Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Retreat: Aquinas Institute Retreat Recap

What follows is a recap of a retreat I went on towards the end of Lent. Exact quotes (as best I was able to write them) from the talk are denoted not just by quotes, but with blue text as well. This retreat took place over Palm Sunday weekend, March 30th through April 1st, 2007. The Aquinas Institute is the Princeton University's Catholic Chaplaincy. The retreat was held at a beach house in Ocean City, NJ.

Friday Night
We started with an ice-breaker called "Trainwreck". The number of chairs is one less than the number of participants; the person without a chair introduces himself and describes a particular attribute of his (e.g. "I am the youngest child in my family", "I have a pet", "I hate ice cream"), and the other participants who can claim this attribute for themselves have to get up and find a new chair. Someone will be left without a chair (hopefully not the person who was just up) and continues with an introduction and attribute, and the game goes on (and on).

Afterwards, Fr. Tom Mullelly (the Chaplain) gave an introduction to the weekend. First, he mentioned how even Jesus "took breaks" from his ministry to go up a mountain or into a garden to pray and reconnect with the Father. This weekend was such a break, for us. He spoke about a comment Mother Teresa had made: "Don't call my country a poor country. India is not a poor country. America is a poor country, a spiritually poor country." Fr. Tom made the distinction between the beatitude of being poor in spirit (Matt 5:3) and this "spiritual poverty" Mother Teresa lamented over. America is a country with spirit, ignorant of God.

Mother Teresa took a day off every week from her ministry to the impoverished and marginalized; she received criticism for this "selfish act" of hers. Nevertheless, everyone in her order took a day off every week for prayer, for reconnection with God, for silence and contemplation. We all need a day like that; we shouldn't feel ashamed for needing to drop everything else so that we can take time for fellowship, worship, communion, and adoration of Jesus Christ.

Later that evening (after the second group of students had arrived) we prayed the Stations of the Cross out on the beach in the moonlight (truly an amazing sight). We were invited to give our own meditations on each stations -- I gave meditations on stations 4 (Jesus meets his mother) and 14 (Jesus is buried).

The day ended with Night Prayer; we sang the Salve Regina afterwards.

Saturday Morning
Morning Prayer started at 8:30, but I was up and about, relaxing on a bench on the boardwalk, at 8:00, smelling the sea breeze and basking in the sun. It was getting chilly, though, unlike the day before. After Prayer, we had breakfast, followed by another ice-breaker of sorts at 9:30, a team-building exercise.

We split into two teams of five people, and the two leaders of the retreat (Jessica Montoya and Martin Valdez) each "coached" a team. (There were twelve of us altogether.) On each team, there was one person who couldn't move her arms or legs, two people who were blindfolded, and two people who were mute (of which I was one). It was up to the team to complete a series of six tasks:
  1. putting together a puzzle (only the blind people could touch the pieces)
  2. building a sand castle on the beach (only the blind people could build it)
  3. learning and reciting a few verses from Scripture (Luke 19:38-40) (one blind person and the incapacitated person)
  4. completing an obstacle course
  5. getting the signatures of everyone on the team
  6. stating the birth dates and hometowns of the mutes
I carried Amy Osterman (an RCIA catechumen and now an initiated Catholic), my team's "paraplegic", for the majority of the event. That made up for me not doing any running or exercising in the morning. After this, at around 11:00, Jessica gave a talk centered around the excerpt from Luke, the theme for the weekend: praising God when others are telling us to be silent.

Jessica talked about the importance of remembering our utter dependence on God, especially during the times when we're comfortable with our surroundings, our health, our finances, etc. It is very important to remain connected to God in prayer. When we forget who we are -- that is, children of God -- we forget who God is. But when we remember who God is, it becomes possible for us to recognize God in the people we encounter and the things we do. We broke into two groups after she was finished for small group discussion.

At noon, Fr. Tom offered Mass, and in his homily he talked about finding Jesus, receiving Jesus, and proclaiming Jesus. Mass concluded with the ciborium remaining on the altar to begin a 24-hour adoration.

Saturday Evening
Afterwards, there was free time until dinner. At around 8:00, we prayed the Rosary in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.

At 9:00 there was a lengthy "Ask Fr. Tom" session. Questions were brought up on the following topics:
  • Can the Catholic Church say so-and-so is in Heaven or Hell?
    • No; we are not judges of one another. The Judgment of souls is up to the Lord.
  • Mariology, the Rosary
    • One of the students on the retreat is a Christian of another confession, and was curious why the Rosary contains many more "Hail Mary"s than "Our Father"s, among other things. This had a lengthy response, touching upon topics such as the Communion of Saints (cf. Heb 11:1-12:2) and the Catholic dogma and theology on Mary.
  • What is the difference between a canonized Saint and some other deceased holy person?
    • The general answer was that those Saints who have been canonized are those whom the Catholic Church has received some assurance of their Sainthood (through a long process overseen by the Holy See). It was brought up that there are Saints we don't know of, and that all Saints are remembered and honored during the Mass of All Saints.
  • What is annulment?
    • It's not divorce, it's the recognition that a valid marital bond was never formed in the first place. Children born during the invalid marriage, however, are not illicit.
  • What constitutes a valid and sacramental marriage?
    • Any two non-Catholic Christians who marry (whether in a church or in a court) are considered, by the Catholic Church, to have a vaild and sacramental marriage; a Catholic, however, must be married in a church. There was other discussion on the matter, but I'm sure Canon Law is more precise than I could hope to be here.
  • Why is there evil?
    • The age-old question...
After the discussion ended, we went upstairs at 11:00 for a guided meditation in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. After that, we were done for the evening.

I did my adoration hours at 11:00 and then 6:00 the next morning. I spent most of the time meditating on Scripture (Exodus 3; 1 Samuel 3; 1 Kings 19; Matthew 17) and chanting Pange lingua and Verbum supernam prodiens (which contains O Salutaris Hostia).

Sunday Morning
I dunno. I had to leave early, after my second hour of adoration, to head back to Plainsboro for RCIA.

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