–Carmen DiGiandomenico


“Hope is part of the heart that provides the courage to be uncommon in the quest of your dreams.”

When there is something special in your life there is a great desire to share it with the ones you love.

The special thing in my life is attending an annual men’s spiritual retreat weekend with 300 of my Christian

brothers. I have been experiencing this annual event for the past 32 years, with each year bringing a

different spiritual experience.  Attending this weekend is a family tradition the men in my family share.

Over the years, I always looked forward to the opportunity to share this weekend with my sons, just like my

Dad has done with me.

 

What makes this weekend so special that I would want to continue the tradition with my son?  Over the years my retreat weekend provided me with the opportunity to further my relationship with God.  The retreat provides the opportunity to get off the ‘merry –go-round of life” and experience some quiet time.   I have tried to use this time to listen to God’s message; his message to me as a man, husband, father, brother, businessman and servant.  I have prayed for the courage to do the right things, the wisdom to know how to handle life’s challenges, balance to focus on the important things and faith to know when all else fails, the good Lord is there to carry me.  The strength, direction and energy I have taken from these weekends have been the catalyst to any happiness, success or spiritual growth I have experienced in life.  During my oldest son, Paul, senior year in high school I invited him to attend retreat with me.  I received the expected response of reluctance and hesitation.  I told Paul his grandfathers, uncles and cousins would be in attendance.  I reiterated the importance of the weekend and the unique experience for the men in our family.  As a good son he has always been, Paul was obedient and attended retreat.

 

With Paul now in college and the associated distractions in place, the challenges of a father son relationship were in full effect.  After completing his first year of college Paul, came home for the summer.  He did the typical things: summer job, staying out late at night with his friends, meeting a few young ladies, and INFORMED US THAT HE NO LONGER BELIEVED IN GOD.  Well, I wasn’t sure how true his beliefs really were, but I know he wanted a reaction from me.  Over the years, I would often respond to such a comment with some type of sports analogy.  I have done this so often that Paul had them all memorized and would play them back to me without hesitation.

 

With the reservations for the retreat weekend quickly approaching, I was formulating my strategy to get Paul to attend retreat.  I had a great desire to share the experience with him once again, but I wanted him to attend because he wanted to not out of obligation.  While he was home on semester break I reminded him that retreat is the weekend before he returns to school.  Let’s make no mistake about it, Paul is like any other twenty year old student, he’d much rather be back at college partying with his college buddies.  I received the reaction I anticipated, but just prayed that he would attend.  Once again, I used the family tradition card and told him that his grandfathers, uncle and cousins will be attendance.  Paul has many great attributes, but his service to his family is right up at the top.  My hope was to just get him to retreat.  I prayed to God that if I could get him to the weekend, that the Holy Spirit would touch his heart and take care of the rest.  Well, on the morning we were departing for a 9 hour drive to Philadelphia to attend retreat, Paul was in the car.

 

So, what was I hoping Paul would receive from attending retreat?  One of the greatest gifts I have received from attending retreat is spiritual tranquility.  The retreat house sits on 125 acres of pure natural beauty and peace.  Upon entering the retreat grounds there is instant tranquility that touches your soul.  I was hoping Paul would also identify the retreat location as a unique and special place.  Over the years the retreat weekend has provided me with the necessary quiet time to build my relationship with God.  The retreat is intended to be a silent retreat.  For Paul to experience an environment that has no peer or societal pressures to distract his prayer life is a gift from God in itself.  Through this quiet time our hearts can be open to receive the message of the Lord.

 

What I did not realize was the Holy Spirit was going to bless us with his presence before we even made it to the Pennsylvania state line.  On the way to retreat a conversation started to brew in the car.  Paul was sharing his “college” attitude about his professors and the shortcomings of the institution.  The two other gentlemen in the car fully engaged in a conversation with Paul.  For the next two hours I just sat back and drove and listened.  My brothers in faith were taking care of business with Paul.  I have to admit, I was silently cheering for my brothers as they shared their direct feedback to Paul.  Bottom line, the Holy Spirit was in the car and gracing the conversation between the three men.

 

Similar to the relationship I had with my father, I wanted Paul to continue to develop our relationship, but more importantly, our friendship.  With the busy life we both were involved in it can be difficult to continue to nature our relationship.  After a long day’s drive we arrived to a full retreat house.  To make room for each man, fathers / sons were asked to share a room.  Wow, I wanted to share the weekend with Paul now I was given the opportunity to share a room with him.  I just prayed to God for the wisdom not to blow the opportunity.  I decided to let the weekend just run its course.  We had a chance to chat, talk about his course work, and just spend quality time together.  We attended the spiritual conferences together, participated in the Stations of the Cross walk, attended mass and enjoyed meals together.  We also had the opportunity to share in Eucharistic adoration, a practice in the Roman Catholic Church in which the Blessed Sacrament is exposed to and adored by the faithful, at 2 am Saturday morning.  Well, as we all have experienced at some point in our lives, the good Lord works in mysterious ways.  Paul and I had a wonderful weekend together.

 

A great tradition of the retreat is the fellowship experienced over the weekend.  As a young man growing in his faith, Paul had the opportunity to see 300 other men, from all walks of life, dedicate their weekend to growing their faith with God.  A 95 year old man celebrating his 55th retreat was recognized as a great testament to his dedication and commitment to faith.  When the man was called to the podium to receive his certificate of attendance he received a standing ovation.

 

On Sunday morning, Paul and I had about 45 minutes open before Mass.  We took the opportunity to enjoy the walking paths and pray at a few shrines.  As we walked the grounds I had the opportunity to pat Paul on the back and tell him that I was proud of him and that I loved him.  I also told him that I was really appreciated him taking the time to attend retreat with me.  Similar, to every other year, retreat well exceeded my expectations and provided my son and I to experience the beauty and grace of our good Lord together.  I am truly grateful for this experience.  In the coming years I hope to have Paul’s younger brother join the two of us on a retreat weekend.  Prosit!