“Do what God tells you to do.”
This was the refrain heard throughout the second annual Ephphatha Retreat. The retreat, held at the St. Felix Catholic Center in Huntington, hosted 85 women from Friday, February 2, to Sunday, February 4. It was a time of prayer, reflection, and learning about the Catholic faith and community.
The origin of the Ephphatha Retreat was a lesson in “do what God tells you to do” for Sarah Bishop, a parishioner at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Fort Wayne. Bishop said “yes” to attending a women’s event, which led her to a Christ Renews His Parish retreat. There, on retreat, in the sanctuary with Jesus, she heard His call to offer women the opportunity to spend time with Jesus and to be open to discerning His call.
Ephphatha (“be opened”) are the words Jesus spoke to the deaf and mute man in the Gospel of Mark. Being open to hearing God’s word and then acting upon it is both the theme and objective of the Ephphatha retreat.
“Every aspect of this weekend has been prayerfully discerned to create an ambience of ‘openness through simplicity,’” Bishop said in her opening remarks to those in attendance. “Everything is stripped down to be simple yet lovely. The weekend has been designed to let the beauty of love – love from the One who loves you most – shine through.”
Bishop worked alongside a team of other women to bring the retreat to fruition. She reiterated how the team had prayed for the retreat’s attendees long before the weekend began.
Father Stephen Felicichia, Pastor of St. Mary of the Lake in Culver, was the Retreat Master, leading retreatants throughout the weekend, teaching classes, leading the Liturgy of the Hours, hearing confessions, and presiding over Mass.
“To be your teacher is a beautiful piece of my calling,” Father Felicichia said in his opening remarks. “I am literally at your service, all weekend. It is an honor, not lost on me, to be appointed to oversee the spiritual formation of the flock. I am grateful and blessed to step into this piece of my calling as Ephphatha’s Retreat Master.”
Father Felicichia taught several classes throughout the weekend. The first, on prayer, featured the music of St. Hildegard of Bingen. He indicated how music ties us emotionally to our surroundings and can help draw us into deep prayer with Our Lord.
In Father Felicichia’s class on Our Lady Undoer of Knots, he shared the origin story of this devotion and emphasized how our Blessed Mother wants to help us with all our problems – but acknowledged that it is up to us to ask.
His third class of the weekend taught the history of St. Joan of Arc and how the faithful can look to her as an example of bravery, patience, and perseverance. During this class, Father Felicichia shared stories of growing up with a mother who exemplified these virtues and how he learned to be brave as a Field Artillery Officer in the U.S. Army.
In addition to Father Felicichia, three other priests led classes and heard confessions throughout the weekend.
Father Mark Hellinger, Parochial Vicar at St. John the Baptist in Fort Wayne, joined the retreat on Saturday and led the retreatants in a class on sacramentals, which are signs that convey the presence of God and include things such as blessings, incense, holy water, rosaries, etc. He spoke about how sacramentals are biblically based, defined the four types, explained the historical background, and instructed how to use them well daily.
On Sunday, Father Terry Coonan, Pastor at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, led a class on St. Therese of Lisieux and how her complete and total love of Jesus was the focus of all aspects of her life, including daily encounters with people who were hard to love.
Father Jake Schneider, Associate Pastor at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, was on site to hear confessions.
Although the retreat had scheduled classes and discussion time, it was emphasized to the retreatants to “do what God is telling you to do.”
“Go to the classes you choose,” Father Felicichia said. “Pray how He moves you to pray, when He moves you to pray. Go to confession. Embrace fellowship. Visit the prayer team. Let Him lead you away from the crowd for a joy-filled retreat from the noise. We are here to set you on fire. Wherever you are on your personal Ephphatha journey, we are here to help you please God, be opened further, and moved farther in His name.”
The adoration chapel at St. Felix was open for 15 hours throughout the weekend. The retreat team also had four women from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s Inner Healing Prayer Ministry on site to pray with individuals for emotional, mental, and physical healing.
Most retreatants were from the Fort Wayne area, but several traveled from the South Bend/Mishawaka region. Diane Freeby, parishioner at St. Monica in Mishawaka, attended Ephphatha for the first time.
“What a wonderful time to unplug from the daily routine and reconnect with Jesus and His Mother,” Freeby said. “I think my favorite part was spending time in adoration, especially Saturday after Evening Prayer until the beautiful midnight Benediction and closing. The theme of the weekend was ‘Do whatever He tells you,’ and I felt the gentle nudging to stay longer and ‘be’ in front of the Blessed Sacrament – something I wouldn’t normally be able to do at home. It was intimate and communal, sharing these gifts with so many other women across the diocese,” Freeby said.
Bishop said she and her team are already praying and planning for next year.
“God is already bringing us pieces,” she said. “We are currently discerning His plan for the next step in our Ephphatha journey.”
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