Busy Person’s Retreat Day Five: Friday, February 10

Freeing Yourself

Go, learn how to free yourself and to be open to God’s Will; let that be your lesson.[i]

Vincent de Paul was very familiar with retreats. Not long after founding the Congregation of the Mission (better known to us as the Vincentians), he began to develop and lead retreats for those about to be ordained as priests, a responsibility he greatly honored and a singular ministry of the Vincentians that lasted long after his death.[ii] Vincent and his community recognized something almost 400 years ago that we still value today: the importance of setting time aside and creating space for learning and reflection that is apart from our ordinary lives. This is so we can free ourselves, as best we can, from worries and distractions, to be led by the spirit where we are intended to go.[iii] Despite the passage of time and the differences in delivery, this week’s online Busy Person’s Retreat has provided a similar opportunity for you that Vincent’s retreats provided to their participants.

Before our retreat draws to its close, we want to invite you to reflect one more time. To pause and consider: what will I take with me from this experience? What lesson have I learned? How has God (however I may conceive of God: the Spirit, the Universe, my Higher Power, or that pure, quiet voice within), been revealed to me through the Busy Person’s Retreat?

Perhaps, upon reflection, this week did not reveal to you the need for any sort of life-altering change. Maybe you felt God’s presence more quietly, implicitly. That is appropriate … and even to be expected. Vincent de Paul himself recognized that many things, including the workings of God, happen little by little and that beginning small is probably for the best.[iv]

What is true is that you had an impulse to participate in this Busy Person’s Retreat and you said yes to this impulse. In the future, you will have more opportunities, more invitations, for personal growth and spiritual renewal. Vincent de Paul would urge us to say yes to these opportunities. By doing so, we will become more and more able to hear and welcome the voice of God.


When you feel you’ve finished this Busy Person’s Retreat, reflections and all, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. End your experience with a moment of gratitude … gratitude for connecting, even briefly, with yourself and with something bigger than yourself. Sit with this feeling of gratitude for a few moments.

There are multiple opportunities within our DePaul community and beyond for you to continue to nurture your spiritual self. Sign up for the Division of Mission and Ministry’s e-newsletter to learn about programs and services for faculty and staff. Make a point of starting your week by reading our Mission Mondays in DePaul’s Newsline every Monday for more chances to reflect and connect with our mission.

Perhaps this Busy Person’s Retreat has motivated you to think about habits or behaviors that you would like to introduce into your life. Or, alternatively, you may have identified those that you wish to minimize. A helpful exercise to assist you in identifying both life-giving and draining activities is called Stop – Start – Continue. Take a look!

Reflection by: Tom Judge, J.D., Chaplain, Division of Mission and Ministry

[i] Conference 205, “Indifference (Common Rules, Chap. II, Art. 10),” May 15, 1659, CCD, 12:197. Available online at https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/36/.

[ii] For a brief summary of Vincent’s life, visit “St. Vincent de Paul, Apostle of Charity,” St. Vincent de Paul Church, accessed February 2, 2023, http://www.svdp-richboro.org/vincent.htm.

[iii] As in the quote that opens my reflection: “Go, learn how to free yourself and to be open to God’s Will; let that be your lesson.” Conference 205, CCD, 12:197. Available online at https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/36/.

[iv] As Vincent once wrote, “God’s works are not done all at once, but little by little” (letter 2774, “To Jean Martin, Superior in Turin,” January 17, 1659, CCD, 7:454. Available online: https://‌via.‌library.‌depaul.‌edu/‌vincentian_‌ebooks/‌32/). Vincent also said, “It is … fitting, therefore, for you to undertake this work [mission] in a humble way. Begin with something small and have great love for your own abjection. That is the spirit of Our Lord; that is how He acted, and that is also the means of attracting His graces (letter 1972, “To Jean Martin, Superior, in Turin,” December 10, 1655, CCD, 5:485. Available online: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/30/).


Busy Person’s Retreat Day Four: Thursday, February 9

Who Brings Out the Best in You?

Our wellness and thriving are not isolated or solo tasks. Rather, our well-being has very much to do with the network of relationships within which we live and give preference to in our daily lives.

As we think about individual wellness, an important contribution to our thinking can come in the simple recognition that we are not monads. Our well-being and emotional health consist of far more than only our personal efforts to master our inner domain of thoughts, feelings, and decisions. It has far more to do with whether or not we fulfill our New Year’s resolutions.

Vincent de Paul once said, “What a blessing to be a member of a Community because each individual shares in the good that is done by all!”[i] And in fact, much evidence seems to point to the fact that our well-being may be far more about the people and communities within which we live our lives each day—that is, the network or “social matrix” of relationships that daily impact our environment and that support and enrich us … or not. We are undeniably social beings.[ii]

Therefore, today we move to consider the people in our life. Who are those in your social network currently? While this network might certainly include your online friends to some degree, the deeper question being asked is about who are those you physically see and interact with on a regular basis? What is the overall net effect of your current relationships? With whom would you love to spend more time? Are there relationships that are either life-giving or draining for you? If so, what makes them so? How might your current network of relationships, and the use of your time with them, change to fall more on that life-giving side of the equation?

Now may also be a moment to dive a little deeper to better understand the relational or social patterns that have been established in your life. How have your habits or tendencies impacted the way you spend your emotional time and energy? Do they indicate positive and healthy patterns, which contribute in good and meaningful ways to your overall wellness?

As always, with such probing, introspective questions about our life, we benefit from beginning with gentle acceptance. Many of us are our own worst critics. Moving into healthier relationships with others and building a life-giving social community involves also building a healthier relationship with ourselves. Developing the habit of practicing gentleness with ourselves in this process can go a long way to moving us in the right direction.

What is one step you can take today or this week to move toward establishing or building upon a positive and generative social network of friendship and support?


Reflection Exercise:

Complete the “Explore Your Purpose” activity entitled, “Reflecting on People and Relationships.”

Reflection by: Mark Laboe, Associate VP for Mission a

[i] Conference 1, “Explanation of the Regulations,” 31 July 1634, CCD, 9:2. Available at https://‌via.‌library.‌depaul.‌edu/‌vincentian_‌ebooks/34/.

[ii] See also: David G. Myers, “The Funds, Friends, and Faith of Happy People,” American Psychologist 55:1 (2000): 56, https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.56; Ed Diener and Martin E. P. Seligman, “Very Happy People” Psychological Science 13:1 (2002): 81–84; Nicholas Epley, Mindwise: Why We Misunderstand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want (New York: Vintage, 2014); Nicholas Epley and Juliana Schroeder, “Mistakenly Seeking Solitude,” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 143:5 (2014), 1980–1999, https://doi.org/10.1037/a0037323; and Erica J. Boothby, Margaret S. Clark, and John A. Bargh, “Shared Experiences are Amplified,” Psychological Science 25:12 (2014): 2209–16.



Busy Person’s Retreat Day Three: Wednesday, February 8

Don’t you remember … what I told you before, that someone who has learned a motet of music and then wishes to learn a second and a third finds it easier to learn the second than he did the first, and much easier to learn the third from the first or even the second? So, today, we have a little difficulty performing a certain act of virtue or religion; the second time we’ll have less, and the third even less than the second, and in this way, we become more and more perfect.[i]

Do your daily habits nurture wellness?

Today we are going to do a check-in on our daily habits, and hopefully empower ourselves to intentionally begin new ones.

We all have them—good, bad, neutral, and occasionally weird routines, repetitive actions, or reactive patterns that have left channels in our neural pathways, like grooves in a vinyl record. They are what help us navigate the busy-ness, sometimes cope with harm, and create productive, structuring order out of the chaos of life. To be human is to have habits! However, while not all habits are helpful, it is possible to change them with a little bit of intentional reflection, and a fair bit of hard work!

I’m sure that we can all easily identify one or two habits that we wish we didn’t have. For some of us, it’s our dependence (some might say addiction!) to our smartphones or electronic devices. Despite the occasional shaming alert from the devices themselves (“you’ve spent an average of 3 hours a day, up 10% from last week on your phone”), the lure of checking email, checking social media, playing games, diving into the rabbit hole of Wikipedia … it’s just too much to resist. For others, it might be the three cups of triple espresso shots in the morning, the four-season binge watch on the weekend, or the “just two glasses” of wine with dinner. And for a rare few of us, there are some habits that might seemingly be benign, but can in the end not lead to holistic wellness—like being addicted to working out, extreme dieting, and overcommitting socially.

There’s absolutely no shame in any of these! Shame sometimes has a way of negatively reinforcing bad habits, as we find comfort in them. However, a little bit of reflection into why we do these things and whether these habits deliver their intended purpose in our lives can help us reevaluate them. Take smartphones as an example. Why do some of us seem to have become symbiotically tethered to them, unable to function without their presence? Is it accessibility to email? To work? If it’s after normal work hours, do we really need to be connected? Or perhaps it is social media and news—we just need to know what is happening in the world right now. Admittedly, it’s a marvel that we have—in our hands—a magical device that has opened the past and the present to us. However, we can quickly get lost from the world right in front of us. Or, to quote Yoda from Empire Strikes Back, we will spend our lives looking away, “Never [our] mind on where [we are], hmm? What [we are] doing!”

Reflection Exercise:

Pick one habit you have. Ask yourself:

  1. What propels you to perform this habit on a daily basis?
  2. Why did you start doing it in the first place? What do you hope to get out of it? Is it life-giving? Do you feel more whole, or healthier after?
  3. Is there a better, healthier, more balanced action to replace it with? Try replacing the habit for a week. It will be difficult, but it’s only a week! You can do this!

Reflection by: Alexander Perry, former

[i] Conference 126, “Repetition of Prayer,” July 28, 1655, CCD, 11:197. Available online: https://‌via.‌library.‌depaul.‌edu/‌vincentian_ebooks/37/.

Busy Person’s Retreat Day Two: Tuesday, February 7

“In Dreams Begins Responsibility”[i]

For the second day of our retreat, we move from discernment to hopes and dreams. We will come to more practical matters later, but for now let us open ourselves to visions of the future. Whether one is hoping to lead a community or just oneself to somewhere new, a vision of the hoped for destination is necessary. Ideally this vision should be of a place not quite like anything one has experienced before but still vivid enough to pull us toward it.

I invite you to clear your mind of distractions and of all the tasks and anxieties that are calling to you. Take some deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Close your eyes and try to feel some kind of calm.

Now, I invite you to read a few short passages about different experiences relating to this topic of dreams, of hopes, of visions. These can be used to describe different though perhaps related experiences. For example in Arabic the word ru’ya can be translated as “dream” or “vision.” When we speak of our highest hopes for the future, we often refer to them as “dreams.”

One of the most profound examples of such a dream or vision in our Vincentian tradition is the Lumière experience of Saint Louise de Marillac. During a time of great turmoil and doubt in her life and her soul, Louise was not only gifted with a calming certainty in her spirit but a vision of her future:

On the Feast of Pentecost, during holy Mass or while I was praying in the church, my mind was instantly freed of all doubt. I was advised that I should remain with my husband and that a time would come when I would be in a position to make vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and that I would be in a small community where others would do the same. I then understood that I would be in a place where I could help my neighbor but I did not understand how this would be possible since there was to be much coming and going. I was also assured that I should remain at peace concerning my director; that God would give me one whom He seemed to show me. It was repugnant to me to accept him; nevertheless, I acquiesced. It seemed to me that I did not yet have to make this change.[ii]

This profound experience would serve as a comfort and guide to Louise for the rest of her life. Her description is taken from a piece of worn, many folded paper. She would apparently carry this around with her and take it out whenever she needed to be reminded, and on the back she had written the word lumière (French for light).

In the Muslim tradition, the following is narrated about the beginning of Prophet Muhammad’s[iii] prophetic experiences:

The beginning of the Revelation that came to the Messenger of Allaah was good dreams; he never saw a dream but it came true like bright daylight. Then seclusion was made dear to him, and he used to go to the cave of Hiraa’ and worship there, which means that he went and devoted himself to worship for a number of nights before coming back to his family to collect more provisions, then he would go back again. Then he would go back to Khadeejah to collect more provisions.[iv]

It was the regular practice of the Prophet to sit with his companions after the dawn prayers and ask them to share their dreams with him.[v] In a description brimming with many possible implications of meaning, the Prophet also was reported to have said, “The most truthful of dreams are seen shortly before dawn.”[vi]

In American cultural memory, one of the most powerful invocations of dreaming a vision for the future comes from what is known as the “I Have a Dream” speech of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Although we know the speech by that title, the phrase did not appear in King’s prepared text.[vii] In fact, what has become the most famous portion of the speech was improvised by King in response to a call from gospel legend Mahalia Jackson to “tell them about the dream, Martin!” She was calling on King to bring to that enormous stage his inspiring vision of the beloved community toward which he wanted the nation to strive.

Pope Francis speaks of a powerful vision of fraternity and social friendship across all the borders that divide us in his Encyclical letter, Fratelli Tutti:

Here we have a splendid secret that shows us how to dream and to turn our life into a wonderful adventure. No one can face life in isolation … We need a community that supports and helps us, in which we can help one another to keep looking ahead. How important it is to dream together … By ourselves, we risk seeing mirages, things that are not there. Dreams, on the other hand, are built together.[viii]

As we draw near to the end of today’s reflection and perhaps are feeling that painful anticipation of having to wake from a beautiful dream, let us close with a moving description of dreams and of peace and of comfort from Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead:

I went up to the church to watch the dawn come, because that peace does restore me better than sleep can do. It is as though there were a hoard of quiet in that room, as if any silence that ever entered that room stayed in it. I remember once as a child dreaming that my mother came into my bedroom and sat down in a chair in the corner and folded her hands in her lap and stayed there, very calm and still. It made me feel wonderfully safe, wonderfully happy. When I woke up, there she was, sitting in that chair. She smiled at me and said, “I was just enjoying the quiet.” I have that same feeling in the church, that I am dreaming what is true.[ix]


Questions for Reflection:

  1. As you hear these stories about other famous people and their dreams, what are the dreams or ideas that begin to emerge for you about your own life and what you feel drawn or called to explore?
  2. We may think of dreaming as something very solitary or focused on the individual. Is that the case in these examples? What are some of the ways in which dreaming can be communal as well as individual?
  3. From where do alternative visions of the future come? What do you need to be connected to in your own life or what practices do you engage in to nourish your dreams and visions and hopes? What do you think is the relationship between hopes and dreams and the creation of new realities?

Reflection by: Abdul-Malik Ryan, J.D., Assistant Dire

[i] Epigraph, attributed to “Old Play,” to W.B. Yeats, Responsibilities and Other Poems (London: Macmillan, 1916).

[ii] Document A.2, “Light,” Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac, ed. and trans. Louise Sullivan, D.C. (New York: New City Press: 1991), 1.

[iii] Peace and blessings be upon him and upon all of the prophets of God.

[iv] Sahih al-Bukhari, hadith 3.

[v] Sahih al-Bukhari, hadith 7047.

[vi] Sunan al-Tirmidhi, hadith 2274.

[vii] Emily Crockett, “The Woman Who Inspired Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech,” Vox, updated January 16, 2017, https://www.vox.com/2016/1/18/10785882/martin-luther-king-dream-mahalia-jackson.

[viii] Available online at: Fratelli Tutti.

[ix] Marilynne Robinson, Gilead (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004), 132–33.

Busy Person’s Retreat Day One: Monday, February 6

Vincent de Paul studies book

Today’s opening reflection to this year’s Busy Person’s Retreat invites us to consider “How can I stay spiritually healthy so I can discern what is essential in life?”

A rite of passage in making a good retreat must surely begin with slowing down and becoming aware of the present moment.

With this in mind, as you start the retreat this morning, I invite you to take a few slow deep breaths, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. As you do, seek to let go of any stressors that may be making a claim on your heart and mind right now. Try to let any anxieties go, and become aware of the present moment. Rest in the certainty that the present moment is enough.

I now invite you to carve out the next few minutes to rest in this space. Be still and know …

Let us begin.

Each one of us has a unique identity and place in the world. Indeed, it is humbling to think that no one who has ever existed on this planet is quite like us, and there will never be another person like us again!

My personal faith tradition is Catholic. My formation in this tradition has very much shaped the way in which I see the world. It is from this perspective that I write. I believe that God speaks to each of us in the depth of our hearts, through community and in the everyday, ordinary events of our lives.

Many years ago, I was introduced to the writings of Frederick Buechner, an American writer and theologian, who so eloquently echoed this cornerstone of my belief.

If God speaks anywhere, it is into our personal lives that he speaks. Someone we love dies, say. Some unforeseen act of kindness or cruelty touches the heart or makes the blood run cold. We fail a friend, or a friend fails us, and we are appalled at the capacity we all of us have for estranging the very people in our lives we need the most. Or maybe nothing extraordinary happens at all— just one day following another, helter-skelter, in the manner of days. We sleep and dream. We wake. We work. We remember and forget. We have fun and are depressed. And into the thick of it, or out of the thick of it, at moments of even the most humdrum of our days, God speaks. But what do I mean by saying that God speaks? He speaks not just through the sounds we hear, of course, but through events in all their complexity and variety, through the harmonies and disharmonies and counterpoint of all that happens.[i]

If we are to understand how to take better take care of ourselves and remain spiritually healthy, we need to know how to discern well and how to align our values and behaviors with healthy choices that support us choosing life. This will surely involve learning how to listen and to trust the voice deep within, paying attention to the wisdom of the community that supports us, and observing the rhythm of our days.

At first, this may sound easy, but how do we discern well amid the cacophony of dissonant and competing clatter that regulates our waking hours? Maybe some Vincentian wisdom can guide us along our discernment path.

Vincent de Paul’s process of discernment had three parts: an openness to God’s will, an evaluation of reasons for or against an action, and a consultation with wise persons.[ii]

For Vincent and Louise, it was in the concrete and sometimes messy circumstances of their lives that they so deeply experienced the presence of God. They found God very much alive in the midst of their relationships, especially with those who existed on the margins of seventeenth-century French society. The essence of their approach involved “living with a listening heart, paying daily attentiveness to God’s presence, and a daily discerning and decisioning.”[iii] Such a Vincentian approach has been described by scholar Vie Thorgren as “living with a discerning heart.”[iv] This discerning sensibility would also involve examining the pros and cons of a situation and deciding on a suitable response or outcome.

Yet, it is important to note that it was often only after events themselves had passed, in an intimate moment of prayer and contemplation, that their meaning became clear. Thus, for Vincent and Louise, carving out quiet, reflective moments was essential as it provided opportunities to interpret the events of their lives through the lens of their faith, and in dialogue with their lived experience.

The final integral part of Vincent and Louise’s discernment process involved seeking advice and sound counsel from others whose wisdom they respected. This stemmed from their deep belief and trust in the fact that God mediated God’s will through people.[v] Consequently, while receiving wise counsel, Vincent and Louise would seek to identify the word of God, which would then help guide and inform their decision-making and their quest for right and just action.

So, what might all of this mean for us today? A wise colleague in ministry once posited this question, “If you can’t say no to the people in your life, then what does your yes really mean?” This question has remained with me for many years.

And so, I will leave you with some questions of my own to ponder on this day of our opening retreat. What is the quality of the yeses in your life right now? Are you saying no when you need to? And how, with a listening heart, might you discern the difference?

Reflection by: Siobhan O’Donoghue, M. Div., Director of Faculty and Staff Eng

[i] Frederick Buechner, The Sacred Journey (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1982), pp. 1-2.

[ii] As observed in the abstract to Hugh O’Donnell, C.M., “Vincentian Discernment,” Vincentian Heritage 15:1 (1994). Available at: http://via.library.depaul.edu/vhj/vol15/iss1/2.

[iii] O’Donnell, “Vincentian Discernment,” 15.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid., 8.

Busy Person’s Retreat Day 1: Take Time and Make Space

To view or download a PDF copy, click here.

So, you signed up for a Busy Person’s Retreat this week. Something drew you to do so. What was it?

What did you assess was needed or desired in your life to sign up to receive these daily reflections for a week?

Congratulations on taking this step… whether toward self-care, toward reflection and mindfulness, toward deeper meaning and purpose, or toward whatever good and authentic yearning inspired you to do so.

As we begin this week of reflection, let me ask you one more question:  When you consider yourself a “busy person”…why is that so, and what does that describe or mean to you?

When I catch myself thinking or talking about how horribly busy I am, I find it helpful and informative to catch myself, to pause and to do a moment of self-assessment. Why am I feeling so busy? And, what does “busy” describe or mean to me in this moment? How much of this “busy-ness” is, at some level, by habit or choice and how much of it is necessity or imposed upon me?

By taking just a moment to pause and reflect in this way over the years, I have come to see that in our U.S. American culture at large, we tend to put a high value on being busy – or, at least, being seen as one who is busy. Being busy, or feeling rushed while moving from one thing to the next, or having so much to do that we can’t possibly slow down, are at times projected or proclaimed as evidence of our productivity in front of others, or as unspoken justifications of our own importance.

While this tendency certainly has been and remains part of my own erroneous way of thinking, a habit present to me from my early years, I can say fairly confidently that it is also clearly a tendency that we absorb from the broader cultural milieu in which we live. In other words, when I stop to pause and reflect for just a moment about why I am feeling so busy and what the word is describing or means to me in any given moment, I realize that I am at times simply wrapped up in a cultural norm that is assessing my worth in a way that is, quite frankly, just not healthy, meaningful, fair, nor accurate. Assessing our worth based on how busy we are is absurd – yet it is so commonplace.

In speaking of the Jewish/Christian practice of Sabbath as a day of rest each week, author Walter Brueggemann points out the way in which such rest can actually be seen and practiced as a fruitful form of resistance to the dominant culture: “Sabbath is a practical divestment so that neighborly engagement, rather than production and consumption, defines our lives.” [i](18)

At times, being or feeling busy may indeed allow us to see that we have put unrealistic expectations on ourselves, or that impossible expectations have indeed been put on us by others – whether in a job or in our home life – and we are  entangled in them. This insight has the potential to be liberating, if we are able to accept and name it for what it is, to ask for the help of others to alleviate some of the pressure, or to make other changes within our control to bring us back into a more healthy and realistic balance.

Very often, we may find that the fullness of our life and who we are may in fact be harmed or lessened to some degree by our being overly or constantly “busy.” Our “busy-ness” does not allow the time and space for new growth, for the flowering of seeds planted, for the fire within us to breath in the fresh air needed to fuel our authentic creativity and passion. It also doesn’t allow us room to reflect, an essential behavior or practice necessary to look objectively at our life experiences and to learn from them. Being overly busy doesn’t allow time and space for rest and relaxation, for friendships to be nurtured, or for us to be fully and truly present to the people in our lives and to the realities before us. When we are busy, we are rarely “mindful” and certainly not “soul-full.”

What is hurt by your taking a few minutes now and regularly in your life to pause, to breathe deeply, and to slow down just a bit? Answer:  Probably nothing and no one at all.

What is gained by doing so?  Answer:  The fullness of who you are. And, that is a very good thing for you, for others around you and for the world. Your wholeness is not only healthy for you, but is also a gift to others. Taking a few minutes each day – maybe several times a day – simply to pause, breathe and reflect will help you to be happier, more at peace, more creative and effective… and in the end, if you and others around you need to know… it will probably help you to be more productive as well!

One little life hack that I have found helpful is to catch myself when I use the word “busy” and – if it makes sense to do so – to describe my life situation instead as “full.” My life is very full has a different ring to it, a different meaning.  I like the idea of my cup overflowing with the life that I am receiving – not something I am doing or accomplishing, but something that I am choosing to fully embrace and engage in the best way I can.

May this week’s reflections allow you the space and nourishment you need to grow into a new and more fruitful fullness!

[i] Walter Brueggemann. Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now (2014). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press. P. 18