Retreat - Thérèse Bermpohl

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Advent/Christmas Retreat: Forming Families as theTrue Domestic Church

by Thérèse Bermpohl, MA
Director, Office for Family Life
Diocese of Arlington


This period of recollection is meant to help families encounter Jesus by praying with Sacred Scripture using Ignatian-style meditation. Through this exercise, we hope that the family may ultimately discover, as Pope Benedict XVI states in Porta Fidei, "a taste for feeding . . . on the word of God" (no. 3) and through this practice of prayerful meditation transform not only themselves and their families but also the culture and the world. It should take ninety minutes to two hours.

Materials Needed

  • Monstrance
  • Cope and incense
  • Table at the rear of church for handouts A and B, pads or booklets for journaling, pens/pencils, Bibles, and worship aids
  • Adult Bible for each participant (and a children's Bible for each child under twelve)
  • Icon or image of the face of Jesus on the altar near the Eucharist (optional)
  • Candles to be placed around the Eucharist and the image of Jesus
  • Worship aid or music sheets with "O Salutaris Hostia," "Tantum Ergo," the Divine Praises, and "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name"
  • Round tables for families to gather for discussion after holy hour with copies of handout C
  • Concluding prayer "A Family Prayer for the Year of Faith" (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops)


  • Welcome (5 minutes)
  • Explanation of why and how to pray with Sacred Scripture (5 minutes)
  • Explanation of the basic steps of praying with Sacred Scripture (5 minutes)
  • Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament (10 minutes)
  • Reading of the Sacred Scripture (5 minutes)
  • Reflection guidelines (5 minutes)
  • Silent meditation (10 to 15 minutes)
  • Benediction (10 minutes)
  • Break and move to gathering space with tables (10 minutes)
  • Family discussion (15 minutes)
  • Group discussion (10 to 15 minutes)
  • Closing prayer (5 minutes)


  • Request permission from the pastor and secure a priest or deacon to officiate at Eucharistic adoration with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.
  • Mark the Bible at Luke 2:1-14.
  • Set up the chapel with candles, monstrance, cope, and incense.
  • Place holy hour handouts, pads, pens/pencils, Bibles, and worship aids on a table for families to pick up as they enter the church.
  • Set up round tables and chairs for the family discussion time and place handouts with family discussion questions, pads, and pens/pencils on the tables.


Welcome (takes place in the Church) (5 minutes)

Priest/Deacon/Leader: Welcome everyone.

Explanation of Why and How to Pray with Sacred Scripture (5 minutes)

(May want to paraphrase the following for children.)

Priest/Deacon/Leader: Praying with Scripture is meant to be an encounter with Jesus that is needed to transform the person, the family, the Church, and the culture. So convinced was he that this practice can bring about a much-needed renewal in the Church, Pope Benedict XVI said in an address commemorating the fortieth anniversary of Dei Verbum, "The diligent reading of Sacred Scripture accompanied by prayer brings about that intimate dialogue in which the person reading hears God who is speaking, and in praying, responds to him with trusting openness of heart (cf. Dei Verbum, no. 25). If it is effectively promoted, this practice will bring to the Church—I am convinced of it—a new spiritual springtime" ( And we are reminded in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that the Church "specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful . . . to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ" (no. 133).

Explanation of the Basic Steps of Praying with Sacred Scripture Based on the Spiritual Exercises by St. Ignatius of Loyola (5 minutes)

Priest/Deacon/Leader: Today we will place ourselves in the presence of God and of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Be mindful that you are totally loved and cherished by God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Be free with him. We are going to read a passage from the Gospel together and then you are going to read it quietly to yourself and use the reflection questions to begin your prayer to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Prior to our reflection, think about this: If you were about to meet Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in Bethlehem, what would you want to say to them? What would you hope would happen during your meeting? Treat this like a live encounter with Jesus, his Mother, and St. Joseph. 

Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament (10 minutes)  

Priest/Deacon: (Expose the Blessed Sacrament and lead the families in "O Salutaris Hostia.")

Reading of the Sacred Scripture (5 minutes)

Priest/Deacon/Leader: (Read Luke 2:1-14.)

(For alternative scriptural reflections and activities for children, you may want to consider Guided Meditations for Children: 40 Scripts and Activities Based on the Sunday Lectionary for Children by Sydney Ann Merritt. Depending on the ages of the children, the leader may want to read the children's guided meditation aloud to make it easier for them. The children's meditation is meant for children eight years old and older. For adults, you may want to consider An Ignatian Introduction to Prayer: Scriptural Reflections According to the Spiritual Exercises by Fr. Timothy Gallagher, OMV.)

Reflection Guidelines (5 minutes)

Priest/Deacon/Leader: Read Scripture quietly to yourself. Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you. As you read, think about the meditation questions on your handouts. Close your prayer time by talking with Jesus, God the Father, and/or the Holy Spirit. In your journal or on your pad of paper, write down anything that touched you during your time with God. Make note of any feelings (good or bad). Be open to the Lord.

Silent Meditation (10 to 15 minutes)

Benediction (10 minutes)

Priest/Deacon: (Repose the Blessed Sacrament and lead the families in "Tantum Ergo" and the Divine Praises. Conclude with "Holy God We Praise Thy Name.")

Break (10 minutes)

(Leader explains that we will be taking a break and then meeting back in the rooms with the round tables for family discussion.)

Family Discussion (15 minutes)

(Post "Holy Hour Questions for Family Discussion" handouts.)

Group Discussion (10 to 15 minutes)

(Leader invites families to reconvene as a group. The leader asks whether anyone would like to share how their prayer time has touched their family and/or how/whether they plan to carry on the tradition in the future.)

Closing Prayer (5 minutes)

O God our Father,
in Jesus you call all Christian families and homes
to be signs of living faith.
By the light of the Holy Spirit, lead us to be thankful for the gift of faith,
and by that gift
may we grow in our relationship with Jesus, your Son,
and be confident witnesses to Christian hope and joy
to all we meet.
In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

(You can order the prayer card from the USCCB's


Benedict XVI. Address to the Participants in the International Congress Organized to Commemorate the 40th Anniversary of the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation "Dei Verbum." September 16, 2005.

Benedict XVI. Apostolic Letter. Porta Fidei. 

Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: Libreria Editrice Vaticana–United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), 2000.

Second Vatican Council. Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation [Dei Verbum]. In Vatican Council II: Volume 1: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, edited by Austin Flannery. Northport, NY: Costello Publishing, 1996.

United States Catholic Catechism for Adults. Washington, DC: USCCB, 2006.

USCCB. A Family Prayer for the Year of Faith. October 11, 2012.


Meditation for Parents

Read Luke 2:1-14 several times silently to yourself.


Imagine that you were there with the Holy Family. Watch and listen as they travel from Nazareth eighty miles to Bethlehem. Become a part of the journey.

The traveling must have been arduous. Imagine the cold, the animals, the dusty road, the throngs of people, and the anxiety of St. Joseph as he moved from inn to inn searching for proper shelter. Finally, imagine the birth of Jesus, who is both God and man, in a little stable.

What do you think the Blessed Mother was experiencing/feeling? Was she worried how the delivery would go? Was she concerned about her unborn child? Was she consumed by responsibility? Was she trusting in the Father's plan?

What was St. Joseph experiencing? Fear? Anxiety? Confidence in God?

Do you ever worry that you won't be able to provide for your family? Do you trust that God will give you what you need? Do you offer your concerns to God?

Imagine the moment when Jesus entered into the world. Imagine holding him. What would you say to him? This child is the same person whom we receive in the Blessed Sacrament and who is living within each one of us.

Speak with him about what is on your heart, about your fears, concerns, hopes, and sorrows. What did you hear God saying to you during your time together?


Meditation for Children

Read Luke 2:1-14 quietly to yourself.


Let's pretend that you are with the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph. You set out on a long journey a long way from your house.

Imagine how hard it would be to travel such a great distance with nothing but a little donkey to carry you and your belongings.

Mother Mary must have been incredibly uncomfortable. Both she and St. Joseph were most likely cold and tired. Imagine traveling such a long way and then finding that there is no place for you to sleep. That is exactly what happened to the Holy Family. The baby Jesus had to be born in a little stable filled with animals and hay. Imagine that.

Think about the baby Jesus. He is not just a human baby; he is also God. Isn't that amazing? Would you like to hold him?

Prayer Exercises/Questions

  1. Write down what you would want to say to the baby Jesus.
  2. Tell him about your family and friends.
  3. Tell him about what is happening in your life.
  4. Tell him about any problems you may be having and ask him for his help.
  5. What do you think Jesus would say to you?
  6. Make a list of all the good gifts God has given to you. Thank him for each one as you list them.
  7. Write down what you would like to say to the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph. (Remember, they are both now great saints in Heaven who want to help you to be good and to get to Heaven.)


Post Holy Hour Questions for Family Discussion
(You can take turns asking the questions or appoint a leader. Each member of the family should be encouraged to share but no one should be forced to share.)

What were some of the ways you encountered Jesus during your prayer with Scripture?

What are some of the ways that you were comforted by this passage?

How can praying with Scripture on a regular basis change who you are as an individual and how you act as a family?

Read what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say about family prayer: "The Christian family is the first place of education in prayer. Based on the sacrament of marriage, the family is the 'domestic church' where God's children learn to pray 'as the Church' and to persevere in prayer. For young children in particular, daily family prayer is the first witness of the Church's living memory as awakened patiently by the Holy Spirit" (no. 2685).

Are you willing to set time aside each day for prayer?

Make a resolution about how you can incorporate Sacred Scripture into your everyday lives (for example, as a family you will reflect one day a week on Sunday's Scripture and talk about the significance for you in your life as you did here today).  

Copyright © 2013, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted to duplicate this work without adaptation for non-commercial use.   

Excerpts from Pope Benedict XVI, Porta Fidei, copyright © 2011, Libreria Editrice Vaticana (LEV), Vatican City; Address, 2005, copyright © 2005, LEV. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Excerpts from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, second edition, copyright © 2000, Libreria Editrice Vaticana—United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture excerpts used in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition, copyright © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, DC, and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All rights reserved.