So I'm sitting here next to the St. Charles river and I watching the water flow by. I see some of the leaves on the trees begin to change and the colors on one of them remind me of the color of sand.
Just a week ago I was on the sands of Oak Island, North Carolina. No, I wasn't on holiday, but it was going to be an adventure. An adventure in holiness, because on that Island, surrounded by those grains of sand 200 plus young people came to find Christ and I was there to see Him show Himself to them.
Way back in January the Youth Minister of St. Mary Magdeline Catholic Church in Apex, North Carolina asked me to join her, Chris Padgett, Ike Ndolo, along with the youth from St. Peter's Catholic Church in Greensville, North Carolina for a retreat. I'm always up for a retreat, so i said, "Yes."
The months past and now I find myself, having arrived in North Carolina, driving onto the Ft. Caswell Retreat Center. I know many of you are saying, "Ft. Caswell Retreat Center? That doesn't sound right!" To be perfectly honest, I thought the same thing as we drove in past the walls of this old, Civil War era fort which had been converted into a retreat center back in the late 1940's by a group from the Baptist tradition. Yet, I thought of such things as the great Hymn, "A Mighty Fortress if Our God," or the passage from the Book of Psalms which reads, "You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, say to the Lord, 'My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.'" And then it made so much more sense to me how perfect a place a fort is for a retreat. Here these young people would have a safe place to find Our Lord in the midst of the chaos they live through every day of their lives.
A breeze has kicked up and the sandy leaves from the tree are blowing across the air currents and landing gently in the river where they keep moving away from me. I begin to think of the young people who drifted in from the lives they have in different High Schools, different Parishes, different cities, different parts of a state and yet, they all seem to be landing in the gentle waters of Our Lord's mercy for this weekend.
Like a leaf on the wind they seem a bit tossed about as they arrive, but very soon, they enter into the heaviness of the theme, "Give God Permission." By the end of the first night, I find myself sitting on the floor in the prayer room listening to some incredibly profound Confessions. Watching hearts lighten and breath return to bodies that held the air tight within themselves as they offered their sins to the merciful forgiveness of God. I could tell from this moment on that these young people longed to find Christ in this fortress of faith we had come to.
The next day I was moved by how these young people, and wonderfully giving adults quickly moved themselves from one experience of Christ to another. From periods of listening to speakers, to singing of song, to praying together, to running through the ruins of the fort and along the sands of the beach. With each of these events, they found, whether they realized it or not, that Christ was revealing Himself to them, through moments of intensity and moments of recreation. It was a blessing to be invited to share and celebrate this time.
The last evening of the retreat we processed with the Blessed Sacrament through the compound (I only image what some of our Baptist friends might have been thinking, but I hope is was... "Those Catholic may be a lot of things... but the really do know how to make an entrance!"). And after the time of Adoration I again found myself in the prayer room becoming an instrument of God's grace for these young people as they kept pouring out the gritty sands of their sins and drinking from the river of God's forgiveness. Before I knew it... it was almost 1:00am... I was tired and enthused (filled with God as the word literally means) at the same time.
As we made our farewells the next day and I headed back to the airport I was being pulled back to those moments of Sacramental grace I was a part of during the past few days and I was struck by the fact. I say a lot. I write a lot. I stand before thousands of people at times. Yet, one of the most important things I will ever do will have nothing to do with my words, of literary style, or my performance behind any podium. The most important things I will do will be in the closeness of a small room where I tell someone that their sins are forgiven, and the Lord actually does the forgiving, or in the intimacy of of speaking the words of institution as the Holy Spirit changes bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, or the gentleness of pouring water over someone who is entering the Church through the waters of Baptism, or the finality of being present to someone who is moving from this life to the next as I anoint their head and hands.
This is my vocation!
The leaves have slowed there drifting and the waters have carried away all those that had already fell. I'm filled with a sense of hopefulness. Of what the changing of the seasons mean and the fact that through all the changes of the past, this river has kept flowing.
Thank you to all the young people of St. Mary Magdeline and St. Peter for letting me see the changing of my heart in this glorious life of a Priest I've been called to and I hope you have been able to see the changelessness of God's Love which will flow through the entirety of your lives.
Have a blessed day everyone. You are all in my prayers.