Oddly enough, one thing that the Alumni Discernment and Volunteer Program did not feature until this year was a retreat for the young men in service to the school. A retreat would allow the young men in the program to take some time away from school and contemplate their call for the second half of, and after the volunteer year. Thankfully, with the strong support of former AVs and current Arrupe staff John Gill and Pat Valletta, the AVs, under the direction of Fr. John Libens SJ, did indeed make a retreat the first weekend of 2012.
The four of us trekked down to Hinckley Retreat House, a good 45 minute drive south of the city, Friday afternoon around 4. The Lord blessed us with beautiful weather, especially for January. Temperatures were in the mid 40’s; rain was nowhere to be seen, with nary a cloud in the sky. The brilliant sunshine illuminated well the beautiful, peaceful Hinckley landscape: one large ranch style house in the middle of a large wooded area. I could tell we were in for a fruitful weekend.
Upon arriving, the four of us claimed our rooms, set up shop quickly, and proceeded to head immediately to the SJ-famous Angie’s Pizza about ten minutes up the road. (Angie’s was a favorite stopping place of Fr. Jim Lewis, SJ during his time in Cleveland, apparently.) Here the four of us dined on a few fine pizzas and broke in the evening with good conversation. After a stop to stock up on food at the adjacent Giant Eagle, the group headed back to a darkened Hinckley house landscape for a quick meeting to discuss our hopes and plans for the retreat. After this, Fr. Libens left the three of us youngin’s the rest of the evening to relax, enjoy the house’s comforts, and of course spend some good time praying with Scripture and listening to the Lord’s promptings. We took advantage, poring a bit over the words of Jeremiah, before building a boy-scout approved fire (thanks for Andrew) for the rest of the evenings’s conversation (without TV!).
All slept in til the late late hour of ~9am Saturday morning (some of us later than others – namely, me), being dragged out of bed for hopes of bacon and eggs. Saturday morning’s conference with Fr. Libens brought us to thinking about our patterns, our habitual decision making process, and how this affects our discernment for the road ahead. Afterwards, the three of us had time more time to reflect and to explore the well-sunlit grounds. Upon coming back around noontime to discuss the fruits of our prayer, all had good things to share, especially Michael, who had a very allegorical prayer experience (which I hope he will share on the blog soon!). We wrapped up this conference fitting our experiences and reflection into the context of Ignatius’ First Principle and Foundation: “to praise, reverence and serve the Lord our God and thereby save our souls…” The morning concluded with lunch.
We once again had ample time to journal, read, reflect, or spend the time however we pleased in the first part of the afternoon. I chose to go for a run through the pretty Hinckley countryside – a very solid decision. The latter half of the afternoon was spent in one-on-one meetings with Fr. Libens to discuss how our years had been going, what we were thinking and desiring to do in the coming months and year, and how Fr. Libens could be of help to us in our journey. We also had the opportunity for some Sacraments in both Reconciliation and then Eucharist at 5pm. Both were extremely refreshing and a worthy part of any retreat experience. Also refreshing were the tender and perfectly cooked steaks the four of us enjoyed following Mass, prepared by the tag team of Michael and Andrew (thanks, guys!).
Unfortunately, Fr. Libens had been coming down with a cold all weekend and was being hit hard by eveningtide, so we essentially had the whole evening free to spend as we liked, only being advised to read the first three chapters of Mark before bed. Once again the three AVs built a fire in the fireplace and enjoyed good conversation til midnight, accompanied this time by the NFL playoffs.
Before I knew it, Sunday morning had arrived, and the last hours of our retreat had dawned. The group of four had one last conference Sunday morning tied in with the celebration of the Eucharist. These discussions placed our experiences, our prayers, and our service in the context of the person of Christ, for whom the Eucharist and service were two inseparable realities. Afterwards, we cleaned up quickly and departed back for St. Ignatius to give Fr. Libens a much needed break at home!
I’m grateful for my experiences on and the graces of this retreat, especially the quality time spent with my brother AVs after the Christmas holidays, and the graces of the Sacraments we received. I am sure that this (and perhaps another summer retreat?) will become an annual staple for the Alumni Discernment and Volunteer Program.