“I am never doing that stuff again.” Greg sat in my fifth period Junior religion class on the Monday after a Kairos retreat. The retreat had taken place the previous four days over the weekend, and this was the first time that Greg was encountering his peers after his experience. Prior to the retreat, Greg was a moderate student who was generally liked by his peers. Yet, Greg was involved in the party scene at school, and it can be assumed that he imbibed alcohol and smoked marajuana on occasion. In addition, Greg had a tendency to lie and could be extremely disrespectful to teachers if he found himself cornered. Yet, Greg had experienced God at Kairos, he was different, and his friends did not like it.
Like many retreat experiences, Greg had been taken out of the noisy world to a retreat center with around 50 of his peers and retreat leaders. By surrendering his phone and not having access to other forms of media, he was able to completely focus on the people around him and His relationship with God. On a weekend that Greg had no control and was just present, God revealed Himself to Greg through the sacraments, adoration, and faith sharing. And Greg loved it, and desired to change his life
Upon coming back into the real world, Greg held true to his word …….for a couple weeks, maybe a month. As time progressed further away from the retreat, Greg started to slip back into his former way of life. Every so often, other teachers or I would check in with him and remind him of God’s love for him, but a couple months after the retreat, Greg’s old habits returned. I have worked in ministry for many years and Greg’s three month journey was not unique, even for myself. Countless times, I or someone I knew, went on retreat, felt the love of God, and desired to change their life. Yet not long after going back to real life, we run out of steam.
Why do we do this? Jesus gives us the answer in the Parable of the Sower. The parable is found in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8, and is one of the few parables that Jesus explains to His disciples. He tells the story of a sower spreading seed on the path, rocky ground, amongst weeds and thorns, and fertilized or prime soil. The seed is the Word of God. The path, rocky ground, and thorns, are obstacles for fruit to grow that take the form of Satan, persecutions, wordly anxieties and greed. Yet, the seed that falls on prime soil is the seed that bears fruit in abundance.
Why do people like Greg, myself, and so many others who experience God on retreat run out of steam? Because we go back to the path, rocky ground, or the thorns. The retreat experience was prime soil for the Word of God to take root in our hearts, but if we go back to our former lives and do not change our environment, our seed will fail to produce fruit. We go back to our busy lives, inundated by media and sinful tendencies. If we want to allow the Word of God to take root in our hearts for good, we need to change the way we live, pray, and what we consume.
Catholicism is not putting a different flavor on a worldly culture. It is completely changing the way that we view the world. No longer are we focused on our personal desires that the current culture tells us to cultivate. Rather, Catholicism is about getting to know God through His Word, the Sacraments, and lovinging our neighbor. If this is not our main focus (dare I say sole focus) then we will not bear fruit and fall into the same trap that myself, Greg, or many other people have fallen into of reversion. We have to change our environment to one of purity and that is countercultural, because those were the characteristics of Jesus. As the Psalm 24 tells us, Who may go up the mountain of the Lord? Who can stand in his holy place? The clean of hand and pure of heart, who has not given his soul to useless things, that is vain. Or Jesus tells us, Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God. So if you desire to know Jesus, stop allowing the culture to invade your home and consequently your heart. Allow the Word of God and the Sacraments to fill your heart with grace. Works of love will flow from this, and it is through works of love that Jesus and His Church will invade the culture.