The Catholic Student Association (CSA) at Rutgers puts on a student-led retreat each semester. These retreats are prime avenues for promoting and enabling student leaders as well as creating large scale environments for the entire community to encounter God.
The student leaders began planning this retreat at the end of last Spring Semester, and discerned a theme that really resonated with the retreatants. The theme was “Take Heart: Courage to Be Known”. The two scriptures that really drove the weekend were John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have conquered the world,” and the story of Jesus walking on the water and calling Peter out of the boat from Matthew 14:22. This was a pertinent theme because of the trials that college students today deal with.These range from pressures of the society and school to the fear of the unknown future that so often surfaces throughout this exciting, but challenging stage of life.
Loneliness is an obstacle that this generation of college students faces every day. With the rise of social media and other ways of ‘connecting’ it has become easier to put on a façade of happiness, when in reality there is a deeper longing for community and connection, placed in the human heart by the Lord himself, that goes unfulfilled.
The idea behind this retreat theme was to present to these students a community and a person, Jesus, who can break those barriers down and fill us with true joy and freedom if they are willing to take courage and take a step off the boat when Jesus calls. Those who attended the retreat were encouraged through talks and small groups to have courage to open the door, step out of the boat, and be known by Jesus through vulnerability and receiving love, as well as through the peers that surround them in the CSA community. The retreat provided a great environment for all of those things, being away from the city and at a beautiful camp, disconnected from cell phones and homework, and surrounded by great people who are open and excited about new friendships.
During the retreat, there were times for Eucharistic adoration, Mass, praise and worship, silent prayer, small group discussion, fellowship time, and meditation. On Saturday afternoon, there was also some free time where the students could play sports, hang out and talk, shoot potato cannons (a crowd favorite), go for a walk, and begin to build more organic and authentic relationships with one another
The final talk on the retreat was about how to take all that the students learned and experienced on retreat back to Rutgers, especially through prayer, community, and mission. The students were encouraged not to let the fire go out, and given concrete ways to make resolutions based on what God had worked in their lives, and of course reminded of the community that had surrounded them all weekend, which is a great place to continue to grow alongside one another.
Here are a few quotes from some Rutgers students about the impact that retreat had on them:
“Retreat was a time and space where I was able to allow the Lord to speak truth and encouragement to me. He used that time to tell me new things, but He mostly reaffirmed truths and His deep love for me.” - Micaela, Junior
“I think going into the retreat I was thinking what can I do for Christ, but on the retreat it was refreshing to discover that He loves and knows me first, and that all I do springs from the fact that I am loved first. What a beautiful thing to rediscover!” -Andrew, Junior
“The retreat was an incredible experience that gave me the chance to open myself up and grow closer with other CSA members and the Lord. I was able to truly take heart and be vulnerable during small group discussions, witnesses, and confession.” - Joanna, Freshman
“The retreat was very freeing for me because I took heart and opened up to a group of guys about something that I had bottled up in the past. It allows me now to live more freely as a son of God” - Matthew, Junior