This week I was invited to speak at Notre Dame High School’s Senior Class Retreat. Notre Dame is the Catholic High School in Chattanooga, TN and the Dominican Sisters asked me to do two 45 minute talks on love and forgiveness.
The theme of the retreat was Isaiah 42:16, “I will lead the blind on their journey; by paths unknown I will guide them. I will turn darkness into light before them, and make crooked ways straight. These things I do for them, and I will not forsake them.”
I received the following simple outline from Sr. Anna regarding the topics on which she wanted me to speak. Clearly the Lord was going to have to compose this talk for me! Thankfully I had lots of notes from my two TOB immersion courses to help put together the talks.
Talk 1: The journey now: what is love?
· False images of love
· True image of love – the only thing that will make us happy (even NOW, as a 2nd semester senior)
· Love of self, others, God
· Rules of loving, aids to love
Talk 2: The journey behind: forgiveness/healing of memories
· The basics on sin: it isn’t a matter of having been caught or simply broken a rule, but of being paralyzed, blind, in darkness. (Examples.)
· We must allow the Lord to show us where we have been wounded
· He is the one who heals, but He will not force Himself upon us
· How He untwists our distortions, brokenness – confession, taking new steps to love
Other than teaching Theology of the Body for Teens to our high school CCD class at my parish, this was the first time I had been asked to speak on TOB to a group of teens. I felt quite overwhelmed to give my first public talk, especially since the two weeks preceding the event we would be in Daytona for business during Bike Week. This is always a crazy time of year and we return exhausted and in need of serious R&R. This time I would not have the luxury of resting upon our return. I would have to finalize two talks and then present them just a few days after we got home. I was praying for strength, courage and grace to get me through. I also had the prayers of the Dominican Sisters supporting me, so I knew I’d be alright.
Upon arriving at the conference center where the retreat was being held, I learned that the class size was over 130 students. In addition to this large group, the entire religious education department was on hand, as was Notre Dame’s principal. Talk about intimidating! I said a few prayers and pulled myself together. I knew everything was going to be alright. I was at peace. My wife Christine had accompanied me and was a source of great comfort and support. She is such a fan of mine and she was right there to encourage and reassure me.
We joined the group for lunch, so I got to meet the adults and some of the teens. I also snapped several photos of the group, which always puts everyone a bit more at ease…at least it puts me at ease. These teens were already totally relaxed and quite the rowdy group!
Following lunch I gave my first talk, which I thought went quite well. Only a few people in the audience were sleeping, but it was right after lunch.☺ Following my talk they had a couple of hours for outdoor activity and were able to release some of their energy playing frisbee, tag and just hanging with their friends. I shot a bunch more photos and prepared mentally for talk #2.
I believe my 2nd talk went quite well, although it was perhaps a bit long with the examination of conscience, as I seemed to have more of the teens’ attention, especially as I related my story of two failed marriages and God’s love and forgiveness in spite of the many mistakes I’ve made in my life. Teens really seem to enjoy hearing these stories and I felt blessed to have had an opportunity to share mine with them. I also took them through an exercise to help prepare them for the Sacrament of Reconciliation immediately following the talk and led them through an Examination of Conscience. I was happy to see so many of them in line for confession when we went down to the chapel to prayerfully prepare for Mass.
The highlight of this day for me was the celebration of Mass by Fr. John O’Neill. It was St. Patrick’s Day and there was something very special about having this Irish priest celebrate Mass for us. Fr. O’Neill was an accomplished missionary surgeon prior to joining the priesthood and in his homily he shared his story with us. What an incredible man of God and what a wonderful way to conclude a perfect day.
I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to share some of my knowledge of Theology of the Body with these high school seniors and their teachers. As I was preparing my talks I realized that I truly was comfortable speaking about TOB thanks to my study at the Theology of the Body Institute under Dr. Janet Smith and Christopher West. What a blessing it was to take my newly acquired knowledge and use it to communicate God’s love and forgiveness to the youth who are the future of our Church. God is good…all the time.