Several weeks ago, I and 30 other students ventured to the University’s retreat house on Chapman Lake for a weekend retreat. Last year, one of the campus ministers reached out to me, asking if I would help to lead the Mystery Retreat. I happily agreed after learning about the retreat’s focus. The word “mystery” in the retreat’s title refers to “mystagogia,” a term for the first year after a catechumen is received into the Catholic Church. During this new and exciting year, converts live in the mystery of God — they are faced with questions about the paradoxical truths of their new faith and about how to live well as a Catholic. They question everything.
The idea for this retreat was to revive the spirit of questioning among Catholic students at the University. Too often, we cease to live an adult faith that questions and we instead resign ourselves to a childish faith that blindly accepts doctrine without understanding foundational principles. The retreat seems to have been inspired by something St. Paul says in 1st Corinthians: “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things” (1 Cor 13:11). The Mystery Retreat was designed as a time for Catholic students to put away their childish faiths and enter into a period of questioning that would help them to discover the adult reasoning that supports Catholicism.
I can’t give too much away about the retreat, but I’ll describe one of the most interesting small group activities we did. On a large sheet of paper, we wrote down aspects of Jesus from the gospels. For example, my group’s descriptions of Jesus included “compassionate,” “counter-cultural,” “Jewish,” “storyteller,” and “loves children.” We wrote down close to 60 words describing Jesus! Then, we chose a hot-button moral topic and attempted to respond to it with the use of our Jesus-descriptors. What, for example, is the “compassionate” response to the question of homosexuality? What is the “counter-cultural” response to the issue of abortion? How would a “storyteller” deal with the death penalty? In this activity, we had the opportunity to try our hand at what the Church has done for the past 2000 years — develop moral thought based on the character of Jesus. We experienced firsthand the difficulties of applying the gospel to modern issues, but we were also surprised at the solutions we came to, many of which were exactly what the Church teaches.
Overall, the retreat was a great success. When we arrived back to campus for Sunday Mass, I felt that the retreatants “led” the rest of the congregation, singing and listening attentively. I was grateful that I had helped them to rediscover what it means to be joyfully Catholic.