Rich and I came home from the second of two retreat weekends for our confirmation students only a few hours ago. These weekends are so packed, so intense, and it just wears us both out both physically and emotionally. I feel poured out as I’m sure he does too. But we both agree it is one of the most rewarding things that we do for our faith.
The first weekend was back at the beginning of January. It was the first time for me and the whole experience just blew me away. I couldn’t even write about it even though I wanted to. There was just too much to sift through. This time around, I feel very raw emotionally. A few moments ago I lay on my bed petting my cat having just finished a conversation with our grown son about how extraordinary the retreat was and how I wished he could have seen it. A life of faith committed to the church is still not for him which is his prerogative right now, but after he left the room, all I could do was lie on my bed and weep. At first it was for him but it quickly included everyone who cannot yet see. A wave of nausea swept over me as the tears ran down and I thought of everyone who is blinded by the lies of this world to the truth of God.
I know that God has laid on my heart this burden of praying for conversion, it is something very dear to me. I pray for my children constantly every day, and other family members pretty regularly. But today I felt that burden spread to include everyone, especially young people, and I want to commit myself to praying for them as I pray for my own children.
And why is this? Because I have been a witness to radical faith. Although I’ve read the scriptures over the years and have see it in luminaries such as Mother Teresa, the truth really came home to me through the people I know and love in my home parish, St. Luke the Evangelist in Westborough, MA. In a time when all you hear about is what the Catholic Church is doing wrong, I want to announce to the world that here at St. Luke’s it is being done right.
Our parish knows how to develop the talents of its people. We don’t hire professionals to come in to run our retreats; we instead call upon volunteers in our parish to give the talks, run the small groups, conduct prayer services, do the ice breakers, provide the live music and listen to the young people. Some people have been on this retreat team for over 10 years, giving up 2 weekends every January to help our confirmation students meet God in a powerful and authentic way. Besides the older adults which populate the team, St. Luke’s also has the wisdom to bring in peers from nearby Assumption College to assist in the same way. These students are deeply committed to their faith and give such a powerful witness of how it is indeed possible to be a young person in today’s society and also be a follower of Jesus.
There were many talks given over the weekend, all powerful mainly in their raw honesty and authenticity. People shared deeply from their lives, often telling stories of great courage in navigating the often messy and stormy nature of everyday living by remaining close to Christ. There were no pat answers here, no “just follow Jesus and your life will be happy and carefree every day.” Our Lord never promised that life would be easier by having faith; in fact He pointed out that often it would be a lot harder. How could we have it easy when He carried His cross for us and died on it to reunite us with the Father? What He did promise is that He would always be beside us. There is no getting away from enduring suffering in order to get to the better place on the other side, whether it be here on earth, or in heaven, but our advantage as believers is to have our eternal Friend by our side, gently guiding us.
Each member of the team demonstrated a faith that is living, vibrant and totally integrated into every fiber of their being. Both adult and student members shared deeply from their hearts, allowing the confirmation students to see them as they really are – flawed, sometimes weak, wounded but full of faith, love and deep joy in knowing Jesus Christ.
As I am still new to the team, I mostly observed though I did provide some music and helped with a prayer service. But the message is coming through loud and clear to me what God is calling me to, and that is a radical living of my own faith. I could feel Him gently pointing out to me how I micromanage the Holy Spirit in my life. He did that by showing me how much I obsessed over the weekend over having everything just so – rearranging the furniture in my room so that it would most resemble my bedroom at home, constantly clinging to my bag that I kept with me which contained my glasses, iTouch, moisturizer for my lips, water bottle, instant coffee and throat lozenges . . . heaven forbid I should not have everything I need for my instant comfort! I obsessed too over having the time to warm up my singing voice so I could provide good quality singing – heaven forbid I should hit a wrong note! In all these things, I could see that I was not willing to give myself over totally to Jesus and trust in His care. If I was obsessing over such small and meaningless stuff, how could I possibly be truly open to what He wanted to do through me? I really got the message loud and clear that I need to let go a whole lot more and stop trying to micromanage the Spirit. As a team, we were asking these kids to let go of their cares and openly trust in the Spirit. I even did a prayer service where I asked the kids to imagine a kitchen table loaded with stuff, and then taking their arm and gently sweeping everything off the table. I was telling them to try it but was unwilling or unable to try it myself.
Now my heart burns with desire to be like so many of the team members who live their faith so radically. How fortunate I am to be surrounded by such extraordinary people, such wonderful examples of true discipleship. And it starts from the top down, beginning with our pastor whose whole life is one constant prayer, to the youth minister who loves so unconditionally, constantly pouring herself out, to my husband who has dedicated his life in service to the Church as a deacon.
I salute every extraordinary member of the St. Luke’s confirmation retreat team, and the wonderful students of Assumption College. I have received such powerful examples of what it means to be a radical follower of Jesus, and I want to follow right after you.
And what of the young people who were on retreat with us? I observed how open they were to receiving the message. They listened attentively, worked hard, and bonded with each other in the course of the 2-1/2 days. They gave up their weekend, leaving behind their worries about school, their boyfriends or girlfriends, their peers, even their cell phones. These kids were willing to listen and to experience the power of the Holy Spirit. They are now part of my heart and I want to hold them close and pray for them that the seeds planted this weekend will grow. The battle began for them the minute they left with retreat center with so many pressures pressing on them from family, peers, school, and society. I want to commit myself to praying for them constantly as I do for my own children.
I hope that by making this public confession that I can live out my commitment to pray for them and to follow the example of my own peers at St. Luke’s, living more radically for Jesus. I hope I can learn to step aside and let the Spirit truly lead. Lord Jesus, with Your help and Your grace, may each succeeding day be a footstep closer to that goal.