Reflections on the 2017 Passionist young adults retreat – Celia Kueh
The 2017 Passionist young adults retreat was held on the weekend of 14 to 16 July 2017, at the Magnificat Retreat Centre near Lake Wairarapa. I found it to be a thoroughly worthwhile opportunity to allow time for reflection on self and our relationship with others and with God. The peaceful surroundings of the Wairarapa countryside and the enjoyable company of fellow retreaters also positively added to the experience.
Tim McDade did a wonderful job of facilitating us on the retreat in five sessions, which had the common thread of ‘Freedom’.
The first session on the topic of ‘Mystery in the contrast’ began with us looking at a series of paintings which demonstrated the difference in people’s perceptions. Tim spoke of the human experience of the pressure to live in a dualistic or binary way, having to choose for one way or another. Our faith has many examples of apparent contradictions: life and death, virgin and mother. We each journaled on the conflicts that came to mind, as instructed, while allowing our self to remain in the tension and not feel the need to have to resolve them, which was a mode which we asked to remain in through the retreat. Tim reminded us that on the Passionist retreats we are met where we are at; that if we are brought out of our comfort zone but not unsafe, risking our self but not vulnerable, we are given an opportunity to grow.
The second session was on self, starting with a video clip on “The Top Five Regrets of The Dying” based on the findings of a palliative nurse. Each were profound lessons on: living a life true to our self, not to others expectations; not working so hard at the expense of family life; having the courage to express our feelings, instead of suppressing them which leads to bitterness and resentment; the importance of giving time and effort to friendships and staying in touch with friends; and choosing to let our self be happy despite whatever happens in life. It was confronting to face up to the regrets that I recognised in myself. However, we can begin anew in living our lives each day.
We next considered the human condition, reading the scripture of Galatians 5:17-23, of being created in flesh and spirit with their opposing desires in conflict within us. We journaled on what desires of the flesh we recognised in us and what we desire of the fruits of the spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Humility, Self-control.
The third session was on our relationship with others, and suffering. The session opened with Tim telling us a Native American saying that our heart is a perfect circle. Each time it is hurt, it is like a knife cutting in, being turned and met with resistance. Over time, being cut makes it easier to be hurt and to hurt others.
Then, we were asked to write two letters, one to someone we want to ask for forgiveness and another to a person we want to give forgiveness, calling to mind the desires of the spirit. As I found it, the task of bringing up past hurts, even ones that you thought you had resolved can be a cathartic, emotionally intense, unburdening experience. The past need not define us and we can choose how we live in the present.
The fourth session was on our relationship with God, exploring the questions of “What is sin?” and “Why did Jesus die on the cross?”
Sin is a turning away from God, His plan for our life, by an action or omission that divides from our true self. The Jewish understanding of sin included that it would be burden to future generations, and was associated with death of the spirit. The phrase “Blessed Sin” is an apparent contradiction. Free will was God’s intention for us. Hence, sin is possible with free will, yet it is an opportunity for God’s mercy, which we lower our self to experience. However, sin leaves scars and it hurts offering our self to ask for forgiveness. Corruption from sin is no longer lowering our self to ask for forgiveness.
Tim referred to a quote “Each symptom of sin is an opportunity for justice with mercy or clemency. Each symptom of sin, each choice, is the birth of another cord to your pool of mercy. Sin is a wonderful gift, for without; we would never experience the wholeness of your mercy.”
As for why Jesus died on the cross, it was to show us the greatness of His love and mercy; sharing our human condition, our suffering, teaching us how good can be brought out of suffering; being the way for us to return to God through mercy, so it is possible for us to make a new start.
Tim said that forgiving someone and being able to have a relationship through that, forges that relationship more than if it was without that pain. It reminded me of the scripture Luke 7:36-50 where the one who will love more, would be the one who was forgiven more.
The Saturday night activities included a lovely roast dinner, followed by a liturgy with music and prayers of intercession, a card tournament and charades and word puzzles.
The fifth session involved us choosing Signposts which were short phrases, one to represent our experience of the retreat and another for our Spirit’s desire for the future. For me it was ‘Allowing stillness’ and ‘Developing insight’. I also liked these others: ‘Noticing beauty’, ‘Celebrating blessings’, ‘Forgiving’, ‘Being thankful’, ‘Letting go’, ‘Looking inside’, ‘Basking in the sun’, ‘Growing in wisdom’, ‘Yearning for freedom’. We also watched the video clip ‘Kid President’s 20 Things We Should Say More Often’, which was worthwhile.
Then, we reflected on Galatians 5:13-14, on true freedom. The whole law is summed up in one commandment: “Love your neighbour as you love yourself”. Freedom is through slavery to love. We then learnt about the lives of heroic saints Blessed Mother Teresa and St. Maximilian Kolbe who gave their lives to serving their neighbour and were truly free to do God’s will. We discussed ‘What were they free from?’ They were free from fear of giving one’s life, from self-serving, ego; from conforming to expectations. We then journaled on ‘What do you wish to be freed from?’ and ‘How are you going to do it?’ We were left with the final quote “He does not love us so that we change, but He loves us so that we can change.”
The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing – Bronnie Ware
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
“This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.”
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
“This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
“Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
“Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.”
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
”This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”
After a cold wintery blast that hit the city earlier in the week, the idea of getting out of the city for a retreat felt even better! Bethelem retreat house at the Magnificat, located in Featherston, has been our retreat haven for the last few years, not forgetting their warm fireplaces and comfortable beds. Tim McDade from the Passionists group in Brisbane led the retreat for the young adults from 14 -16 July. Due to various issues in getting to the retreat house, the friday session was converted into a sing along and games session. Freedom, the theme for the retreat stood well with the 24 young adults present as it’s a grey area in our lives. Tim started off with some regular day to day challenges we face which included our decision making ability, as most of us have to make decisions on the spot and are not allowed to sit on the fence! Sometimes, its worth soaking in the thought, giving it time and let it take its course. Everything is binary around us and we have to make constant ‘Yes/No’, ‘True/False’ decisions which often do not reflect the true nature of the situation. As Catholics, we are often faced with bigger questions like the Holy Trinity, Life after death, Virgin Birth, the Beginning and many other miracles. How could we use these unearthly occurrences, reflect on them and its importance to our personal lives?
Our next session was on biggest regrets in life. Tim gave us time to reflect and journal on what were our biggest regrets in life. One of the biggest regrets (as per research) was that people spent too much time at work and not enough with family. We are in a constant battle between demands of the spirit vs demands of the flesh. Galatians 5:17 states ‘For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.’ The forces of flesh which are sin, wealth and popularity are in constant contradiction to our charity, love and compassion of others which are from the spirit.
Following that session we had a lovely lunch and then wrote letters to people who we have most hurt and the ones who have hurt us the most. The session was called Dear Suffering and was intended to let out, in our journals, our ill feelings towards people and the hurt we are facing. Those letters would not be given to the people intended, however they were a way to get our feeling of sadness and hatred out of the flesh, preparing us for our next session. There were some really tough moments to reflect on, especially when Tim stated, ‘Sin is a wonderful gift, for without, we would never experience the wholeness of your mercy’. Each act of sin gives us an opportunity to reconsider our stance/choices in life. Willful choices which lead to sin can be considered as a learning curve in our understanding of God’s infinite love for us.
The evening ended with dinner and a game of cards called ‘Up and down the river’, which I played for the first time. As much of my naivety showed in the first round of the game, I was out along with a few others who ended up playing charades. Paul emerged the unlikely champion.
The next morning, we took time to reflect on two areas, Noticing beauty and Imagining. This session was led through visual cards which had a range of images and quotes. For me, Noticing beauty was through enjoying the outdoors especially the beautiful setting that the retreat house was set in, beauty in people and friendships building up while Imagining nothing is impossible for the future. Two big questions that we ended on was, What do you wish to be freed from and how are you going to do it, tying us back to the theme of Freedom. We ended the session with a peace hug with everyone and a lovely thank you note by Nick Wilson for Tim McDade. We appreciated the time and effort he took to come over and run the retreat. Special thanks to Linda and Paul Darbyshire for organizing the retreat every year.