Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Young Men Find Clarity, Fraternity, Bonds of Faith at Annual Discernment Retreat

Five years ago, a 19-year-old Joseph Amidon stood on the front porch of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary and told The Catholic Witness how Quo Vadis Days was helping him in his discernment.

The example of the priests and seminarians joining the young men in the retreat that year “affirm where I’m at in my spirituality, formation and prayer life,” he said.

“They’re really cool guys who love Jesus just as much as I do,” he had said, as laughter and conversation echoed from games of spikeball and football in the field below. “Their witness as good and amazing holy men and brothers who are here for me every single day allows me to see how I can be more like that and strive in discernment to see what God wants me to do.”

Some five years to the day, Amidon was again speaking with The Witness at Quo Vadis Days, this time as a newly-accepted seminarian for the Diocese of Harrisburg.

“Discernment is a process, and Quo Vadis Days is another aspect that helps you continue in seeking to do the Lord’s will for your life,” said Amidon, a member of St. John Neumann Parish in Lancaster who will enter St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in the fall.

“I had a unique experience here myself when I was a retreatant,” he said. “Every single person’s call is different, and so their experience here will be different. We just want to help them hear that call a little more clearly and explore their relationship with God more deeply.”

An annual retreat for young men ages 15-25, Quo Vadis Days has been offered by the Diocesan Office of Vocations for 20 years, and it’s no surprise to see former retreatants now wearing cassocks and collars.

Lucas Bastian, from St. Jude Thaddeus Parish in Mifflintown, was among those wearing a cassock for the first time this year.

Having attended Quo Vadis Days last year as a first-time retreatant, Bastian was encouraged by a priest to attend to help him further discern a vocation to the priesthood.

“I had been discerning for about a year, and then Father Peter Rettig recommended that I go on this retreat. It really helped me to have some quiet time away from daily life and zero-in on where God was calling me,” said Bastian, who will enter St. Charles Seminary in the fall.

“All the time spent in prayer and Adoration and meeting other young men who were discerning and serving Christ in some way was beautiful,” Bastian said. “By the end of the Quo Vadis Days retreat last year, I came to the conclusion that whatever I do in life, I want it to be centered around the Eucharist every day.”

This year’s retreat was a bit of a different experience, now that he has been accepted as a seminarian. “We heard the words from Hebrews, about how a priest is chosen from among men. I reflected on those words, and how it is that I’m separate from the retreatants but still among them in a different role in serving them,” Bastian said. “For me, it was another confirmation that I’m on the right path.”

Still, the week is not solely for those seeking to enter the seminary; its focus is on helping participants more clearly discern wherever God is calling them, whether that’s to single, married or religious life.

“Most of the guys here are likely going to get married someday, and some will become priests. No matter their vocation, Quo Vadis Days’ message is one of doing the Lord’s will and falling deeper in love with Jesus Christ,” Amidon said during this year’s retreat, June 23-27.

The week is filled with periods of prayer, reflection, discussion, recreation and meals; all the while, priests and seminarians are available to listen, answer questions and share stories. The camaraderie has been an attraction for retreatants and friends Joseph Morrison and David Bagatta.

“They’re always available to us, whether it’s at rec time or during meals, even in the middle of a board game,” said Morrison, a member of St. Bernard Parish in New Bloomfield. “You can ask a question and they’ll take time to talk to you, ask about your story, share their story. That’s important to us.”

“There’s trash talk during sports, competitiveness during rec time, we joke around during meals. That just shows their human side and helps us connect,” said Bagatta, from Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Middletown.

“We connect with the priests and seminarians, and we also connect with each other as retreatants,” added Bagatta, a retreatant for the past three years. “Reaching out to guys each year to ask if they’re coming back and just getting to know people who have shared this experience with you and developing those Catholic friendships outside of here – that’s also a great part of it.”

Retreatant John Kellett is discerning a vocation to the priesthood, and said Quo Vadis Days has reinforced the message of being open to wherever God is leading.

“The most helpful message all week has been the common theme of doing God’s will as opposed to our own. That’s been significant to me. If we just focus on what we want to do, we’re never going to be happy and fulfilled,” said Kellett, a member of St. Joseph Parish in York.

For Bagatta, an analogy presented early in the week by Father Joshua Weaver, Diocesan Vocations Director, struck a particular chord.

“He said when you’re driving a car at night, the headlights don’t shine all the way to your destination, they just show the next step. He equated it to trusting in God’s plan and following where He is leading you,” Bagatta relayed.

Bishop Timothy Senior also offered words of encouragement to the retreatants. He celebrated Mass for them in the university’s Immaculate Conception Chapel, answered their questions in a Q&A session, and joined them for lunch – one of several meals sponsored by the Harrisburg Diocesan Chapter of the Knights of Columbus, made possible from donations by several Councils within the Diocese, and served by Knights from a multitude of Councils.

“Each one of us has been created for a reason, a purpose. How can you determine what that will be? It involves a day-to-day dialogue with God, and sacrifice…. There has to be the surrender of one’s own will.”

In a question-and-answer session in the seminary’s lecture hall, the bishop responded to retreatants’ inquires about his own discernment, the best types of prayer for discerning a vocation, and what it’s like to celebrate the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

He also told them that seminary is a time for continued discernment, not an automatic commitment to becoming a priest.

“Entering seminary is not an immediate yes to becoming a priest. Entering seminary is a ‘yes’ to discernment,” the bishop said. “There are priests dedicated to accompanying you in finding out what the Lord’s will is for your life.”

Throughout the week, retreatants were given ample opportunity for prayer, Adoration and Mass, an element that Joseph Morrison appreciated the most.

“We spend all morning in the chapel, and I absolutely love that. When you’re living your daily life, you make time for prayer, but being on this retreat, you forget about all of the outside stuff and you can just be here with the Lord,” he said.

Bastian encourages young men to consider attending Quo Vadis Days, where they can be among their peers in prayer and enjoy fraternity among others who want to give themselves to Jesus Christ.

“If you have reluctance or fear, embrace it,” he said. “God cannot be outdone in generosity – we just have to cooperate with it.”

Amidon said Quo Vadis Days is all about an encounter with God.

“Every single guy is welcome here. Every single guy here is seen, heard and loved,” he said. “God doesn’t want discernment to be stressful or anxious. He is the Prince of Peace. And on this retreat, he can provide clarity, patience and courage in a young man’s discernment.”

(Photos by Chris Heisey and Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)

By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness

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