By Lois Rogers | Correspondent
Jesse and Elsie Hornblum traveled more than an hour with their five-month-old baby, Joseph, in tow with a faith-filled mission in mind: “starting Lent off on the right foot.”
“It’s good to have a time to think about Lent,” said Elsie Hornblum of St. Paul Parish, Princeton, who cradled the couple’s wide-eyed son. “There’s a different layer of commitment that you feel just being here that supports your faith.”
The Hornblums were among those who attended the daylong young adult retreat “Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Holiness” held March 9 St. James Church, Red Bank. It was “good to start Lent with this conference,” she said.
Like the Hornblums, more than 60 young adults in their 20s and 30s from around the Diocese and beyond were drawn to the program to hear retreat leader Father Jason Hage, a priest of the Diocese of Syracuse, N.Y, explore what it means to have life in and through Christ and the Church, how liberation is experienced through the Sacraments and how to pursue holiness in the 21st century.
He emphasized the abiding quality of God’s mercy by drawing on the writings of Pope John Paul I, St. John Paul II, Popes Benedict XVI and Francis, the teachings of St. Ignatius of Loyola, and other Catholic saints and scholars.
Defining mercy as “God’s identity card,” Father Hage spoke of how “no matter what [we] choose in life, even if we are unfaithful to him and ourselves,” the ability of God to forgive can never be dismissed.
“God goes to extreme lengths to save everyone,” Father Hage said. “God waits. God doesn’t want you to sin. He loves you so much that he anticipates your next fall” and gives leeway, so that over time, “you will learn how to fall gracefully … to come to know the Lord and let him ‘mercify’ you.”
Each of Father Hage’s presentations culminated in prayer and songs of praise and brought the group to its feet in unity. Confession, Eucharistic Adoration, prayer and praise were mainstays of the day, which concluded with Mass.
During the retreat, sponsored by the diocesan Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries, participants shared fellowship, which many found meaningful.
“It’s nice to feel the camaraderie,” said Jesse Hornblum, who grew up in Brick and attended St. Dominic School. “It makes us feel not alone. There’s a great feeling of support.”
Juliana Monroy, of St. Gabriel Parish, Marlboro, admitted she learned something new – she didn’t realize there were opportunities for young adults in the area until she heard about the event.
“Coming here makes me feel most at home,” she said. “It keeps me looking at the Cross. I needed something to pray on, and I am getting it here. [It’s] … like a big hole has closed.”
Father Hage said he was moved by the enthusiasm of the young adults, especially how they were interested in engaging in the life of the Church and seeking out more opportunities like the retreat.
“They were so involved,” said Father Hage, especially when it came to the music. “I watched them and saw that they knew all the words, that they closed their eyes in prayer and sang intensely and out loud. It was very moving.”
He was also moved at the number of young people went to Confession, joined in Eucharistic Adoration and sought him out for prayer. “They really poured their hearts out,” he said. “I pray this was just the beginning of something major.”
Nick Petrillo, a religion teacher in Mater Dei Prep, Middletown, and one of six volunteers who planned the retreat, said the number of young adults who attended was inspiring.
“At one point, we ran out of chairs; we were all very excited to have 15 walk-ins,” he said. “The energy was steady. They entered into the music, and they were attentive to the talks. There were about three hours of steady Confession during lunch, and it carried over after Mass.”
“We’d like to do it again next year at the start of Lent. It’s one of the best times to focus in on the relationship with God,” he added.