By Our Surroundings – Steubenville Main Campus 2 Pt. 2

Saturday’s morning was still ongoing as the men’s session finished with a different yet absolutely perfect way of ending or starting, depending on how you look at it.
Sean Forrest had us band together as brothers, inviting the Holy Spirit as we prayed in circles that we formed, our hands on each others’ shoulders.   Intimidating?  You bet it was.  Our unity however, was what gave us the strength to continue onward.  As iron sharpens iron, so man sharpens fellow man.
I was tempted to jump up and kind of cheer when he mentioned that verse, because I love that.  There is so much truth in those words.  We tend to form based on who we surround ourselves with, and so that united prayer was a rare moment of true strength in the face of every negative influence seen back home.

At this point, it was lunchtime, and I made my way towards partaking of a quick meal so I’d be in time for the Senior Workshop.  I was still munching on an apple as I sat down next to Annie, Liam, and a few other of my Saint Gertrude friends in the… room near the aerobics room.  It was upstairs, that’s all I remember.  Have you ever tried quietly eating an apple?  It’s… not quite successful.  What made it funny was that a person in the row ahead of me was also munching an apple.  We locked gazes as we both noticed the (not so silent) crunchy eating noises emanating from the other’s direction, then we started laughing.  Apples: scaring doctors and making people meet.

IMG_0404 (2)

The talk was focused on life after high school, something I’m positive many of the gathered – myself included – were unsure of.  The point: we needed a battle strategy for remaining true to our faith as Catholics through college and beyond.
We have two rather different mindsets we experience at certain ages:  Passionate and Rational; the former being from about 18 to 25, and the latter being all the years beyond.
In our passionate stage, we tend to be more… formative or susceptible to strong feeling, especially if we are bombarded by it constantly.  These feelings may not be very deep, but they can affect us greatly if we are not careful.
As mimetic creatures, always imitating what we are exposed to, whether aware of it or not, we needed a good community, among other things.
So, three things to look for in college, especially for those who had yet to choose:
– A good curriculum that speaks the truth
– [Solid] Catholic Professors who teach what is good, right, and just.
– Fellow students who help us form correctly, Catholic or not, though obviously the former is helpful in keeping one accountable to the faith.

By this point, I’d already chosen a college close to home, so I did listen, but took more careful note of the first and last, with the understanding that most teachers I will have will be secular, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
I know they will leave impressions on me however, and it is for this reason that I need that guiding force found in the teachings of the Church (e.g. the Catechism) to keep me firmly planted.  Going back to what I learned from Eagle Eye, those teachings as well as the good sense that my parents provide (imperfect as they may be at times, God bless them) will serve to make me that flowing river, or that tomato plant that is ever directed upward, reaching for the sky.  I will take what I can, and appropriate those truths.
And yet, as Chris said, that preparation is never finished… it’s our lifetime’s journey in growth.  A growth for all things living.  Just our human nature.

Those were the main points of the talk, the rest was about personal stewardship and also taking care to avoid debt if possible (which also falls under stewardship I realize).  It wouldn’t be worth it, and while God can make good out of bad, I doubt debt is something He’d require of us in order to reach our truest vocations.  Just a good thing for me personally to keep in mind when I consider my path.

Part of me wants to keep writing the next bit, but I realize that such a long post might lead to utter confusion, so in the interest of keeping things simple, consider this the second of… maybe five!

TBC – M

Split Second – Steubenville Main Campus 2 Pt. 1

Let me set the stage for you: Less than a week after Eagle Eye ended, immediately after a trip to Michigan, with barely any life left to spend at home, I was up and vanished again for another weekend.

Trip 2: Steubenville Conference, Main Campus 2

It was one of those moments where the thought: “Oh Dear Lord I hope I don’t die on my way there” entered my head as I was driving to Saint Gertrude.

The morning had started off well, cool and lovely… and rather humid to be honest.
I was wearing my SGYM shirt for the 2015-2016 year, thinking on how this was the moment; yet another part in this high school finale. Yes, I was living the dream: a last round of adventures before college struck with its full intensity.  Then again… I was ready for everything to be over. Summer left too many gaps for thought, and I hated having blank spaces of laziness (although I’ll be the first to admit those spots happened a lot).

So there I was, driving along, knowing I’d be a bit late since I drive pretty slow in comparison to others. As life would have it, I was late, and I ended up sprinting for the registration table.  We got through things in short order, my excitement rising as I saw all my friends, called their names, cracked a few jokes and horrific puns, and loaded the bus alongside them.  I rode the first half of the journey in Brad’s car along with a number of others that I confess I don’t all remember, so I shan’t write any names here besides one: Johnny. The reason I easily remember him was because we went to pick him up in his spontaneous and utterly last minute decision to join us for the great journey.

It passed more quickly than I expected, and we stopped for food at an Arby’s and a Wendy’s. My small group was in the Arby’s, but I was digging a Wendy’s meal, so… I felt quite guilty when I walked into the other restaurant to join my small group.  Peter, Pablo, Connor, Maria, Emily, Catherine, Katherine, Johnny, and I, led by Theresa. At least, that’s how I remember them… I could be so wrong, it has been a month.  Upon arriving, we the men went to Assisi Heights, while the girls went… elsewhere. I honestly never did figure out where, even from last year.

The first night’s main speaker Chris, gave us this odd little exercise which focused in on our listening skills, basically showing how once we get fixated on one way or word in our heads, we tend not pay attention if that has to say… change.  So when he said a word – Go was the first one – we were supposed to simultaneously grab the finger of the person to our right which was resting in our open palm and avoid the same situation with the person to our left.  I had Brad on my left and Annie on my right, so you can imagine how well that went. Then… it switched around. Side situations changed and so did the word. There went my coordination in the blink of an eye. Annie managed to elude me two thirds of the time, and Brad caught my finger every single time. I was partially amused, partially aggravated. I was slower than my youth minister?!

In the embarrassed aftermath I experienced, Paul Kim came up to introduce the theme in this fantastic display of his God-given talents: Beatboxing. I don’t remember how the talk went, for my notes are all jumbled as well as few and far between, but it focused around two of Jesus’ last words on the cross: I Thirst
Not only was Christ saying that He was literally thirsty, but that He was thirsting for us. For our redemption.  We ourselves have a thirst for the infinite, and it allows us to discover the living God in His greatness.  That was what stood out to me, and it was with that knowledge that we broke for small groups to digest that thought (rather quickly) before heading for our sleeping quarters.

I didn’t sleep well. You can see why below, but it had to be done. It wasn’t so much the arrangements as it was the conditions I slept under. Humid air doesn’t agree with me, and that was the big thing. My scapular was damp against my chest from my uncharacteristically quick and speedy shower, and beyond making it rather uncomfortable, it might have actually left a mark.  Plastic.  Blah.

IMG_0377

I woke up, made it to breakfast quickly alongside Kevin, and just sat, munching on food at the rally point: The Saint Francis statue, claimed by Saint Gertrude’s.

It was a quiet, sunny day, and I kept deliberating at the bookstore, trying to decide whether to buy t-shirts. Spoiler alert: I gave in eventually.

We had our morning session and Mass, and it was just as joyful as I remembered from last year, if a bit more cramped than normal, my knees pressed into the chair in front of me as I knelt.

And then… the men’s session at the Glory Tent. It’s a real thing, look it up maybe.  Manhood. What our speaker had to say about it was not what one might expect, and yet it was brilliantly inspiring. He started off his talk by drawing from his own experience about his past before he committed to his faith. By the end, he had found his way to, not what I would call the other end of the spectrum, but another image of great importance to understand: Priesthood.

The two images intertwined as he told us about his wife’s near death experience, how he had fervently prayed and begged for her life, and how other Fathers, priests, had come to his aid.  Three answered the call, and they were there with him, two sides of that same coin of Fatherhood, both images of true manliness, united.  I can hardly articulate what needs to be said, and yet I can easily say that it affected me.
To one side, that heart wrenching begging, that crying out, that protective spirit that can’t bear to see those you love suffering… that’s me.
And yet on the other, another aspect that I desire: that calm trust in the Lord’s mercy.

I knew this was another movement in my spirit from what began at Eagle Eye. I recalled the openness I had allowed in myself with God’s help, and I found it almost amusing, the way things continued to flow and connect. And it was hardly done with this retreat either. Still isn’t.

TBC – M

The Way It Began (A Return) – Eagle Eye Teen Summer Institute Pt. 16 or Finale

I woke up with the exhilarating knowledge in my head that I was homeward bound. Oh the bittersweet feeling. It’s always there, every single retreat, whether it’s taken the blink of an eye or longer, there remains that pull towards home.  It all comes under the human experience I think. That sense of belonging, of having that starting point to cling to when all else is starting to shift. That’s probably why moving hurts so much… but I digress.

I did make it in time for silent prayer, only stopping to take pictures of the sunrise as it touched the basilica and breathe in the cool morning air.
We prayed morning lauds, our hearts so united with our voices that you could hear everything we’d put into them as we sang and chanted.  It was a beautiful moment that can never really be recaptured, no matter how hard one might try.

Breakfast was a talkative affair as we prepared for everything that needed to happen.  We ran back upstairs to finish packing up belongings, and then congregated in the dining room for Father Nathan’s Spirit of the Eagle.  The main point in all that he said: The Eagle Eye retreat was not meant to fill us, as one might expect from a retreat, but instead to empty us, leave us yearning, thirsting, for something greater.  And yet we weren’t meant to leave Eagle Eye.  We were charged with taking what we’d learned and holding it fast, and that was the way we would keep it alive and burning, locked forever in our hearts.

As the talk wrapped up with much cheering, we trooped outside to the grassy field, breathing in the air and taking… groupies.  Not selfies, groupies, because I couldn’t resist.  If I never saw these people again, I wanted a collection of their faces.  Kinda like a face… album.  No, that joke didn’t pan out.  It’s not like I’m going to print out the faces and put them in a book!  No, certainly not!

So began the long arduous task of cleaning everything.  We brought every little thing down to the Saints’ Francis and Clare dining room, and took to sweeping up the remains of everything upstairs, replacing trash cans, drinking water every so often, and constantly reminiscing about what had taken place during the past week.
For those of you who have been following, I don’t think I really managed to emphasize the journey.  Yes, we learned about philosophy and theology to an extent, but they were not the all encompassing points of the week.  There was, at the deeper heart of the matter, the understanding that there was a progression, an adventure to explored, and I apologize if that never quite came through.

We had been called to greatness, and our answer was to reach the peaks as eagles, forging something that would mark us forevermore… and perhaps it did, in many ways.  There’s more to that point in the future, I promise you.  But for now…

I was racing up and down the stairs, carrying things, singing random songs exultantly and at the top of my lungs to the point where it annoyed some people.  I do apologize, I was lacking sleep and on the end of retreat high.  Singing about carrying things, singing about missing these people that I’d grown to view as a great big family, the usual thing you might expect from me in my madness.  Unfortunately, I was already getting into the mindset of thinking people gone before they truly were…
I think I tend to hurt people this way, and while it’s quite selfish of me, I just want to spare myself the pain of having it suddenly and instantly become a truth, surely something quite common to the human experience.

We had everything down, we finished one truly final choir session, and then it was into the basilica for a last prayer in front of our Lady of Consolation, as pilgrims and mass-goers from everywhere looked on in askance and astonishment at the sheer number of us crowded before the side altar rail.

Father Nathan blessed us at the prayer’s conclusion, and we headed downstairs into the crypt for Mass.  As part of the choir, I was privileged to sit in the front two rows as an odd tenor.  I say that because I honestly never did figure out whether I actually fit at all.  Voice lessons would do me good one day.
All that aside, Father’s homily on the importance of being a father was just… awe-inspiring.  There are no words to describe, and yet I couldn’t have recorded if I had wanted to, there was so much more in it than just the way he preached.  There was the passion in his eyes as he spoke, a fire burning, yearning to spread as he had hoped it would to each of us.  For indeed, joy is not something that can be kept within, locked internally, it must be released with all the force of an inferno.

It ended too quickly, and suddenly I was carrying my backpack(s) to the cafeteria, my feet dragging under the weight, as well as my own reluctance to leave.  How could I?  Just when I was getting comfortable with all these fine individuals, it was time to go?!
I didn’t manage to bid everyone goodbye, that’s the sad thing.  Many people left before I could, or were back at the retreat house, which I never looked back at.
I took pictures to try and capture what had happened, and those who I’d met, but… even their names start to fade.  By the time I am reunited, I’m sure I’ll have forgotten what face belongs to which… yet it wasn’t all bad in that ending.
It’s like… having an extended family.  You might not remember all your cousins and aunts and uncles – or at least their names, anyway – but they’re still family, and it can inspire you to muster up the courage to attempt to reconnect with them… one day.
I can only hope that it’s sooner rather than later.

And as I walked away from the happy scene of Father, CJ, Patrick, and Ethan all playing their respective instruments for the crowd of merry onlookers, I figured it wasn’t a bad way to go out.

Then again, I never left.

End – M

To The Final Night – Eagle Eye Teen Summer Institute Pt. 15

We guys ate food next as the girls who desired to went back for another swim. I had some fantastic pudding thing. It was really quite rich tasting. We finished our afternoon on the farm by closing with an early vespers, standing there in a wide circle, feeling every breath of air as the wind whistled around us, the cars driving past.  Upon our return, we had our final theology class, going into a bit of Revelation, where we see God’s justice playing out and our participation in it at the end of time.
My notes there were lacking.  So lacking.

Now I’ll be perfectly honest, like I always strive to be, but I’ve forgotten so very much of that last evening, it’s almost depressing.  I remember dinner, having a last fantastic round of entertainment, the cheering, the laughter… but the details, the finer points, are all gone.

I know we had our last hour of adoration together, I can still picture standing and kneeling in the loft, looking at everyone in prayer before God in the Blessed Sacrament. And yet other words fail me… I remember serving Benediction with Dan and Father Francis, watching as He was placed in the tabernacle, and all the while outside, the sounds of life as people went about as the festival ran its course.  What happened between then and our departure is also lost. If there was anything, my brain never retained it and I regret that deeply. Yet…

Running. That’s what happened as we grabbed all our things. Just racing towards the vans for the second time that day as we learned that our traditional campfire at the shrine’s fire ring wouldn’t be able to happen.  We got into the vans as the darkness deepened in the night sky. I remember singing and shouting like a madman before we truly loaded ourselves onto the bus.

Half an hour and several wrong turns later, our convoy of vans made it to the host home around… oh… around 8 or 9pm. Already late, we rushed to make sure the chairs were set and the fire lit.  Then my small group had an emergency convention to finalize our skit.  Heh.
We delivered it with much gusto, considering the impromptu nature of its creation, barely holding in our nervous laughter as we played it out: Father Nathan, Brother Mairesean, and Father Francis daydreaming in adoration. And then… Brother Benedict coming in for the ending blow. Literally.

There were songs, art, and poetry, and then… well, I mean, I had a song.  I couldn’t resist the urge… so I asked Sister Kareen if she still had any spots left, and by the grace of God, I managed to fit into the schedule that was already so tightly packed.
I sang Like The Dawn by The Oh Hellos, calling to mind Adam’s first sighting of Eve. It just felt like it fit, even if I was so warbly and quaking in my knees.
Oh, but Father Nathan’s harmonica, CJ’s guitar, Ethan’s banjo, and Greg’s flute (pretty sure it was a flute and not a piccolo anyway) combined… sweet greatness it was good.
As we ended that night in prayer, we knew, final as it was, that that gathering was only the beginning for us. There was so much more to come.

And it was with that knowledge in mind that I fell into slumber more than an hour later.

TBC – M

In The Waters… – Eagle Eye Teen Summer Institute Pt. 14

“Oh dear, we are in trouble.” – My thought while doggedly swimming.

My plan to finish before Abide failed, so now I’m just writing to finish before everything fades. There’s a part of me that regrets that I’m basically rushing this now, but my brain can only keep so much! I promise if there’s anything I feel I need to expand upon further, I will.

Flashback a good seven or eight hours.  I was up in time for morning lauds, that much I said before.

Today was a talkative breakfast! In honor of Mary, we abandoned our traditional silence and ate and laughed uproariously. Because honestly, our Mum would be so proud of our crazily unique personalities.

What followed was a final gathering for Lectio, something I wish I had documented. I think that was the day we took the green benches on the field and sat around, partially doing Lectio and partially planning for the final campfire. It actually kinda hurts to say that, even though it’s in the past already… but then, now so much else is as well.  For our final philosophy class… you know what, I’m done saying final for a bit. It bugs me too much, so I’m just going for it:

Justice is not abstract, nor is it universal as shown in law, for especially in cases of law, justice is found in its application to particular situations, in real contexts. Not every case is the same, and they require an individual, particular response.
Justice, going back to that first point found in the nature of things, is when the agent/lawbreaker is given his due, and as we have already explored, their due is advancement. In the case of lawbreakers, the truly just decision must be one characterized by rehabilitation to allow their growth to continue.
How do we make such a decision? It requires love. Because how else would we be willing to at least try to help the person grow and become who they really are more perfectly?
Just justice can be loving, and all love must be just.

Thus we see that justice in its truest form is part of love, of God’s infinite mercy, for they require one another for fulfillment.

Possibly confusing, but I truly did try, I assure you.
What followed next was a quick choir session, then it was Mass time. I headed for the back to get vested and found one of… well… not totally unreasonable fit. I kept nearly tripping however, which was not good for Mass.

After Mass, something happened that was best described as a run for everywhere.
We had to get to our rooms, get changed, grab everything we might need for an afternoon on a farm, and then meet at the vans.  Our time spent there was something else, let me tell you.  The girls took first swimming shift while the guys crowded one room in the host family’s house and watched Tomas (?) playing the piano, one of Beethoven’s pieces I believe.  It was just… phenomenal.  We then headed for the pond as the girls finished their swimming some minutes later.

Let’s set the stage though: little raft + lots of guys = king of the… raft.  Naturally, I was booted off in short order, and, deciding to head for shore, I took off swimming.

Unfortunately for myself… I had underestimated the distance back.  The raft had drifted beyond the center of the lake towards the far side, and so I miscalculated.  As I was swimming, my legs, which had already been in pain earlier, stopped.  They stopped.  Couldn’t move them properly, couldn’t generate any reasonable propulsion, and I was still a good 30 or 40 feet from shore.  I didn’t panic just then, but I felt myself sliding into an upright position, my mouth swallowing a good amount of water in the process as I went down.  I considered attempting emergency treading, but dismissed the idea rather quickly, instead gamely pushing on toward shore using basically just my arms.  Oh my weak legs, how useless you were.  I was so close to shore when I went fully under, and that’s when the slight panic but also rather amused thoughts set in:

“Oh dear, my eulogy is going to be beyond lame.” was one thought, and the picture that came to mind was of the other Eaglets saying: “Dude, you seriously had to go and drown on the second to last day, didn’t you?”
It was only a few moments after completing such morbid thoughts that I felt my hand touch pebbles, but alas, they were slippery and my feet had nothing to stand on, so with everything that was left in me, I clambered out by the tips of my fingers.
I dragged myself onto the grass, and just lay there gasping for a moment, thinking: “Yeah, that’s me done for the day.”

TBC – M

Before The Dawn – Eagle Eye Teen Summer Institute Pt. 13

I awoke with hardly a drowsy feeling this time. Perhaps it was the prospect of seeing Jesus that got me into that state, perhaps it was just a particular grace that I received. At any rate, I was up and dressed to go, my mind startlingly clear as I started down the steps to our little chapel in the retreat house.

Quietly, Cameron and I walked in and moved to opposite ends of the room, I myself gauging where the clearest position was. I had no wall to put my back to, that would have made it too easy to fall asleep, so I knelt there briefly before seating myself in a more comfortable position.  Turmoil had been expected at seeing a number of others there, yet oddly, they calmed me more than anything during that time.

It was in that hour that I prayed, not as forcibly as I would in times of great distress (it’s not a great picture, involves a lot of me babbling non-stop and rather incoherently), but instead in a collected manner, my mind racing along a guided path, forming connections as they came to me.  I thought of my friends that were there in that hour with me, my family and others scattered to the winds, and the blank slate that was the future. I tried journaling, reading from Revelation, all oddly quiet in this old head of mine. Nothing really spoke with the force of a rampaging bull, and yet…

I don’t normally share what I write in my journal during adoration, but for this one occasion, I’ll make an exception.  My odd words are as follows, written that night when my mind was deceptively void:

“Lord, I ask that before You grant me the gift of knowing my vocation, You first grant me the strength, sense of justice, the righteousness, and the wonder of a good man. Whatever I be called to be.”

Plain and simple. I confess, I was confused when I went to sleep an hour later, but it seemed to make sense when I awoke later that day. I wasn’t meant to know yet, for I was – and still am – stuck in this instant gratification mindset that Brother Philip spoke to me about, something that had to be changed. And I personally think, if I did know right here and now, I’d be smashed flat with the foreknowledge of what I’d be undertaking. And thus, it is in that that I can take some small comfort, being free to live in the moment without obligation to chase that one path just yet. After all, there is much that married men can learn from priests, and vice versa.

At the conclusion of the hour, I stealthed my way (because the girls were sleeping) back upstairs, where I then promptly crashed again for three or so hours before morning Lauds, a calm entrance into the travels of slumber.

Oh dear, there I go using up a whole post again.

TBC – M

A Night For The Cross – Eagle Eye Teen Summer Institute Pt. 12

Still Friday, right? They had warned about that day the night before. Here I go getting ahead of myself again. Or is that technically behind?

I will get this done before this next retreat I’m going on. Well, conference technically. The Abide Conference!  You might be like, “Dude, you’ve been gone for this one and then a Steubenville conference (that I’m planning on writing about, if briefly), and now a third?! You need to chill.” To which I reply: “I shall, after the last throes of my senior year are completely dead and gone.”
Just living in the moment, or attempting to.

So dinner was a time for impressions with CJ. Say what now? It was stunning, and such that it was absolutely fantastic. I have a video somewhere that is just magnificent. The diversely talented man imitated Gollum, Rachael (chaperone), Mitchum (my group leader!), Brother Benedict, Father Francis, Father Nathan (in 3 different tones, mind you), and a few others besides. ‘Twas genius, and in that genius was found hilarity of the highest degree.  I know I pass over it with mere generality, but there’s more that has to be said before I’m well and through.

And now at least we reached the pinnacle of our flight. The one greatest point of that week, even though I’m not sure I was fully aware. Certainly one of the most serious and unifying parts:

The traditional procession with the cross, a cross which – as explained by Father Nathan – had been carried by every group of Eaglets that came before us, passed down through the many long years to us here and now. Wrong tense, you might say, but it’s intentional, no worries.

That’s how we began, with our rosaries out, Psalters in hand, and the cross borne aloft by two of our number. My mind can barely picture them, so in case I’m wrong, I won’t name who I thought was carrying it first.  Station by station, we strode through the shrine park, praying and singing constantly.  I was content to be close to the cross, and ready to take it at a moment’s notice, as soon as the opportunity arose. It was one thing I had no wish to miss, and after a number of stations, I seized my chance along with Michael.

It was heaver than I’d expected, and my shoulder was displeased with its weight, but I nudged the wood over until it was settled at the base of my neck. I’d overestimated my own strength, clearly, so I prayed for some heavenly assistance to hold it aloft.
Unity. I remember that being one thing that was going through my head as I pressed my head against the cross. An appreciation and a realization that that experience was uniting me not only to past Eaglets, but also to the Church and Christ all at once. The physicality was a reminder of the crosses we all bear in life, and now I look back and wonder whether it felt heavier for some of the others: A reflection of the struggles we face, that we are given because we can bear them, and never alone.  So as I set it down and let Kate and Mary Claire (I believe) take it, I was prodded by a remembrance of my struggles to go to Confession.  Each of or most of the readings, funnily enough, spoke about the power of forgiveness, and it was after both standing and kneeling through several of these that I finally bit the bullet (so to speak), and sought healing for the wounds that I had.

As the night pressed on, we finished stations and moved to the grass in the park, where we knelt in a circle around the cross, the torches ablaze in the rapidly darkening night.  Then as a group, we picked up the divine mercy chaplet where we had left off earlier, making our way back to the white church for an adoration hour.  Many were invited to stay, but I was nearly out, so I headed for bed… well… not quite entirely.

As I mentioned earlier, the chaperones had already spoken to us participants about Friday. We were given the task of signing up in pairs for an hour session during all-night adoration.  So as my head hit the pillow, my alarm alerting me for a 2:15 (I think) wake up call, I prepared myself.  Father Nathan had said that a number of participants had received great clarity regarding their vocations during such sessions, and that we should be open to the call; something of which I remained skeptical, I confess. I didn’t want to walk into it with such a high expectation, so I chose to calm myself, rather uneasily. After all, would it really come so easily?

End Friday.

TBC – M