By Annaleigh Gidosh
“We come to retreat to be integrated back into wholeness and holiness,” Dr. Sara Hulse Kirby, assistant professor of theology at DeSales University, told the students gathered for the Diocese of Allentown’s yearly intercollegiate retreat.
The retreat, held at St. Christopher Catholic Newman Center in Kutztown on Nov. 4, drew 18 Catholic college students, an increase from the previous year. Participants hailed from five schools: Muhlenberg College, Lehigh University, Lafayette College, Reading Area Community College, and Kutztown University.
The theme of the retreat was taken from Christ’s statement to the disciples before His Ascension: “I am with you always.”
Following Adoration, Confession, and Mass, Dr. Hulse Kirby expounded on the importance of taking time with God, especially when a cultural climate of secularism, excessive social media use, and a materialistically motivated response to loneliness have led to the “desacralization” of the human person.
An analogy she used to demonstrate the concept was the movement of a wheel.
When a wheel turns, the top of the wheel descends to the bottom and the bottom rises to the top. Similarly, our lives go through a series of “highs and lows” as we seek the finite goods of career, approval, pleasure, etc.
The center of the turning wheel, however, remains in place. This represents our inner, spiritual lives. By keeping our eyes, hearts, and minds firmly fixed on Christ in the Eucharist, we can have peace amid the good times and the bad. “A saint takes their finite desires and goes to God [with them,]” she said.
The afternoon session continued with private Lectio Divina, which is a prayerful, close reading of a scripture passage or the writings of a saint, and small discussion groups led by retreat organizer Rob Johnson, Director of Evangelization and Formation, and three FOCUS missionaries serving on Lehigh University’s Campus.
Father Patrick Muka, of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish, Warrington (in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia,) who said Mass, heard confessions, and presided at Benediction during the retreat, commended the students for “accepting the invitation to come to the ‘wedding feast’ on a Saturday,” when their peers were resting or socializing.
Thiep Pham, campus ministry advisor and professor of Computer Science and Information Technology at Kutztown University, expressed that student involvement went well beyond the retreat. Students “have stepped up as leaders and can be seen planning events, inviting new students, and posting flyers about campus ministry around the college.”
Julia Sweeney, a sophomore at Kutztown University, said she “love[s] being on a public campus because [Catholic students] have so many opportunities to evangelize at the university.”
With no campus ministry at his college, Merrick Plaisance, a freshman at Reading Area Community College, started a Bible Study at St. Catharine of Siena in Reading with the help of Father Matthew Kuna. The group now has four students.
As the retreat ended, students said goodbye to their peers and returned to their respective campuses with a renewed sense of peace and a resolve to spread the Gospel and love of the Eucharist.
Photos by Annaleigh Gidosh.