I wasn’t quite sure what to expect on my first day of the New Student Retreat (NSR). Up until the retreat, I had lived my faith openly and tried to attend as many daily Masses as I could, but I still seemed to be lacking something in my faith experience. A Latin phrase comes to mind, now, when I reflect on my experience: ubi amor, ibi oculus. It translates to “The eyes see better when guided by love.”
Going into the retreat, my main concern was that I didn’t have many Catholic friends at Baylor. I have my friends from line camp and in my dorm, but I hadn’t found any devout Catholic friends to associate with. That’s not to say I haven’t met some wonderful Christians here—they’ve truly helped guide me into being a better person, and have definitely had my back these last two months at Baylor. But I still felt like I was missing something.
By the time we got to the retreat house, I had lightened up quite a bit. I figured “I’ve had a great time jamming out in the car here, I’m sure the other people here are just as cool.” And everyone definitely was—but I still didn’t feel like I was belonging to the community. There were a lot of upperclassmen there, and everyone seemed to know each other already. I decided to put this worry off to the side and concentrate more on my spiritual time there at the retreat.
The first talk came on about confession, and I tuned in to listen. I knew that it was something I needed. After listening to the talk, I wrote down some things going on in my heart and was one of the first people in line for confession. It was really a relief—I had confessed a few times before with Fr. Daniel, but it really felt this time that I was speaking with Jesus. I hadn’t even committed any nerve-wracking sins; I was more grateful that I had someone to talk to and who could understand some of my incessant worries that had been building up prior to the retreat. After absolution, I knew I needed some quiet time with Jesus and I sat outside in silent prayer on the porch for a while.
I remember looking at a great tree growing through the porch, and sitting in awe at the way God was working in my heart then. I knew I was going to make friends, but was that the really worry in my heart? I took out and held my rosary and prayed to Mary for comfort: “Mary, my little Mother, I know you’re guiding my heart and watching me. Thank you for simply being present with me, holding me, and drawing me ever closer to the Heart of Jesus. I trust in You.” In a much deeper state of peace now, I walked back into the praise and worship session with confidence.
I finally discovered that it wasn’t even friends that I had been looking for at the retreat. I still made friends, but more importantly, I discovered my deeper sense of self in Christ. The next few days were honestly a blur, but the most important memory I can think of is the affirmation session. At this time in the retreat, before the affirmations started, I was having a slight existential crisis. I kept worrying about the future, what my major was going to be, and that I wasn’t in high school anymore. After someone on the mic announced that it was time for us to close our eyes for affirmations, I thought, “Well alright I’ll just put these questions on the side.”
Even typing now I can still remember the joy I felt at knowing that I belonged, and that I had a Christ-like influence on others. I was genuinely surprised at the amount of people who tapped my shoulders for different affirmations. “[Tap] someone you prayed for… Someone you saw Christ in this weekend.” I remember feeling the most taps for “someone you saw Christ in this weekend,” and my heart soared. People didn’t just know me. They saw Christ in me. I then realized that what I needed was a reality check. My deepest identity is not an honor student, a hard-worker, a nice-guy or anything else I tie to myself. My deepest identity is within Christ.
I needed the love of others to guide me closer to Christ. “The eyes see better when guided by love.” Ubi amor, ibi oculus.
Jake Shanley is a freshman from The Woodlands, Texas.