As part of National Catholic Sisters Week, the Carmelite Sisters will host a retreat for teens preparing for the sacrament of confirmation. Funded by an NCSW mini-grant, the retreat will be held March 9 at the Carmelite Monastery of Baltimore. Around 50 teens are expected to attend.
We caught up with Sister Cecilia Ashton, OCD, to learn more.
Why is this retreat a valuable offering for Catholic teens preparing to be confirmed?
Each sacrament takes as its starting point the relationship God desires to have with each of us. It is especially important that young Catholics preparing for confirmation understand that God wants to have a relationship with each one of them and that the way we open ourselves to the fullness of this relationship is through prayer. This retreat will expose these Catholic teens to different prayer forms and provide the guidance needed for them to be able to enter into times of silence.
Why is it so difficult these days for young people to listen to God’s voice?
New forms of communication, particularly the rise of social media, have brought with them a complexity that didn’t exist before. Young people are often wading through a barrage of diverse messages that change rapidly. What I think is particularly difficult is that they are walking around with what one of the catechists described as a “24/7 public-opinion poll” in their pockets -- referring, of course, to the cellphone. This information overload brings a certain noise and distraction to all of our lives, which makes it even more difficult to discern God’s voice.
But what I think is even more fundamental to being able to listen for God’s voice is that first people have to know God is speaking. During this retreat we will have a panel discussions on “Listening to God’s Voice” and “Cooperating with God’s Spirit.”
How would you describe the wisdom that Carmelite Sisters have to offer young adults?
I think the wisdom we have to offer comes out of our long history -- our community was founded in 1790 -- and our deep desire for union with God, the quest of every Carmelite. Ultimately what we hope to share is the fruit of our life of prayer.
We understand something about the longing of every human heart and the various ways it seeks fulfillment over a lifetime. I want the teens to understand that their desire for God is the result of God’s desire for them. And I want them to recognize that their desire to be confirmed is a response to the action of God in their lives. We are always responding to God’s initiative.
What impact do you hope the retreat will have?
I hope their time with us will inspire them to realize the importance of prayer and will help them to deepen their own lives of prayer.
Our hope is that this retreat will raise awareness about religious life, specifically the Carmelite contemplative life of prayer. We hope to inspire those who attend to desire a deeper relationship with God through prayer, and we hope they come away with the understanding that prayer is an apostolic work, that it is the heartbeat of the Church and that it is necessary for the ongoing transformation of the world.
Above all, we hope the participants will recognize the indwelling presence of God in one another and that, as full members of the Church, they are the presence of the risen Christ in the world. We also hope this event will bring new young people to our monastery who will help us to better understand their needs and give us insight into how they search for and experience God in their lives.
Can you give an example of a message you have prepared for the teens on retreat?
We’ll be using Mark 7:32-35 during the retreat to highlight that, throughout the day, we need to move away from the crowd and allow Jesus to put his fingers into our ears. My hope is that after the retreat each time they go to put their earbuds in their ears or pick up their cellphones, they will stop and ask themselves, “Have I allowed Jesus to stick his fingers in my ears today?”