, of making further ones.


Preparing a certain number of good leaders or young people capable of becoming such for the next Retreat.


To develop the interior life and apostolic spirit among young workers in these different categories.


Level and Specialisation of Y.C.W. Days of Recollection


Y.C.W. Days of Recollection are very serious and important affairs and the very life of sections depends on them. But they will not have any serious effect on leaders unless they last a sufficient time, are carried out in a spirit of real recollection, and allow the participants an opportunity of serious reflection and a talk with the priest who gives the day.


Those responsible for organising these days must take every care in the notices and invitations they send, and should take note of what we said above in the matter of the recruiting of retreatants. It is useful to make these days specialised, since tried leaders have needs different to those of new, and still more to those of future leaders.


These Days of Recollection should be on a regional or district level; they should bring together leaders from several sections. Attempts at separate section Days of Recollection have nearly always ended in difficulties. Either we bring in too many and the spiritual level is lowered at the expense of leaders, or the number of participants is no small that it does not justify the organisation of a special Day of Recollection.


In every region there should exist a service for Days of Recollection and Retreats, the function of which is to plan and prepare these and to see that leaders of the different sections take part regularly,


Programme of a Y.C.W. Day of Recollection


Y.C.W. Days of Recollection should always begin with the Mass, before which there should be the opportunity of Confession, with Holy Communion given during the Mass. There are normally three conferences followed by at least ten minutes of reflection and mental prayer. In the intervals there should be the common recitation of the Rosary or the Way of the Cross, The priest giving the day should give each one the opportunity of a personal talk. There should be a hot dinner provided for the participants, followed by some recreation which should help them to give their attention during the exercises of the afternoon and give the preacher also a further opportunity of talking with some of the leaders. There should be closing Benediction and a short friendly meeting dealing with Mime points on the Y.C.W. Programme.


It is not advisable in most cases to plan group meetings or discussions in place of the exercises, as experience shows that they can easily harm the spirit of recollection.


Organisation and Preparation


All the material details for a Day of Recollection must be carefully prepared in advance. The calendar of regional Days of Recollection should be fixed well in advance and the notices sent out in good time. They should be followed up by personal contact and by final reminders,


Those responsible for these days should plan to make them as agreeable and attractive as possible without in any way talking away from the atmosphere of recollection and prayer. But they must be on their guard against simply any one coming with the leaders and causing distraction. Each regional or district committee should see that there are leaders responsible for the details and organisation of these days, in order that the preacher, whose work is in any case hard enough, is not unnecessarily burdened.


Joseph Cardijn.



Joseph Cardijn, Retreats and days of recollection, in New Life, 1953, Vol. 9 N° 2, March – April 1953, p. 42-49.

1Translated with adaption from the 2nd edition of the Belgian ‘Manuel de la J.O.C.’

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