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Vision for Young Adults: A Summer Retreat for 20- and 30-Somethings

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The goal of Notre Dame Vision for Young Adults (YA) was simple. Bring together a group of individuals for a week of prayer, reflection, and rest. The idea was to set a simple schedule where people gather together to pray Morning and Evening Prayer and attend daily Mass together, to listen to and reflect about professionals living out their faith, and to delight in the company of others and the quiet of a summer on campus at Notre Dame. If I am totally honest, my expectations were pretty modest.

Perhaps the modesty of my expectations was due to my doubt about the saints. One of the many spiritual pitfalls is treating the communion of saints as (and only as) historical Christian giants who have made it possible for me to consider the different roads that lead to Christ. Ignatius taught me to consider the experience of God; Francis led me to constant material critique; Blaise to be careful when eating chicken wings; and Cecilia to make music part of my prayer. The litany of the saints that I normally recite twice a year always feels like a frozen liturgical moment—a prayer meant for that particular Church community at that time. Intercessory prayer always seemed a fleeting thing.

Having been a part of Notre Dame Vision off and on dating back to 2004, one constant has been the images of the saints that have surrounded the lecture hall where the large group gathers in daily. Molly (my co-host) and I decided that we should choose some saints for the YA group and just went with six who happened to be ‘leftover.’ In my spiritual smugness I probably said something to the effect of “we will make them work/fit to our week.” We put together a prayer booklet that included some of their words and had their images in our classroom, and I really did not consider the role they could have played.

The group that gathered was professionally varied but a quick community came together. Maybe this was God’s grace or a spiritual thirst that helped (perhaps there is no difference between those two), but it seemed like within twenty-four hours strangers who had gathered together for varied reasons had formed that elusive faith community that can feel so difficult to capture ‘at home.’

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If we had indeed formed a spiritual family that week, then the Liturgy of the Hours and daily Mass became our meals. We gathered together for three set times throughout the day, without trying to create elaborate prayer reflections but allowing the words of the Psalms to stand in for our lack of ‘creative prayer experiences.’ The busy-ness of life gave way to the thanksgiving, lament, hunger, thirst, and praise of the psalmist. How surprised many of us were to discover that the words that formed on our lips as we recited these prayers spoke deeply within. I am not sure many people came in with regular experience praying the Hours, but they became sustenance for the week.

Twice a day we experienced people discussing the importance of faith in the life of a 20–30-year-old. Notre Dame Vision brought in professionals to speak to the spiritual needs of this unique time period in conversation and thought. These conversations were great because they were not dumbed down and they included real-life moments from a variety of professional backgrounds—parents, bankers, principals, engineers, teachers, insurance agents. This was the shared wisdom on the attempt to live the Gospel.

This was also a week to unplug and gather rest for the mind, body, and soul. This week was intentionally designed to not over-schedule people who have been malformed to think overscheduling is the sign of a productive life (much like this paragraph will be short so as to not overanalyze that idea).

What I discovered at the end of this week was that there were people like me—people who cared and wanted to engage their faith. My work life can often be filled with a socializing that encourages complaining. What I found at the end of five days was that I had not complained once, that authentic community had actually brought out the best version of who I am called to be every day. The freedom to step away from my normal life also granted me the freedom to reconsider what that life was becoming.

“How did this happen?” I mused the last night we were there.

Besides an intense amount of karaoke together—how had we come together so quickly to be with each other in such an intentional and meaningful way? Part of my closing exercise was to ask participants what stood out to them the most. As they spoke about their experiences throughout the week, I realized that their sentiments were eerily similar to the words of the saints and holy people we had gathered around the room—Amos, Jeremiah, Mary Magdalene, Monica, Martin of Tours, John Henry Newman, Teresa of Ávila—it was a remarkable experience to witness the revelation of experience being so tied to the words of these holy women and men.

We became the recipients of a remarkable grace that week, and I was surprised to learn that we are being interceded for, constantly, even when I work against it or doubt it. This was not just the experience of learning from the saints, but it was also an experience of being surrounded by the communion of saints—within a faith community both here and in heaven.

To learn more about Vision for Young Adults or to register one of two sessions in July 2017, please click here.

Featured photo courtesy of Notre Dame Vision.

Eric Buell

Eric Buell is a graduate the University of Notre Dame, where he previously served as a Mentor for Notre Dame Vision before completing the Echo Program. He is currently chair of the department of religious studies at Presentation High School in San Jose, California, where he also teaches and leads liturgical ministry. In the summer of 2016, Eric served as the primary host of the inaugural gathering of “Notre Dame Vision for Young Adults.”