Quickly, all 60 spots were filled and a waiting list formed when the announcement was made that the spring diocesan young adult retreat would take place in person this year. The weekend emphasized that the spiritual life is still very relevant during a global pandemic.
The retreat was the first young adult event to take place in person since COVID-19 began, as well as the first event Lindenwood Retreat & Conference Center has hosted since that time. The quiet excitement and joy of physically being together — even masked and socially distanced — was palpable. From Saturday morning to Sunday afternoon on a perfect spring weather weekend, March 20-21, young adults gathered at the Donaldson center to grow in their relationship with Christ.
Sean Allen, director of young adult and campus ministry, was grateful for the opportunity to offer the retreat. “Young adults in their 20s and 30s have been disproportionately affected negatively by social distancing restrictions. Loneliness and mental health issues are at record levels, so it was very important to us that we hold the retreat in person rather than virtually,” he explained. “Through the thoughtful planning of the retreat team and Lindenwood staff, we were able to keep the focus on our relationship with God, and God was not held back from being present with us and providing us beautiful graces.
“The Young Adult Retreat is a wonderful opportunity for the diocese to support young adults and foster deeper intimacy with the Lord, especially after such a challenging year,” he said.
The theme of the weekend was “Identity: Made for Relationship.” The welcoming small-group leaders and participants alike said they enjoyed the time set apart on the historic grounds of the motherhouse of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ. Even masked, smiles were evident, as was a sense of belonging, both to God and to one another in community.
Retreatants raved about the excellent quality of the talks and the speakers’ ability to share the faith as well as demonstrate a good sense of humor. Father Jonathan Norton, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Warsaw, began by focusing on being made for relationship with the Father. Small-group discussions and thoughtful, reflective questions followed each talk and helped participants process the experience.
Sister M. Benedicta Duna, OSF, assistant director of campus ministry at the University of Saint Francis, Fort Wayne, discussed being made for relationship with the Son. Her presentation was followed by adoration, confession, free time and a third talk by Father Benjamin Muhlenkamp, pastor of St. Anthony de Padua Parish, South Bend, focusing on relationship with the Holy Spirit. Craft time, prayer and daily Mass celebrated bilingually by Father José Arroyo Acevedo of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Goshen, on Saturday and by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades on Sunday rounded out the formative weekend.
Michaelah Elder of St. John the Evangelist said with a smile that she was “very surprised with the speakers. They were really good — I actually laughed!”
“I feel so blessed that I was able to attend the retreat this weekend. As a Latina attempting to get back in touch with my heritage, I was happy to hear the Mass in both English and Spanish,” Dorinda Brito shared. From St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Elkhart, she chose to come after receiving an invitation from a friend.
“I really enjoyed Holy Night as well with Father Ben,” Brito reflected. “I could feel the Holy Spirit in the room and felt an inner peace that washed away all the past hurt and anxiety I and others had experienced the last year. I hope more people in the Catholic Church and even outside the Church can experience this retreat in the future. It was an amazing experience that I feel has impacted me and has brought me closer to Christ and to Our Lady. It was truly a blessing to be able to go on this retreat.”
Brito was also grateful for the opportunity to lean into her fuller identity as a beloved daughter of God, especially during this Lenten season. The two languages, used during liturgies were helpful as she prayed, and they reflected well the young adult participants.
Father Arroyo Acevedo spoke to this reality during his homily. “It is in God” that we find our identity, he preached. “We are sons and daughters from His love and brought into existence.”
He explained how even Jesus Himself, when He went out on mission at age 30, as a young adult, felt tension between His culture dictating who He was and who the Father called Him to be.
Every culture wrestles with three philosophical questions, Father Arroyo Acevedo said: “Who are we? Where do we come from? Where do we go? But for a Christian today, just as in Jesus’ own time, their sense of belonging must first be as a child of God. Every other distinguishing feature follows that first baptismal call.”
Bishop Rhoades spoke on the theme as well. He first thanked the young people for answering God’s call. “You could have spent this weekend doing a lot of other things with your time. But you came here to pray, to know Jesus better,” he encouraged.
Like the Greeks in Sunday’s Gospel reading, he compared the young people to those who came to the apostles asking to see Jesus. The bishop spoke of how Jesus prepared them to get ready to see Him “in a totally new way, when He is glorified and is beyond the limits of that place and time.
“As the Risen One, Jesus goes beyond the limits of space and time. He shows Himself to us and speaks to us and we speak to Him through His Body, the Church, the community of the Risen Jesus Christ” and through “the bread for all people of all times and places: the bread of life, the Eucharist.”
He then explained that the Sunday’s Gospel of the grain of wheat, falling, dying to bear fruit has in it “the Christian vision of life, in which the principle of love defines the path of life.”
“I imagine we all accept this vision in our minds. It’s living this vision that is the challenge: living according to the truth that it contains, the truth of the cross and resurrection. It takes faith to dare to say ‘yes’ to this truth in the daily situations of our daily life, abandoning ourselves over and over and over again, rather than clinging to ourselves.”
Bishop Rhoades invited those present to “be enveloped by the mystery of Jesus who, as a kernel of wheat, gives us life by dying. Contemplate the crucifix during these (coming) days. See the plant in the seed. See Easter in the cross. See life in death.”
“Deep down we often prefer to cling to ourselves, our own desires, our own pleasure, our own satisfaction,” he said. “But the life Jesus calls us to involves sacrifice and renunciation. Paradoxically, this is what brings joy and peace to our hearts — dying to self, losing our life, serving others, helping others, giving ourselves to others. This is God’s way. This is Jesus’ way — the way of the cross, the way of the seed that dies in the ground.”
He explained that in the coming Holy Week, in the Paschal Mystery, “the cross is not the goal. It’s the passage. The goal is glory. The end is Easter. Love gives birth to life. It gives joy.”
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