25 OCTOBER: It was indeed a weekend that will remain long in the memory as 13 young men and women making up the core teams of both the Youth Ministry (SJYM) and Young Adults Ministry (SJYAM) of the Cathedral of St John, The Evangelist came together for a time of prayer and contemplation, imbued with Carmelite Spirituality.
After a late dinner and some time to rest after a long journey, Fr Kenneth began proceedings by giving us a short prelude to the retreat. Compline followed after and we retired for the night, in anticipation for what was sure to be a long day ahead.
Rising from sleep on Saturday morning, we came together for the office of Lauds, the first act of praise and thanksgiving for the day, followed by Holy Mass and a short time of silent prayer in thanksgiving for the gift of the Eucharist that we had received. Following breakfast, the first talk of the day was spent introducing Carmelite spirituality, its history, the charisms of its congregation and a look at the Rule of St Albert (the rule by which they live their vocation). Learning the lives of great saints such as St Therese of Lisieux and St John of the Cross inspired us a great deal to build a life of prayer founded on a firm knowledge of the Word of God and a love for silence.
The first of our meals held in silence was lunch. Although it was had in common, this would be the first experience of table reading for almost everyone. Table reading, a commonplace practise in monasteries, is an exercise whereby the ones who partake of the meal do so while listening to a reading that is being read by a fellow member of the group. The understanding lies in that as the body is being nourished with physical food, so must the mind be enlightened by spiritual nourishment.
Our hunger satisfied, we carried on by being introduced to the exercise of Lectio Divina. A sure method that was advocated by many a Church Father was brought to us as a potential tool that we can rely on for our own personal meditations. Using the familiar verse that is Matthew 16:24 (“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”), Father Kenneth gave us some pointers and guidelines to make this method of meditation our own. An interesting activity that ensued soon after was an open discussion between all the retreatants about how we could improve the spirit of belonging within our ministries (with Fr. Kenneth moderating and steering the discussion). This was an avenue for many to voice out not just problems but also words of encouragement and affirmation, both for efforts past and future.
As evening fell, that discussion would prove to be the final element of talk for the day as silence quickly became prominent once again. The next few hours were of most importance to the retreat participants as one-by-one, we met Fr Kenneth for confessions and spiritual direction. Theat this point fell still, as those who were waiting or have completed their appointments with Fr. Kenneth stayed in reverent prayer and sacred silence. Near midnight, everyone gathered for a communal rosary.
The Lord’s day began with Lauds and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass once again, with Fr. Kenneth delivering a memorable sermon on the gospel of the Ten Lepers. After a period of thanksgiving, the retreat came to its tail end on a lighter note. After a scrumptious breakfast of doughnuts and coffee (amongst other things), the rest of the day was spent in rest and recreation. We began our journey home in the afternoon.
For young people to develop an appreciation for this sense of spirituality is remarkable, to say the least. But alas, we have learned that interior silence is key to encountering the Lord Jesus amidst the busyness of our schedules and appointments. Our thanks and gratitude, we extend, to Fr. Kenneth Gopal for taking the time to guide and nourish us throughout this weekend. All praise and thanks to God for his blessings in abundance upon our ministries. May we continue to put Him first in all that we do!
-From the desk of a youth with the SJYM-