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RETREAT: Nourishment that every soul needs

The following column by Father Gregory Vance, SJ, chaplain at Bishop Kelly High School, was written originally for the BK Alive Newsletter.

In the lower photo, students dine at a cross-shaped table. (Courtesy photo/Father Gregory Vance, SJ)

By Father Gregory Vance, SJ

When I think of and imagine what a “retreat” is supposed to look and feel like, I can’t help but rely on my experience as a Jesuit.

We make a 30-day silent retreat at least twice in our lives, and we are supposed to make an eight-day retreat each year as well. During the longer retreat, we speak to a Spiritual Director once each day, and that person guides the way we choose to spend our time the rest of the day.

My annual retreat has been, whenever possible, to gather with my dearest Jesuit friends and enjoy conversation, prayer and fellowship, since for the rest of the year we are scattered far apart in our ministries.

On Feb. 2-4, Bishop Kelly’s Juniors completed their second Junior Retreat of the year at Trinity Pines camp in Long Valley. I have been both amazed and heartened by the similarities as well as the differences that this experience holds for me when compared to my traditional images of “retreat.”

Our Juniors participate in sledding, a dance party, and wild games that have them running to and fro like wild beasts. But, they also participate in quiet prayer, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and small-group sharing. I love witnessing the contrast, as well as the complementarity of these experiences, as they are all designed to give our Juniors a visceral and life-changing knowledge of God’s “Reckless Love” for each of them.

It also strengthens my own faith so much to watch the Senior Campus Ministers and the adults minister to the Juniors while they are having this powerful experience of retreat.

At the first Junior Retreat a couple weeks ago, I joked with our campus minister, Anna McCarthy, that the Seniors were so eager to serve the retreat experience that they would have done, or attempted to do, anything that Anna asked them to do. I had a funny image in my head that if she had asked one of them to run to the North Pole and bring her back a coffee-cup full of ice, they would have started running the instant her request was heard! What a beautiful testament to the absolutely central element of our faith – being of humble, committed and joyful service to others in the name of Jesus Christ!

The boys on the retreat hike while praying a rosary for the girls at the retreat. (Courtesy photo/Don Petersik)

Finally, the participation in two Junior Retreats in rapid succession leads me to a reflection and a challenge to our entire BK community.

The reason the second one came so hard and fast upon the first retreat was that we had to reschedule the first one because of inclement travel conditions when it was originally scheduled before Christmas. We added a second Junior Retreat because one each year is no longer enough to accommodate the number of kids who desire to have this experience! What a great “problem” to have, that more and more young people long to have this powerful retreat experience of God’s “Reckless Love”!

Can you say the same thing? Do you desire to dance your faith, to pray your faith and to serve in the name of your faith? Can you find a way to make a retreat, even in the midst of your busy life?

Group picture of all the retreatants at Pines Camp south of Cascade. (Courtesy photo/Don Petersik)

The retreats I make as a Jesuit are certainly different from the Junior Retreats we offer at BK, and yet the goal is the same – to know at the deepest part of our souls that God loves us with reckless love, and that sending his Son Jesus Christ is the definitive and everlasting proof of that love.

Find a way, find any way, to root that truth as deeply as possible into your life, and share your faith in it with the people and the world around you, who need it so desperately. May God bless and confirm all of the ways we make “retreats,” and may they all bear the fruit of deepening closeness and trust in Him!

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