Walking into an unknown house, 30 minutes away from your home with only a few people you may know, can seem like a scary experience for your average high schooler.
You approach the door, ring the bell, and walk in holding your pillow, weekend bag and your heart. You are unsure, uncertain and skeptical of what the weekend may hold for you. You take a deep breath, take a step through the door of the unknown and to your pleasant surprise your mood instantly changes as you are treated with love, warmth and welcoming smiles.
This was my experience as a 16-year-old walking into my first retreat. Now, years later, it is a true joy to witness the same experiences over and over again through the eyes of teens as I have the opportunity to lead weekend retreats for eighth graders, high school students and young adults.
Retreats are unforgettable experiences of the heart and soul for a Catholic Christian of any age. I particularly feel they are needed for youth and young adults in their increasingly busy, stress-filled, young lives. Our youth live in a world where friends, school, sports and home are no longer separated, due to the constant connection to everyone through social media. They are more connected to others, yet the distance between them and their Creator can feel further than ever.
Retreats offer a time away from their ordinary atmosphere and day to day environment. In return, teens and young adults gain concentrated time with God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit and a true deepening of faith.
Although most teens’ first impression of a retreat could be, “I thought we were going to just sit around and pray all weekend,” (I have heard these words many times), teens are pleasantly surprised to have the experience to meet new people, to grow in their faith, to find a true purpose in this life and to find that they are not alone in their struggles.
This was proven to me by some of the recent reactions from the last two retreat weekends I led for my youth group at a nearby retreat house, Saint John Paul II Retreat Center in Vineland.
The retreats were entitled “He Holds Tomorrow, A Retreat with God the Father.” Witnessing over 120 teens gather for two weekends put aside to grow in their faith truly proves that there is a promising future of our church. The weekends not only entailed personal witness talks from the teens themselves who were part of the leadership team, but also small group discussions, activities, the sacrament of confession, Mass and Holy Hours of Adoration. When teens can encounter Christ in a setting that allows them to feel comfortable, it empowers them to live out their faith more openly outside of the doors of the retreat house thereafter.
I encourage teens, young adults and anyone of any age that if the opportunity to go away on a retreat comes along, to take a leap of faith and take advantage of the opportunity that God is presenting to you. Some of the greatest insights of the retreat experiences I recently led came through the teens themselves. I will leave you with a few quotes from them that spoke volumes and reminded me why my first retreat was so important and how that planted the seed for me to do what I do now, which is to show God’s love to others and to lead the youth closer to Christ and his church.
“The retreat was one of the greatest moments of my life!”
“The retreat was the best time away from my phone and to be with friends and grow in my faith.”
“The retreat reformed my faith and how I apply it to everyday life.”
“It was really good to get away from the outside world.”
“Through the retreat I found that I was never alone and I am going to work so hard in my faith. I found a true love for God in my struggles.”
Kari Janisse has been the coordinator of Youth and Young Adult Ministries at Our Lady of Peace Parish in Williamstown since 2009. She leads programs for youth starting in third grade through young adults up to 28 years old. She also leads programs outside of the parish called, “+he ROCK,” which are Catholic clubs at local high schools.