Thursday, February 01, 2007

Retreat: Recap

This is the second a series of posts I'll be dedicating to the Sons and Daughters of the Light retreat. First was an overview of the weekend. This post is a lengthy and detailed recap of the events. Next will be a personal entry that approaches the retreat from my own perspective and experiences.

If you know the last names (or the correct names, if I've made errors) of the people mentioned, please email me or leave a comment here so that I can edit the post.

The weekend began with a simple wine-and-cheese social. Once the majority of the attendees showed up, there was a brief ice-breaker: a Bingo sheet with 25 squares (the center one was free, "like grace") containing descriptions of people ("is a Giants fan", "is a lector", "lives the farthest away", etc.). People swapped papers with one another, signing off on a square, until someone had scored five in a row. Simple but effective. Once the ice had been broken, we braved the outdoor ice -- temperatures were definitely below freezing -- to walk to the (heated-but-chilly) chapel for evening Mass.

In the chapel Sam Chey (Youth Minister at Guardian Angel parish in Allendale, NJ), one of the coordinators of the retreat, gave the first presentation, an introductory speech. Sam asked us what the Church offers us. He cited the all-too-familiar example of a "cradle Catholic" (one brought up in the faith since birth) who wonders why he (or she) keeps going to Mass week in and week out. It seems like "young adults" (which here applies to people in their 20's and early 30's) are the overlooked and underappreciated members of the Church. We're not the only ones who noticed this, which is why the USCCB developed the Sons and Daughters of the Light Pastoral Plan for Ministry with Young Adults a decade ago.

Sam spoke his own words as well as those of our Evangelists. Jesus, the Word that was with God in the beginning and is God, is the light [that] shines in the darkness, and [that] the darkness has not overcome (John 1:5). Jesus, true man and true God, is the Light of the world. As brothers and sisters in Christ, and the adopted sons and daughters of God, we are brothers and sisters of the Light, sons and daughters of the Light. Sam called to mind the models of St. Mary and St. Joseph, as well as the rocky example of St. Peter. This weekend would be one of reflection, reverence, redemption, and rejuvenation.

Once Sam was finished, we prepared to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (the Memorial of Saints Timothy and Titus, bishops). My brother, Fr. Charlie Pinyan (pastor at Guardian Angel), was there that evening to be our celebrant. His homily derived primarily from the Gospel reading (Mark 4:26-34), about the seed of faith. He talked briefly about the history of the CYO Retreat Center and the chapel, about the faith that lead to their construction, and the faith that allows them to remain in use today. Then he talked about our own faith, grown, we know not how, from a seed planted many years ago, that brought us to the retreat.

Mass concluded with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. We sang songs of worship and listened to Scripture and silently adored the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ. After about an hour of Adoration, we returned to the Retreat Center. Shortly afterwards, in the downstairs chapel, began the overnight Adoration. Nearly a dozen of us took turns in front of the Holy Eucharist, praying, genuflecting, prostrating, or just being in the presence of Christ for an hour at a time.

The day began with the Morning Prayer and the Reposition of the Blessed Sacrament. A handful of Salesian Sisters led the prayer. After breakfast, we met in the desert -- one of three beautifully-decorated rooms on our floor of the retreat center -- for some songs of worship. Then came the second presentation of the weekend was given by Tracey Vieira (Associate Director for Retreats and Spirituality for the Newark Archdiocese). The theme was Marriage, but it was on a completely different level than any of us were expecting. Tracey, a 20-something who isn't married and admitted the material was foreign territory to her, talked about marriage to Christ. This concept transcended Matrimony and the religious life: it was about surrender to Jesus, accepting him not just as the Husband of the Church, but as your Husband. Tracey started by reading Isaiah 54:1-8, where God speaks of the great compassion with which He accepts Israel. She described the book of the prophet Hosea, where Hosea learns what the relationship between God and Israel is: God instructs Hosea to marry a harlot, an unfaithful woman, whom he shall love despite her inconstancy.

Tracey then applied the Scripture to her own life. It is one thing, she said, to pray that God be in your life. It is another to pray that you are in God. God lived with us, in the flesh, as Jesus Christ: now God wants us to live with Him and in Him. She talked about how hard it is to give yourself completely over to Christ; she described herself as having one foot in and one foot out, for fear of devoting herself completely and failing. She likened her life to a marriage ceremony to Christ: she's somewhere down the aisle, maybe three-quarters of the way. Then Tracey explained "marriage to Christ" in the simplest way possible, using words we'd all heard before, but giving them an entirely new context.
I, God, take you, Tracey, to be My wife. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of My life.

I, Tracey, take you, God, to be my husband. I promise to be true to You in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love You and honor You all the days of my life.
Tracey described the assurance of knowing that God will love us and honor us all the days of our lives -- indeed, for all eternity, as God is timeless -- and the recognition that we are making the same promise to God.

At this point, we had intended on having Saturday morning Mass, but due to difficulties in finding available priests for the weekend, we made different arrangments. Christy Guerra, who also runs the Young Adult fireside Bible study held at the Retreat Center, had made Rosaries for everyone present out of twine. We were then led in the Rosary, meditating on the Luminous Mysteries, by Aida Flores de Leon. After completing the Rosary, we split up into four groups and met in separate rooms to share among ourselves our thoughts about the morning's activities, as well as the theme of the room we were in. Then we all gathered together in the Desert again to share things brought up in our small groups.

(A brief word about these rooms. Three of them were wonderfully decorated (by Sr. Nivia Arias, Eileen Guerin, and Craig Johnson) in the style of the desert, the temple, and the gardens of Eden and Gethsemane. The fourth was the fire-side room.)

After this, we had lunch, followed by an hour of free time. During this time, our two guest speakers for the afternoon arrived, Liliana Soto (Coordinator of Evangelization in the Archdiocese of Newark) and Al Forsythe (Director of the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry). Two musicians, Raphael Giglio and his wife Aly, also arrived. Raphael, the concert coordinator for Star 99.1 FM (the local Christian radio station), and Aly were there to join us in praise songs and attended the afternoon sessions.

The next presentation was in the Temple, and its theme was Mary, Daughter of Light. Liliana spoke of Mary, both the Mother of God and a daughter of God, devoted to His will. She read Luke 1:26-38 to us and focused on two phrases: "Do not be afraid" (Luke 1:30) and "May it be done to me according to your word." (Luke 1:38). Then she showed us five containers of decreasing size, that fit one inside another, which represented the typical concerns of a young adult: our family, our career, our relationships, our finances, and finally (in the tiniest box) God. Placing the boxes inside one another, we see how God should be at the center of all our concerns.

She followed that by explaining how to follow the model of Mary:
  • Surrender to Christ,
  • Obey him,
  • Form a Relationship with him, and
  • Trust him with
    • Humility,
    • Praise, and
    • Joy
She mentioned the hard times that Mary had to endure because of who Jesus was (alluding, I believe, to Simeon's prophecy to her that a sword will pierce through your own soul also (Luke 2:35)). Liliana spoke with wisdom when she said she would rather suffer in God's will than out of it.

She closed with two passages from Scripture. First, Jeremiah 29:11-14, where God tells His people of the plans He has in store for them, a future of hope, where we would seek Him with our whole hearts and He would hear our prayers; and second, John 10:10, where Jesus tells us that he does not come to take life, but to give life in abundance.

We then returned to the Desert for Al's very personal talk on Joseph, Son of Light. He spoke to us of his childhood, how his father played an important role in his life, guiding him and supporting him. He related to St. Joseph, a man who does not appear to be revealed much in Scripture; but Al thought otherwise. God would not have chosen just anyone to be the foster father of Jesus, and the man Jesus grew into depended on his earthly upbringing as much as his being God in the flesh. What we know of Jesus should reflect, at least in part, on his parents. Joseph was visited by an angel of the Lord on three occasions and obeyed what was commanded of him, that he should accept Mary as his wife, that he should take his family and flee to Egypt, and then that he should return to Israel, to Nazareth. Joseph was a man of faith and humility, putting God first in his life. He was a man of compassion and prayer. Jesus's own person reflects these characteristics as well, demonstrating the important role a father -- whether biological or adoptive -- plays in the development of his children. The virtues a man of God should strive for are: patience, humility, simplicity, obedience, servanthood, purity, modesty, committment, humor, faithfulness, and prayerfulness.

Once again we split into our groups for private discussion. In addition to the two presentations, we had another conversation piece: a short story titled "The Tea Cup". The story presents a beautiful teacup that recounts its tumultuous history, starting as a red lump of clay, ending as a delicately-crafted teacup. The moral is that all our trials and tribulations make us who we are, and it is God who is there alongside of us carrying us through them. We convened again in the Desert to share our small group conversations, and then went to eat dinner.

Between dinner and the scheduled Bible study, I led a group of about a dozen in Evening Prayer. We concluded right at 6:00pm, when the Bible study began. We split into three groups (led by Christy, Candace Tarabocchia, and Katie Daily) and focused on a number of Scripture passages relating to reconciliation. We all gathered for one last large group sharing before heading out to Chapel for Mass.

Fr. Charlie, who had returned to Allendale to fulfill his pastoral duties (in a one-priest parish), came back in the evening, shortly before dinner, so that we could have a vigil Mass. We started with an hour of Eucharistic Adoration and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The readings for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Jer 1:4-5,17-19; 1 Cor 12:31-13:13; Luke 4:21-30) recounted Jeremiah's call to be a prophet before he was even born, Paul's beautiful exposition on love (agape), and Jesus's rejection from his home town of Nazareth. Fr. Charlie, in his homily, connected all three readings to the vocation of love to which we are all called. The people in Nazareth rejected Jesus because they failed to hear what he spoke to them in love -- Fr. Charlie likened it to our tendency to ignore parts of Scripture that admonish behavior we'd rather continue doing, and to only pay attention to those parts which praise behaviors (we think) we embody.

After Mass, we returned to the Retreat Center for an evening of musical entertainment by the Giglios. One of the participants on the retreat, Christina Albanese, who has a CD (Undivided) and a collection of original songs to her name, played for us as well. There was also overnight Adoration of the Eucharist in the downstairs chapel again.

After Morning Prayer, Reposition, and breakfast, we met in the fire-side room to sing a few songs of worship. Then five participants, forming a Young Adult Panel, came up to introduce themselves and talk about their Life in the Light:
  • Lee Ann Aguila, who had attended Rejoice! 2006 last April, and works with Savannah Sights, a charity organization that works with blind children
  • Eric Cruz, a member of the Charismatic Catholic covenant community BLD (Bukas Loob sa Diyos, Filipino for "Open in Spirit to God")
  • Mike Temple, a member of the Catholic covenant community People of Hope
  • Raphael Giglio, who returned to Christianity after a rocky youth thanks to his Jewish grandfather who told him one day that he'd "found the Messiah", and is the Executive Director of Autumn Blaze, as well as Star 99.1 FM's concert coordinator, and the Minister of Music at Zarephath Christian Church
  • Aly Giglio, who talked about her long years of single-hood where she learned to direct her passion to Christ (much in the same way Tracey talked about) and wrote a nightly journal composed as a letter to him
In sharing their stories, the panelists also hoped to inspire interest in us for the programs they are associated with, as well as Youth and Young Adult ministries in our own parishes. We had a brief period of question-and-answer between us and the panel, and ended the retreat with group prayer. After that, there were a few announcements. Sam received an icon of the Madonna and Child from Sr. Loretta DeDominicis for his work in organizing the retreat, and Christy received one as well for her hours spent making the Rosaries for us. Finally, we cleaned up our rooms, ate one last lunch together, and went our separate ways.

Time to start letting our light so shine before men, that they may see [our] good works and give glory to [our] Father who is in heaven. (Matt 5:16) Since the Father brought us to this retreat by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, then let us, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, bring Christ with us.


Christy said...

Hey Jeff!

Thanks so much for writing all of this down - I have such an awful memory and this is a great resource for me to remember the weekend! It was great to meet you & I can't wait to read more of your entries!

P.S. Matt Temple's first name is actually Mike, and Aida's last name is Flores de Leon -- just thought I would let you know! :D
Have a great day!

japhy said...

Thanks for the corrections!

I'm glad to be of assistance. I'll be writing more soon.

Sam Chey said...

jeff, this is amazing. i was just speaking with someone who had mentioned that she was going through retreat withdrawl. what a great way to reenter. as christy mentioned often times we experience and we remember the feeling of a retreat, but through your gift of diligence and the sharing of it, we can reflect of specific aspects and meditate on the words we heard from different people we encountered. this is truly a blessing for those who will be running next year's retreat to be able to look back on this one in detail. the gift of your wisdom on this weekend, the witness of brothers in union with Christ, and your sacrifice of time and effort on this blog to allow us to encourage us to shine our light into the darkness we find ourselves in are blessings beyond words. may God continue to bless you and all of us as we journey together, gaining strength and hope from the light of God that we shine on one another! and many blessing on the engagement and wedding!

Charlie said...

Thanks for posting all this, Jeff. It gives me a feel for the parts of the retreat I wasn't able to be there for.

craig johnson said...


This recap is by far more detailed and intricate than I anticipated it to be... you have been so observant, your blog exhibits such an in-depth level of craftsmanship it's amazing! I thought the retreat was a huge success, on both the spiritual and phyical platues (it provided the much needed time for prayer, community, and relaxation I was longing for). I only hope and pray that it was as much if not more of a blessing to everyone else. What a thorough job man... and keep up the good work! As Sam said "our prayers go out to you", for a life of happiness in the joy to be found in your upcomming marriage!

Your brother in Christ,

- Craig