" If the Americans were as expert in spiritual matters as they are in business affairs, all of them would be saints! "
Bl Francis Xavier Seelos C.Ss.R
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Reflection on a Youth Retreat...






Picture an ancient monastery perched on a verdant hill. Picture a chapel, with diamond-patterned sunlight slanting onto its whitewashed walls. Picture evergreen-shaded gardens, with quiet wandering paths and a stream bubbling through a grotto. Now picture a group of young adults, screaming at a flipchart pad in a game of Catholic Pictionary. Yes, you guessed it – the annual retreat to St Mary’s, Kinnoull. Some of us didn’t survive as far as the evening socials but we have it from reliable sources that matters got a little competitive.




This popular event, run by Paul Murphy, celebrated its tenth birthday this year. It began life as the Motherwell Young Adults’ Retreat but with Paul’s subsequent move to Elgin, where I met him, it evolved into the Motherwell and Aberdeen Diocese Young Adults’ Retreat. Like his namesake, he has travelled far and wide, setting up communities wherever he has landed, taming even the pagan lands of Liverpool and Birmingham. The retreat’s nomenclature has now adapted to acknowledge the addition of these two Dioceses, where he now works for the Redemptorists as Youth Coordinator. Not bad – it only took him eight and a half years to convince God he was the man for the job.


In a society so fond of acronyms as ours, it is surprising that it has not yet been referred to as the BALM group. Or the LAMB group, since both have nice, Biblical resonances. Granted it involves a little rearranging of the order in which the places became involved but who minds that? Few, I’d argue, considering the wide variety of other nations also represented, including Ireland, Poland, Romania, Italy and Togo.


Fr Maurice O’Mahoney, CSsR, joined us from Hawkestone Hall, a Redemptorist retreat centre in Shropshire. Taking this year’s theme of Salt and Light, he gave a series of talks, discussing prayer, fasting and almsgiving in our run-up to Lent. He spoke of the Paschal Mystery and how the Sacred Triduum was not just something that happened to Jesus two millennia ago but a journey which each of us takes with Him each year, since by our Baptism, we have been” buried and raised to new life with Him”. He spoke of the paradox of the verse “whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9: 24), challenging us to be salt and light for the world.


As with all good retreats, there was a balance of spiritual and social input. This took many forms, from free time which could be spent chatting with close friends in rooms to full-on, evening gatherings in the Red Lounge. On Saturday afternoon, we observed the ancient tradition of walking up Kinnoull Hill. True to form, the weather at the top remained clement, allowing panoramic views over Perthshire and the sparkling Tay. Last year had been an exception to the mild tempest, when, during our Transfiguration-themed retreat, a shower of hail harried us, then dissipated, leaving gentle sunshine raying down on the valley through the clouds. Thankfully, God didn’t take this year’s theme quite so literally.


Mealtimes are another great opportunity to talk to people, with the large tables seating up to twelve people. As always, Geoff the Chef turned out fabulous fare, with steak pies, roasts, vegetables, salads and sumptuous desserts. Tea, coffee, biscuits and fruit were always available and fresh homemade scones with butter and jam awaited us on return from our walk. At each meal, I tried to sit beside different people, so that by the end of the retreat had managed to speak to everyone, although some had to suffer my company on numerous occasions. I believe that retreats need an element of penance to be truly beneficial.


For me, the highlight was the Saturday night Adoration and Healing Service. Fr Maurice invited us to look back through various parts of our lives and to bring these to God for healing. Afterwards, each of us had the opportunity to receive individual blessings. The power of this simple but profound gesture really lit up something within me, as it reflected the Father’s love for us, His forgiveness and His gentle embrace.


On Sunday morning we joined the people who come to the monastery for Mass, enhanced with music from Paul, his sister Marie, brother-in-law, Martin and Liverpool school chaplain, Lizzie. As always, the musical addition was met with much appreciation by the congregation.


A few faithful members of the group, who have come almost every year, were unable to be with us. They sent their best wishes to us and, in turn, we remembered them in our prayers. Another special mention should go to the Edinburgh Ladies, who always time their visit to coincide with ours. For some reason, this year, our chosen weekend did not suit them, so we had the pleasure of sharing the monastery with another small group on retreat. Edinburgh Ladies, if you are reading this, we missed you.


Imagine a weekend of peace and space to encounter God. Imagine friendship, joy and sharing. Imagine a profound experience of living your faith, leaving you refreshed and revitalised. If you can’t, then you need to regain some balance in your life. The cure? Experience it for yourself. And if next February is too far away, there are plenty of other events coming up. For more information, visit www.redemptorists.co.uk.


Thanks to the writer of this piece, Madeleine Picozzi.