Since I ended my last post with an encouragement to attend Youth 2000’s Walsingham retreat, I thought I’d better write up a post about it. This retreat is always a highlight of my year, and this one was no different. The theme this year was Conquerors.
After arriving and getting all the usual bits and pieces out of the way – trying to find a vaguely flat bit of ground to set up the tent, realising I’d forgotten a roll-mat so was going to have to sleep flat on the ground (rookie mistake for my fourth time attending), registering, saying hello to old friends – we hit the ground running with Mass. The homily given by Fr Christopher Joseph CFR really set the tone for the rest of the retreat.
To help you understand the importance of his homily, I have to explain something that some of you may find slightly shocking… Walsingham has very little signal. If you’re lucky you might find a couple of spots where you can send a text or make a quick call, but internet? Pretty much nowhere to be found. I know! Five days with no social media…
Okay, so you have the picture? No Facebook, no WhatsApp, no Instagram, no Twitter, no Snapchat… but you know what? It’s actually incredibly freeing. Without being able to check my phone every five minutes to see if people far away were trying to contact me, I found myself being far more present to those who physically surrounded me. And this is the point that was being made by Fr Christopher. Our love for social media comes from our desire to be connected to everyone, but the real way that this can happen is not through faceappstagram, but through Jesus. The Social Network of Christ is his body. It’s us. Linking back to the theme of the retreat, he challenged us to make sure we were conquering social media, and not the other way around. Social media can be a fantastic way to evangelise, but we need to make sure we are not being controlled by it.
So, how to spend five days with no phone? Well, one of the great beauties of Youth 2000 is that there’s always plenty to do – I was so busy attending talks and workshops, hanging out with old friends and making new ones that I didn’t even manage to find time for a nap this year!
Something that I really, really love about Youth 2000 is how it’s completely centred around the Blessed Sacrament – around Jesus. From the end of the opening Mass to just before closing Mass, there is perpetual adoration. Jesus is out, physically present for the whole weekend. The talks are given with Him in the room, the praise and worship takes place around Him. If you wake up at, say, 3am, you can go and sit with Him. I didn’t manage to take advantage of this enough this year, but knowing that he was so physically close all the time was a great blessing.
If you missed out, it’s okay. Fr Stephen Wang reminded us that nothing we receive on retreats like this is any different to anything we receive back home. The point is to gain a greater appreciation for what we have when we go back home. Whilst you may not be surrounded by priests, making it easy to find one for confession, they’re still there in your home parish. All you have to do is ask (or turn up at the pre-advertised times). The Eucharist you receive in Mass in Walsingham, or in a field in Poland at World Youth Day, is the same as the one you receive at home. It’s the same Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament, whether you’re adoring him in a circus tent in Walsingham, in Westminster Cathedral, or in your local church. The rosary is the same great weapon of prayer no matter where you say it.
In a later homily, Fr Stephen challenged those present to love your church, be proud of your faith and be prepared to stand up for them both, as well as to “Love the Catholic faith not only for what it has meant for us, but also for what it can mean for others.”
So use your social network following to evangelise. If you love Jesus, let people know. If you go to a fantastic talk, share it. We’re all very good at letting our friends on Facebook know when we’ve had a delicious meal at a new restaurant, so why not share when we hear a fantastic homily during Mass? You’d announce it if you were going to a music festival, so why not let everyone know that you’ll be in Sheffield from 28 to 30 October for the next Youth 2000 retreat.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go. I’ve just had another friend request pop up on Facebook from someone I met in Walsingham…