Quo Vadis retreat allows teens to explore where they are going

by Joan Kurkowski-Gillen

North Texas Catholic

July 24, 2017

Quo Vadis retreat participants follow Dcn. Maurice Moon during a Eucharistic Procession at the Montserrat Retreat House in Lake Dallas. (NTC photo/Adrean Indolos)


LAKE DALLAS — A teenager’s hectic life bustles with noise from video games, iPods, action movies, and television. Silence can seem foreign, almost uncomfortable, in a culture that demands attention.

But it’s the quiet moments that help a young person discover what’s truly important. That’s what Anthony Robbins learned while attending the 2017 Quo Vadis? Retreat, hosted by the Diocese of Fort Worth Vocation Office, July 11-13 at the Montserrat Jesuit Retreat House.

The 14-year-old from Coppell was one of 22 high-school-age boys who came to the Lake Dallas site to find out more about the priesthood and discern what God’s calling them to do in life.

“You have to be free to what God is trying to tell you. You have to listen, pray, and be silent sometimes,” said the home-schooled freshman, recalling the gist of talks presented over three days. “That’s made the biggest impact on me so far.”

Quo Vadis is a Latin phrase meaning, “Where are you going?” The words come from a story about St. Peter that occurs a few days before the apostle’s crucifixion.

According to legend, Peter is leaving Rome discouraged about the persecution of new Christians. On his way out of the city, he encounters a vision of Jesus carrying his cross and asks him, “Quo Vadis Domine?” or “Where are you going, Lord?” Jesus replies, “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.”

Some of the 22 high-school-age boys who came to learn more about priesthood and vocations are seen in this photo taken at the Quo Vadis Retreat July 11-13. (NTC photo/Joan Gillen)


With renewed courage, Peter walks back into the city to face martyrdom.

“There are many Quo Vadis retreats across the country and they all ask, ‘Where are you going?’” explained Sam Maul, a seventh-year seminarian who organized the diocesan event with third-year seminarian Ben Vina. “It’s about vocations. It’s about how we follow Christ in a particular way.”

During their stay at Montserrat, the teens enjoyed some leisure activities but were also encouraged to grow spiritually. Along with praying the Liturgy of the Hours and gathering for Mass and Holy Hour, time was carved out for personal prayer and reflection. A grand silence quieted the campus from 8:30 one evening until lunch the following day.

Not talking is difficult for teenagers, admitted 16-year-old Will Vina, the brother of seminarian, Ben Vina.

“It’s good to have time away from life with all its noise and busyness,” said the St. Mary the Virgin parishioner. “Grand silence is hard for teenagers but it forces you — when there’s nothing else to do — to pray about discernment, priesthood, marriage, or whatever your vocation may be.

Maul and Vina centralized the retreat’s program around the theme, “To know your vocation is to know the One who calls you.”

Dcn. Maurice Moon, who is in his final year of seminary, and seminarian Sam Maul (right) relax after a day packed with activities at the Quo Vadis retreat. (NTC photo/Joan Kurkowski-Gillen)


“We’re hoping the retreat inspires a deeper relationship with Christ,” Maul said. “Once you have that relationship, you can really discern your vocation.”

Father Joseph Keating spoke to the teens about his call to the priesthood, but religious life was not the only subject broached. Later that day, the high school students heard a presentation on marriage and the responsibilities of manhood from Diocesan Youth Director Jason Spoolstra.

The husband and father of two talked candidly about his dating years and eventual courtship and marriage to his wife, Becky. But it was the words of praise he expressed for his own father that seemed to capture the attention of the young audience. Married at the age of 22, the elder Spoolstra labored long hours as a welder to support his family.

“My dad is the hardest working man I’ve ever known and he never complained once,” the speaker said. “He always took time to be there for me and that’s something I’ll never forget.”

When Spoolstra’s mother bought her husband a new wedding ring to replace the old one, he struggled to remove the original from his finger. It had never been taken off.

That symbolized to Spoolstra his father’s deep commitment to his spouse and children.

“If you’re called to marriage, and you know exactly who you are going to marry, when you put on the ring, it’s not just a symbol. This is a vocation right here,” Spoolstra said, pointing to his own wedding band.

Retreatants pray before the cross at Montserrat Jesuit Retreat House during the Quo Vadis Retreat. (NTC photo/Adrean Indolos)

In American culture, many marriages don’t last and divorce is common, he added. Despite obstacles and setbacks, Spoolstra’s parents celebrated more than 30 years of marriage.

“If I asked my father how they stayed together so long he would tell me there is no ‘out,’” the young minister said referring to the vows of marriage. “When you say ‘yes’ to your vocation, whether it’s marriage or the priesthood — there is no ‘out.’”

Maurice Moon, ordained to the transitional diaconate earlier this year, described life as a seminarian and why it takes seven to nine years to become a priest. In his final year of formation, the deacon hopes to be ordained next May.

“Why does it take so long? Because you’re being conformed to the cross and that takes time,” he said, answering the rhetorical question. “The seminary gives us the opportunity to be conformed more and more to the image of Jesus Christ. When the bishop lays his hands on you, Christ is transforming your humanity so you can become like Christ in the world.”

Four pillars of formation — human, pastoral, intellectual, and spiritual — prepare a seminarian for ordination.

“Before a man can give himself to God and others, he has to know himself,” Deacon Moon continued. “In seminary, we get to know God and his personal love for us. We get to know ourselves as individuals and Christian men.”

Every year of formation is different. The camaraderie of other seminarians, morning and evening prayer, spiritual direction, academic studies, and pastoral assignments combine to make men “good shepherds to other people and ultimately lead them to God.”

The seminary offers a person time to learn, study, and grow, explained Father Manuel Holguin, who supervised the retreat as the associate vocation director for the diocese.

“As a priest, you interact with different people and different situations and to do that you need balance and a good understanding of the meaning of life,” he said, addressing the teens. “That’s why we spend so much time in seminary.”

And, despite what some people think, a priest’s work isn’t over after Sunday Mass is celebrated.

“It’s a busy life,” Fr. Holguin said. “A priest has to be a leader. He leads people to heaven.” 

LAKE DALLAS — A teenager’s hectic life bustles with noise from video games, iPods, action movies, and television. Silence can seem foreign, almost uncomfortable, in a culture that demands attention.

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