I offer a reflection on a beautiful experience I had today, a blessing of my ministry as Director of Vocations for the Archdiocese of Toronto. We held our first “Road to Emmaus Hiking Retreat” today. It was a beautiful day where 23 men hiked the Bruce Trail, through the Cataract in Caledon; college and university men, men living out their vocation already, seminarians and men discerning.
The Lord was with us as we began our Hiking Retreat early this Saturday morning. Not only was the Lord with us as we prayed and asked for the Holy Spirit to be present throughout the day, but had blessed us with a gorgeous day for walking the Bruce Trail, by the Credit River, to the Cataract Falls amid the beauty of the autumn colours with the sun gleaming through the trees. Just over twenty of us; men in college and university, men discerning God’s plan for them in their lives, seminarians, Fr. Ryan Alemão, Joe Di Fonzo and myself prepared ourselves ahead of time for this walk.
Joe Di Fonzo is the Program Coordinator at the Office of Vocations. He has been instrumental for the past nearly ten years in the office in planning of retreats for young men. He facilitated our high school retreats that helped young men in high school see God’s love for them and call them to service in Christ. He is eminently qualified for this task, as a retired Catholic High School teacher of more than thirty years.
This is a new project. A couple of years ago, Joe and I began discussing the decline we were seeing in those who were coming to the high school retreat and while we have run and will continue to host Discernment Retreats, we have been looking for new ideas to reach young men – an important part of the work we do at the Office of Vocations. Happily, the decline in part is due to many good retreats and engagements for young people elsewhere; youth and young adult ministries and great ways Catholic Christians are being nourished. The Office of Vocations never wants to compete with this – it’s not our mission. The mission of our office isn’t simply to draw in more priests for the Church (that is my own priority) but to provide opportunities and encounters to help people desire holiness. When we are on the road to living the universal call to holiness, it’s then that we will hear the Lord call us to our particular and unique vocation, whatever that may be.
Joe and I have both come to see the value in doing “guy things” with guys and Joe has run with this from there.
It was a great day of walking through the woods, encountering God in His created world, hearing inspiring reflections from Jeremy Zou, Sean Jacob and Cole Powers, three of our seminarians and having Marko Busic and Matthew Tulio share their own stories and experiences as seminarians, but more importantly as Christian men as they helped lead the retreat and journey the men who joined us. Fr. Ryan and I concluded the day of reflection and retreat with Holy Mass.
My hope is that everyone received what the Lord intended for them. He certainly filled my heart with joy and re-energized me in my own life. He gave me a sense of continuing on my own journey and to appreciate everything I am encountering along the way and to continue to be sensitive to the beauty around me and not just looking for what’s to come at the end of it all (although that’s an even greater glory). Today I appreciated the time I had to be with others, to be with the Lord in all of His magnificent beauty. The Lord revealed to me that I need to continue to be inspired, as I was, and am by the people I am blessed to work with – the seminarians, the priests, my staff, and the people who I meet each and every day. I journeyed and continue to journey with each of the five seminarians who helped to lead this retreat and I received so much more from them then I can imagine they could receive from me. I’m sure that I’ve been a help to them but they truly inspire me!
I hope and pray we all receive what the Lord wants for us to receive. We were in the midst of so many people out enjoying the day. As a priest and a Catholic Christian man, I was immensely proud of the group of men who witnessed to Jesus Christ amid the people and places we all share. Each and every man who came and joined us today was an inspiration in a world that needs to be inspired!