Come apart into a desert place, and rest a little. (Mark 6:31)
A few months ago, one of my oldest friends (someone I have known since my senior year of high school) reached out and invited me to join him on a retreat in January. The retreat was scheduled to take place at Malvern Retreat House in Pennsylvania, a 125 acre facility in the hills outside of Philadelphia founded in 1912. It struck me as providential that the annual retreat was the Our Lady of Fatima Retreat, as I have a special fondness for this particular appearance of the Mother of Jesus in Fatima, Portugal in 1917.1 I had not been on a retreat since before the pandemic and this seemed like a good chance to reconnect with my friend and share a weekend of faith with him, so I accepted the invitation.
The retreat took place the second weekend in January. There were five conferences (or talks) over the course of the weekend, daily Mass with preaching, and opportunities for prayer and reflection. Each retreatant was assigned a twenty minute time slot for private adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. The theme of the retreat was officially the message of Mark 1:14-15:
Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.”
What are some of the things I took away from the retreat? It is always difficult to fully capture the spirit of a retreat, but here are some of the insights and truths that I wrote down in my journal:
The radical claim of Christianity is that the Kingdom of God is here. The Kingdom of God is at hand for you—it is being built off your story.
Jesus said, “I came that [you] may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) You have a reason to live. It is good that you exist.
You cannot have someone else’s faith. You cannot have your parents’ faith. You cannot have your friend’s faith. You have to encounter Jesus yourself.
Silence brings peace. Silence is the language of God.
God’s greatest attribute is mercy. His mercy is His love in action.
You are worthy because God made you. You are not your sins. You were created in the image and likeness of God.
Your past does not determine who you are. Your future is what does—and your future is aimed at Heaven.
We need to return to the basics of the faith. For example, when we make the Sign of the Cross, we need to do so with reverence. It is a prayer, not a thoughtless gesture.
Our life is a preparation for Heaven. It is by observing the two greatest commandments2 that we do so. And we can always do better at it.
The hour is coming for each of us, but do not be afraid. Jesus told us, “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:1-3)
The most powerful message for me to take away from this weekend retreat, however, was not something that was said. It was what I witnessed. I saw something during this retreat that gave me hope. I watched some 200 men, of all ages, backgrounds and occupations trying to sincerely practice their Catholic faith and get closer to the Lord.
I heard the voices of these men singing hymns with strength and vigor in their voices.
I heard the voices of these men recite prayers with fervor.
I saw their piety and devotion to Our Lord.
I saw their respect for the ministry of Our Lord through the Church and the priesthood.
I saw their hospitality and love for one other as brothers in Christ.
No matter what I see outside in the news or in the world, I walk away from this experience with a renewed hope that Our Lord Jesus Christ is still busy working here in the world and that there are men here in the United States of America who are serious about following him.
Eric A. Welter is an employment lawyer and trial attorney with a long-time devotion to intercessory prayer. He is a Catholic Christian who has been involved with intercessory and healing prayer ministry for over twenty years. The Abound in Hope Ministry website is https://www.aboundinhope.org/ministry.
Abound in Hope is a free publication. Paid subscriptions support the work of Abound in Hope Ministry.
It turns out this was the 79th Our Lady of Fatima Retreat held at Malvern. Two men were given 50 year attendance awards!
Prosit is a Latin word praising God that means: “May it be for your benefit.” Traditionally used as a closing prayer during retreats at Malvern Retreat House.