The word retreat literally means "withdrawal". When we participate in a silent retreat, we withdraw from our activities, from our environments, from our dealings with the world for a couple of days to be alone with God in prayer.
Pope Benedict XVI defines in an address a retreat as "a strong experience of God, awakened by listening to his Word, understood and welcomed in one's personal life, under the action of the Holy Spirit, which, in a climate of silence, prayer and by means of a spiritual guide, offer the capacity of discernment in order to purify the heart, convert one's life, follow Christ and fulfill one's own mission in the Church and in the world".
The Holy Father emphasized in a special way that a retreat should be "characterized by that climate of complete and profound silence which favors the personal and communitarian encounter with God and the contemplation of the Face of Christ. My Predecessors and I myself have returned to this point several times, and it can never be insisted upon enough."
All of us need time to be alone with God, in order to widen our souls for the streams of God's grace, so that we can live out our lives more perfectly according to God's will. God must become more and more the source and the goal of our daily lives. In fact, our entire Christian life must spring from an intimate union with Christ, and be ordered to this union. All we do should be by the strength of God and for the love of God. At silent retreats, God wishes to give us these special graces.