By Fr. Corey Close
Recently I had the privilege to attend my first TEC (Teens Encounter Christ) retreat, held at St. Joseph Parish in DeWitt. The retreat is for high school juniors and seniors, and we were lucky to have about 20 teens on the retreat. If you aren’t familiar with TEC, it is very similar to retreats such as CEW (Christian Experience Weekend) or COR (Christ in Others Retreat), with team member talks interspersed with various activities to make the message more concrete. Prayer, Mass, the sacrament of reconciliation, and eucharistic adoration form cornerstones of the retreat that the talks revolve around. It is a powerful experience that helps teens to experience and live out their Catholic faith more deeply.
Diocesan Vocations Director Father Thom Hennen was the retreat’s spiritual director, and I aided him in whatever ways I could. He gave the central talk, about the Paschal Mystery: the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. The teens were then able to develop a “living” stations of the cross. It was great to see how they incorporated the passion of Christ into their own daily experiences.
After a break, I gave a talk titled “Metanoia,” which is a Greek word roughly meaning “to turn away from.” Taken from the prayer of Ash Wednesday, “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel,” the metanoia talk centered on the theme of conversion and of living the radical life of a disciple of Jesus Christ. It was a powerful experience for me to be able to convey that message through the story of my life, which I believe is a perfect example of metanoia. Not because I’ve been so good at turning away, but because I’ve been so poor at it!
When I was in high school and college, the age of the participants and most of the team members, I fought mightily against what I knew my calling was: to be a priest. I desired marriage and refused to turn away from my vision for my life. By the grace of God, however, he gave me the courage to finally turn and to trust. Much of my life since has been peppered with similar struggles. It seems time and again I want “A” for my life while God wants “B!” However, when I finally have the courage (by grace!) to try God’s way, my life is changed for the better. What a powerful experience to work with these juniors and seniors, and to share with them who and where I was when I was in their shoes.
When we choose our own way, as I did for about a decade, our lives end up being boring and unfulfilling. When we turn from our own plans and let Jesus decide, we will never be short of exciting, unexpected things to do and experience! In my daily life as a priest, no two days are the same, nor are there days that go totally as expected. It can be frightening at times, but I wouldn’t trade it for a thing in the world!
After my talk, we had a communal penance service where individuals could confess their sins to Fr. Hennen, Father Paul Connolly and me. I love the sacrament of reconciliation, both as a penitent and as a confessor. It is always a powerful experience of God’s mercy and love, especially when he works through you in ways you never expected.
The following day was Sunday and it was great to listen to the other talks and to celebrate Mass with the retreat participants. At the close of the day, we had adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, during which I was able to lead and preach. It was an awesome time to experience the beauty of God’s presence in the Eucharist. Fr. Thom and I made ourselves available for spiritual direction. It was a great privilege to help so many of these young people as they prepare for their crucial college years.
Overall, the retreat was a tremendous experience for me and it was a privilege to pray for and experience the faith of these young people. I hope and pray that if any of you are juniors or sophomores in high school now, or have children of that age, you will consider doing TEC next year. There’s also Quest for freshmen and sophomores, COR for sophomores and juniors, and other retreats for college-age students.
A retreat is an awesome opportunity for us to pull away from the craziness and the business of the world we live in and give God a weekend to work his love in our life. As James writes, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” (James 4:8).
(Fr. Corey Close is parochial vicar at Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton.)