Encountering Mystery

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.


Ms. Juliana C. Vossenberg

Hello! My name is Juliana Vossenberg, and I hail from Fredericksburg, Virginia. I am a sophomore Theology/Religious Studies major with Biology and Philosophy minors. In addition, I am on the pre-medicine track and in the Special Jesuit Liberal Arts Honors Program. I sing in the Performance Choir, am a member of the Health Professions Organization, and work as a writing fellow at the CTLE's Writing Center.

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