CLU students (Montreal and Ottawa)

Destination: Lynn, Massachusetts!

In March, a Lenten retreat for the CLU students took place in Lynn, Massachusetts. Students from Canada joined them for moments of reflection, silence and prayer. They share their experience of that weekend.
Jean-François Bigras

What was your experience like traveling to Boston with your group?

Clara:The CLU spiritual exercises did not simply start upon our arrival at a small parish on the outskirts of Boston; they truly began outside the Snowdon metro station in Montreal. With six of us departing from Montreal, the initial plan was to take two cars. However, I did not want to be divided from the get-go; I proposed instead to rent a van so that all six of us could remain together. I cannot pinpoint exactly why I felt so strongly about the idea of going in two separate cars, but I offered to drive the entire route so that we could all be unified and stay together. This was one way in which I was able to serve others.

Can you share a moment of connection with other participants that stood out to you?

Clara:Another opportunity for service came when someone asked me to help clean the room Friday night: it was littered with water bottles, and the paper handouts, songbooks, and prayer sheets had been put out of order. So, in about ten minutes, I picked up some garbage, realigned papers, and realigned chairs.
It was such a simple gesture, and one I'm barely able to do for myself in my own apartment, but to do it for others made it not only easy but immensely desirable. I wanted so badly to help clean out that musty room, and the fact that I could was transformative - it was a new way for me to love my friends who had come to the exercises with me. I could not even muster up the energy to talk to most of the people in our cohort, but I was more than able to clean for them.

Were there any challenges you faced during the retreat, and how did you overcome them?

Clara:The weekend provided us with many opportunities to pray. On Saturday, we participated in the stations of the cross in an empty church. Although the church was empty, we were constantly interrupted by ambient noise and an oddly loud hissing pipe, making it hard to hear the readers. As not to miss anything, we all stepped in closer to the readers and paid special attention to what was being read. The loud hissing noise became a chance to reaffirm my own desperate need for prayer. What would ordinarily have been a frustrating distraction instead became an obvious sign of that which was vital, that which I did not want to miss.

How do you plan to carry forward the lessons or insights gained from the retreat into your daily life?

Clara:The theme for the exercises was “Behold, I make all things new.” I think understanding how that can be the case in a very concrete way can allow me to understand how it will be going forward. If two things I typically hate doing (that is cleaning and having responsibilities) were made new and different in such a simple and effective way over the course of the weekend, then I can allow for newness to enter into other spheres of my life, and I am sure I will be surprised beyond measure.

Can you share with us a memorable moment or a striking experience from the retreat?

Dominique: On Saturday afternoon, we gathered in the neighborhood church for the Stations of the Cross. It was a moment from the weekend that deeply moved me. I had never participated in this act outside of Good Friday. We were told that it was a practice the whole Church was called to during Lent in order to meditate on the Passion.
We were given a booklet with Gospel excerpts, meditations written by Don Giussani, and the Stabat Mater. Apart from the evident beauty and care put into the creation of the booklet, two things deeply touched me. Firstly, the unity with the entire Church. We, the twenty or so participants gathered in a small town in Massachusetts, were in communion with our brothers and sisters in the Church. This desire for unity was palpable throughout the weekend and manifested through the prayers we recited, the testimonies, and the moments of sharing.

Did you learn anything new about yourself or your faith during the retreat?

Dominique: The second thing that struck me during the Stations of the Cross was the reference to a passage from Psalm 27 in the meditation of the 6th station which says "I seek your face". It transported me back to the first time I heard this psalm, many years ago, during the Spiritual Exercises in Montreal. This passage struck me because I perceived the possibility of a tangible presence: it indicated that the Lord had a real face, a face I could know. That's how He was calling out to me. Hearing this passage again all these years later, I understood that He was saying to me, "I am here with you. I have always been here". I understood that regardless of my shortcomings, efforts, and doubts, my desire to be close to Him prevailed. Even if I had distanced myself from Him and doubted Him. The Lord wanted me near Him. I understood that all these years between these two spiritual exercises had not been wasted. They were part of my journey.
"What are we doing here if it's not to know Jesus better?"
This question asked by my friend the next day confirms what I came looking for: belonging to those who, like me, seek His face day after day.