Every year, each class goes away for the day to spend sometime in prayer and in reflection. Today it was the junior classes chance to go on retreat, the last of the four classes. It was a raw and rainy day, unlike the original date of our retreat. We were supposed to have the retreat last Monday but the forecast called for tons of rain so I put if off until today. Of course last Monday turned out to be gorgeous and today was bad.
We began the day in the gym at which I gave a reflection on the retreat theme (holiness) and retreat patron (Blessed John Paul II) - you can read my reflection at the end of this post. We then headed over to Mt. Uncanoonuc in Goffstown for Mass and a hike (see my talk to understand why we did a hike)! The "mountain" is only 1,300 feet high but we only had to hike about 650 as the parking lot was already in high elevation. We began our time at the base of the mountain with Mass celebrated by Father Anselm Smedile, OSB of Saint Anselm College. Father Anselm graciously stepped in at the last minute as our initial celebrant, Father Matt Mason, could not make the rescheduled day. Father Anselm began the Mass by joking how happy he was to be my second choice.
Most of the students stood for the Mass as the ground was wet and in the spirit of John Paul II, we used a canoe as an altar. Before he was pope, John Paul II would often take young people hiking and canoeing and would stop to say Mass using the canoe as his altar. The readings for the Mass focused on the two great stories about mountains in the Bible - the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes. I felt these were suitable readings as they were about God showing us, via mountains, how we are to be holy. The Mass was very brief but also very reverent given its setting. During the Eucharistic Prayer, a local dog strolled into our worship space and Father Anselm was worried that the dog may mistake the canoe/altar for a bush! The dog was quite friendly and actually followed us up the mountain and then all the way back.
At about 10:30am, we began our ascent up the mountain. I thought it would take a group this large about an hour to get to the top but they all made it up by 11:15 or so. There are a number of cell towers and electricity wires at the summit and each is monitored by security cameras. The security people saw all these people coming up and called the local police who drove up the auto road wondering why were all there.
It was raining as we were hiking and once at the top, the flood gates opened. It wasn't horrible but enough to get you soaked and cold. We hung around for a bit and I decided to skip the last part of the retreat and head down early. Of course as soon as we began heading down, the skies cleared and there were amazing views of Manchester from the lookout.
The buses picked us up early and we were all back at Trinity by 1:45 or so. All in all, a rewarding day and a nice experience (I hope) for our juniors. By the way, Junior Emilee Thompson took the pictures in this post and you can see more of her pictures from the day here.
Below are my remarks at the start of the day:
On August 12, 1993, a helicopter piloted by a Vietnam veteran tried to land inside Mile High Stadium in Denver. There were over 90,000 screaming teenagers in the stadium going insane to see the person in the helicopter. The screaming created so much turbulence that the pilot had a tough time landing. It was similar, he said, to his experience being under fire in Vietnam.
The person that was being dropped off inside Mile High Stadium to a throng of 90,000 screaming teenagers? John Elway? Bono? No. It was the 73 year old Pope John Paul II. He was there as part of World Youth Day, an international gathering of young people with the pope held in various places around the world every couple of years.
Why would 90,000 teenagers (and later for the final Mass 500,000 people) gather to listen to a 73 year old pope? And why would they scream and yell as if they were welcoming a rock star?
Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005, loved young people. And he understood young people. He didn’t see young people as people waiting for their time in the sun as adults but rather people who were needed now. He believed in you, he loved you, he wanted you to be saints. He wanted you to be holy, that is, to be perfect like Jesus Christ. He said:
I have great confidence in you, I have great pride in you; I am filled with encouragement, I am overflowing with joy" (2Cor 7,4).
These are not words of empty praise. I am confident that you have grasped the scale of the challenge that lies before you, and that you will have the wisdom and courage to meet that challenge. So much depends on you.
And he never gave up on calling all people to embrace holiness, that is, to be like Jesus Christ. John Paul II was an athlete and an avid skier and mountain climber but he had his health issues - he was run over by a Nazi during World War II, he was shot and almost killed in 1981, and later in life he developed Parkinson’s Disease. He was so ill and frail at the end that you could hardly understand a word he was saying. He was slumped over, drool coming out of his mouth, hardly able to stand or walk...but he never gave up, he kept going until his last breath on April 2, 2005. And as he laid dying in his room in Rome, hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Saint Peter’s Square, including tens of thousands of young people. Told that there were thousands and thousands of young people outside his window, Pope John Paul II said:
“I have looked for you. Now you have come to me, and I thank you."
That idea of holiness is the theme of this retreat and Pope John Paul II is our patron or model. The quote that will guide this retreat, and hopefully your junior year is:
“God became man so man could become God.”
God became a man 2,000 years ago in the person of Jesus Christ to show you and me how to be perfect and how to fix our sinful ways. That is, how to be God. YOU AND I ARE CALLED TO BE GOD. Now we are just people...God is calling us to something greater, to become Him. The goal or reward if we do? Eternal life forever with God.
The road to us becoming God is hard and very difficult, full of trials and difficulties. It is a lifelong process and we won’t know the results until we come face to face with God in heaven. So it is up to us, over the next 70, 80 years that we have on this Earth to conform ourselves more and more to the perfect man - Jesus Christ, God made man.
And that was the life long goal of Pope John Paul II. He spent his life as a priest, bishop, and pope trying to help people, especially young people, discover how to be holy - how to be like Christ.
You might wonder why we are going for a hike today. Mountains have always been a symbol of the path to holiness. It is long, hard, we run out of breath, we lose hope, we want to give up, we want to turn around, we want to go back. But if we persevere, if we make it to the top, we get our great reward - amazing, breathtaking views, and complete satisfaction.
The mountain we are going to hike is not much of a mountain, it’s about 1,300 feet up but we just have to hike about 650 feet since we’re already up part of the mountain in the parking lot. And I will admit - the views are nice but they may not be breathtaking. But as we’re hiking and as you run out of breath and wish you were somewhere else and your legs hurt and you want to turn around, keep thinking of how this is a metaphor for your path to holiness, your path to heaven. So if you ever lose hope, if you ever want to give up on Jesus Christ, think of the reward for it will indeed be great in heaven.