Diocesan women gather to cultivate the interior life during St. Thomas retreat

By Emily Booker

Are you listening for God’s voice? Would you hear Him if He called? Women from across East Tennessee gathered at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Lenoir City on Feb. 22 for the diocesan women’s retreat focused on cultivating the interior life so they may draw closer to God. Sister Anna Marie McGuan, RSM, director of the Office of Christian Formation led the one-day retreat.

The large number of attendees from all across the diocese showed the growing popularity of diocesan conferences focusing on deeper aspects of the faith. The event was originally limited to 200 women, but because of interest, that was expanded to the maximum of 230 and there still was a waiting list.

The day started with Mass celebrated by Father Ray Powell, pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish. The women then gathered in the parish life center for the retreat focusing on the theme “Cultivating the Interior Life.”

What actually is the interior life?

Every person is both body and soul, Sister Anna Marie explained. The material life is what is bound by our sense of the world, our ability to see, touch, hear, smell, taste, observe, and even imagine. The interior life is the spiritual life, the source of the ordering of our choices.

“Through the ordering of our interior desires, through directing our very self to our proper end, we are brought into alignment, into order, and we thereby make ourselves much more available to the movement and to the work of God,” she said.

She used the parable of the 10 virgins waiting for the bridegroom as an example of how we are instructed to always be ready to hear God’s call. “If the Lord told us to keep watch, how am I doing that in my life?” she asked.

“The focus [of this retreat] is on the life of prayer and how to bring a certain stillness, silence, and focus to our prayer,” Sister Anna Marie said. “When we do that, the interior life begins to have a greater, a deeper foundation, a more fi rm foundation in our lives.”

Prayer and developing constant vigilance over desires is what will bring about a stronger interior life, according to Sister Anna Marie.

She said you can form a life of vigilance through regular prayer, such as the Liturgy of the Hours. The more you pray and learn to conquer distractions and temptations, the more peace and tranquility will enter your life.

“It is not a paranoia. It is not scrupulosity. It is not catastrophizing,” she clarified. “It is a wakefulness in the presence of the Beloved.”

Attendees received a copy of Father Jacques Philippe’s book Interior Freedom. Father Philippe is a French priest and an internationally renowned best-selling author from the Community of the Beatitudes who writes on prayer, interior freedom, and peace. He spoke in the Diocese of Knoxville in March 2019.

Although the retreat was not focused on Lent, Sister Anna Marie felt that it served as a good kickoff to the Lenten season. Taking place the weekend before Ash Wednesday, the retreat gave women the resources to reflect on stillness, prayer, and ordering desires right before the start of the penitential season.

The retreat concluded with Sister Anna Marie encouraging the women to take time to pray and focus on overcoming the distractions and temptations that keep us from God.

“God is always calling us,” she said. “The more at peace we are, the more we are able to respond.”

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