I had my reservations; I had never attended a youth retreat before and being someone who likes to practise my faith personally, I was nervous about what I would be expected to do, say or discuss openly.
I was greeted warmly at St Catherine’s Catholic College, Singleton, and others soon began arriving. Everyone was welcoming and friendly and I never felt like I was on the outer. We headed to the library to begin getting to know each other and a wonderful liturgy followed. This was a reflection on faith, brought to life by some upbeat, appropriately themed music. We also got creative, painting our feet and walking along a strip of canvas, signifying the spiritual journey we were willing to take that weekend. I loved this, and placed it in the memory bank to use with the older primary students as a reflective activity one day.
To be honest, the term ‘paschal mystery’ hadn’t loomed large in my world, although its reality wasn’t unfamiliar. The retreat offered a number of opportunities to explore this idea in good company and to have a taste of living, albeit briefly, ‘in community’.
Retreat facilitator and wise woman Sr Patricia Egan asked us to consider how we are all called to be a person of faith, to grow in our faith and to show our faith. We were guided through a ‘Lenten journey’, reflecting and sharing our thoughts and interpretations of the ‘paschal mystery’ – the life, death and resurrection of Jesus – today. Sr Patricia posed a very thoughtprovoking question: “How can a good God allow bad things to happen to good people?”. This sparked deep thought and interesting debates. It also led me to consider several different possibilities that I hadn’t before, such as the mystery of God’s will and how, like Jesus in his final days, we keep our faith alive when it is tested.
Fr Siegel Koder’s paintings – vibrant, layered with meaning and grotesquely detailing Jesus' passion and death – led to profound reflection, and one realisation was that we all have burdens and crosses to bear, just as Jesus did. As Christians, we also have a responsibility to assist others bearing their crosses.
We participated in the parish celebration of Mass with Frs George Mullappallil and Peter Street presiding. The film Calvary (2014) sparked strong opinions and speculation about the intent of the filmmakers with reference to the personal struggle of Jesus in his final days.
Sr Patricia led us further into the mystery of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection and its importance within the Christian faith. Although our faith has many ‘mysteries’, the messages of the gospels and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus are what ring true for me. Put simply, I am striving to live my life as Jesus did and to consider others before myself.
The retreat concluded with us walking out along the footprints we had made at the beginning. We were sent forth to continue our journey, and I did so with greater confidence.
One of the gifts of the retreat for me was the reassurance of knowing others have the same questions and concerns about their faith as I have. I emerged from the weekend feeling more connected and accepted into a faith community. I also returned home feeling relaxed, refreshed and ready to tackle the rest of the term!