This last weekend, we held the first "Called & Chosen" vocation discernment retreat for this school year at our camp at the Russian River. This one was for young men; the one for young women from our schools is held next January. The location is one that has been a recreation spot for the Brothers of the District since the 1920's. Within the last ten years or so, the place has increasingly been made available for various retreat occasions or meetings. It's just the right location for those who want to get away for awhile and sort of rough it (no private bathroom or showers, but hot water and all the other comforts of home). And there is a terrific view of the river.
This year we had 13 young men from five of our high schools join us for the retreat, along with four Brothers, four other adult leaders, a Dominican priest and good friend of the Brothers, and a third-grader (son of one of the adult leaders). The retreat was organized and led by Ms. Marilyn Paquette, with whom I work in vocation ministry. She is the retreat pro, both in preparation and execution, and is a fine resource and participant for something like this.
Although we only spend about 48 hours together, the activities and input is such that by the end of that time, these young men have seriously looked at their faith journey up to this point, listened to others speak about their vocational journeys (a married couple, a single person, a priest, and several religious), discussed and asked questions in large and small groups, spent several sessions in guided meditation, prayer and Mass, enjoyed recreational time together, cooked and cleaned up, visited the ocean nearby, and the like, gradually coming to a better understanding of the direction of their lives.
Like most retreats, times like this are opportunities to focus on specific aspects of our lives... and intentionally so. We seem to spend so much time doing other things - all those necessary things, you know - that when we do take time to "step aside" for a while, all sorts of internal dynamics can kick in with a minimum of effort, as if they had been waiting in the wings all the time, hopping from one foot to the next in anxious anticipation of getting center stage. Retreats are a time when the really important stuff can get to center stage. Most of the time those of us who organize or "lead" such retreats just set up the structure, guide a bit of the process, and get out of the way. And so it was on this retreat.
Along the way, we find out that there's a lot more to other people (and to ourselves) than first meets the eye. Yes, we already thought so. But unless you experience it every once in a while, the conviction can begin to fade away. And we discover that within the nooks and crannies of our experience, something good and graced and helpful is more present than we realize, bringing us to know ourselves more deeply and guiding us in imperceptible, quiet ways.
It's good to pay attention to that sort of thing occasionaly. It was good to help others do so as well. The results of our efforts, both in respect to ourselves and in respect to others, we will not, we should not, and we can not know. But it's enough to know that it all makes a difference.