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Spes Unica: A reflection on leading a retreat and a call to others

I’ve been missing from the pages of The Observer for a while, but I am back and refreshed after a great weekend Spes Unica retreat. As the 50th retreat in this biannual series, Spes Unica retreats are a hidden gem among the many retreats that happen around the tri-campus community. Though I was a leader this time around, this retreat was still one I actively participated in as if I was living it out. For context, this was my first official Spes Unica retreat, but my third spiritual retreat at Holy Cross. The first was at Sophomore Anchor Day, an overnight retreat that served as a spiritual check-in for those in their second year of Holy Cross. After this, I did not go on any Spes Unica retreats, but I did attend our Marian Pilgrimage. During this pilgrimage, we traveled around from Indiana to travel to Illinois and Wisconsin, visiting holy sites centered around Mary. Highlights include going to Marytown in Libertyville, the University of Saint Mary of the Lake in Mundelein and the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion. This was a multiple-day trip that introduced Mary to several students in new and exciting ways. But, these were not Spes Unica retreats, also known as SPES. 

SPES is a retreat open to the students of the tri-campus, Catholic or non-Catholic, geared to help students deepen their spirituality and relationship with God. At SPES, and in my own leadership, it is to meet God where you are and search for Him in your own way. Modeled after a testimony/talk and small group reflection framework, this series of retreats is a big deal to the Campus Ministry team here at Holy Cross. SPES is led by students that have been to at least one previous and want to continue going to SPES in a new way. I took the opportunity to lead SPES 50 because I have wanted to grow in my faith life. I find that many people around me don’t realize that I am as faithful as I am. This is a complicated dynamic to be a part of because of the context of my relationship with Christ, His Church and me. In my talk, and in my everyday life, I let people know that I am Catholic and proudly queer. I won’t divulge into the theology or catechesis on Catholics and homosexuality, but I will explain that it isn’t easy. I took it upon myself to take this retreat as a time to work on my relationship with Christ as a way that could explore the relationship I already have with Him. 

As many of you know, if you’ve followed my columns, I have put time into thinking about ACE at Notre Dame. And after further consideration of the possibility of my role in the lives of future catholic youth, I knew I needed to continue to fortify my relationship with God. Part of this is to do my own work. SPES values personal prayer and reflection; highlighting adoration and contemplation as moments to work on your relationships with God. This layer is what I was looking forward to as a retreatant. On the flip side, it took me by surprise how much I enjoyed talking about my faith and helping others through theirs as a leader. My talk was centered around the changing nature of one’s relationship with Christ and the fundamental importance of knowing your status as a Child of God. These are the two key facets of my own faith. As a future catholic school educator, it is important to me that one day my students grow to learn the depths of love God has for them. As a retreat leader, it was important for me to make sure my retreatants knew that same message, that God so deeply loves them. This is because of the fact that it is a struggle I’ve had to deal with throughout my life.

So what? If you have read this far into my article, thank you. And I’ll get to the point I am trying to make soon enough. What I want you, readers of these articles, to know is that there is a call to join in community with each other. I know that not everyone is Catholic or religious at all, but everyone needs someone. And I think that a weekend away from the books and from the world showed me that I needed it sooner than I expected. I found that I wanted to be more authentically connected to people. As the photographer of the weekend, I had my phone out a couple of times to take pictures or to check the team’s GroupMe for updates on the plan for the weekend. But it was refreshing to sit in conversation and get to know one another in deeper relationships. Part of this column is to be authentically me and broadcast what the experience of a Holy Cross College student is like to the greater tri-campus community, but part of me also wants to invite you to get to know one another in ways that don’t involve a cell phone. So, find a retreat near you, go phoneless for a couple hours and enjoy the changing landscape we’re experiencing right now. Holy Cross has the SPES retreats once a semester and is always open to the tri-campus; my email is listed if you are interested in attending it. There is so much to do without time on earth, make it count. 

Gabriel B. Ibarra is a Chicago native currently attending Holy Cross College, majoring in visual arts on the studio track with a minor in elementary education. If not crying to any of Taylor Swift’s re-recordings, you can find them somewhere in the tri-campus causing chaos with laughs, pointed jokes and one of many emotional support water bottles in hand, or leading Holy Cross College’s First Generation Club as the vice-president. Learning to write for a newspaper is harder than expected, so they can be contacted on Twitter @gbenito11 or via email at gibarra@hcc-nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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