Over the last few years the Good Shepherd Lay Partners in the UK have had a three day weekend retreat. Two years ago we decided that it would be good to use the talents of the lay partners and the Sisters who support us. The result was a resounding “Let’s do it this way again.” And so we did. The Coordinating Team had little difficulty in choosing the theme for the Retreat, it being the Year of Mercy and so the title of the retreat was “The Name of God is Mercy.”
We have three Sisters – Carmel, Nuala and Andrea on the Coordinating Team and Partners from three of our regional groups – Joan, Bernadette and Emily. Everyone on the team offered to prepare either a talk or prayers and music for the three days and we had a feast: thought provoking talks, moving prayers and reflective time, as well as music prepared by Jacqui and Sr. Carmel, all coordinated by Emily as she chaired the whole retreat.
As we gathered at the Retreat Centre in North Wales, we decided not to have a silent retreat as we felt it was important for us to get to know one another better as we have so few opportunities to meet as a big group. This helped us to have very open conversations in our small groups and in the whole group sessions.
Sixteen of us gathered in the Retreat Centre on Friday evening. After Joan had led us in the opening prayer, Sr. Carmel opened our session and our minds with a wonderful précis of the Papal Bull announcing the Year of Mercy. It gave us a superb insight into the intentions of Pope Francis in declaring the Year of Mercy and what it means for us personally as well as for our mission.
Our morning session on Saturday was led by Sr. Andrea, a great story teller with her own inimitable style. She had called her session “Through the Holy Door” and had prepared a ‘Holy Door’. Unfortunately the door did not survive the journey from Scotland so we had a Holy Arch instead, created from the flowers that would have adorned the door! It was as well we had decided not to have a silent retreat as it made us all laugh a lot. Nonetheless it was a powerful symbol for us as we experienced processing through the arch of flowers and into the presence of God’s mercy and of one another in small groups where we shared our reflections. Later, the whole group shared our thoughts and hopes about the need for compassion in the world and within the Church.
For our evening session Bernadette had brought a leaflet that her diocese had prepared: “God’s Wounds of Mercy.” This used the story of Thomas and his refusal to believe without seeing Jesus’ hands and feet and she set us the task of reflecting in groups on this with a short questionnaire. Once again it was a very powerful and moving session, deepening our understanding of God’s mercy.
On Sunday morning Emily asked us to tell where we first met Good Shepherd. Much of what was said reflected the experience of warmth and caring that people felt in their first encounter. Patricia then introduced a reflection on shepherding and the overflowing nature of God’s love, using passages from John’s Gospel as well as the Good Shepherd psalm to help us see just how abundantly God gives his love and compassion and how we can reflect this in our own lives.
All the input and the sharing were surrounded by prayer led by members of the group and we concluded with an inspiring sending out session prepared by Joan after we had renewed our Commitment as Good Shepherd partners. We felt spiritually enriched and empowered by this experience.
We are already planning next year’s retreat, and maybe another pilgrimage to Angers.