A Weekend Retreat
(Dec, 2010) Recently, I had the extreme privilege of having an ultrasound of my liver. I was dropped off by my mother at the hospital, my hair braided into pigtails, and I journeyed cautiously inside. Walking slowly up to the main desk, I paused before I reached the large red line across the floor with the word "stop" written boldly and ferociously.
Upon my turn to approach the desk, I moved forward gracefully and inquired as to where the ultrasound department was. I instantly heard one thousand necks crack as heads snapped up to look at me; I felt the heat of one million eyes starring me down. Although I myself knew I was at the hospital to get an ultrasound of my liver and not of a potential guest inside my womb, these
curious hospital goers were not aware of this simple truth. Instead, they viewed me as a teen mom. Never before have I experienced something like that and I will probably never again be so blessed with an experience like it. I refer to it as a blessing, because it opened my eyes to the that struggle that many young, pregnant women must endure. To even just experience a sliver
of that trial was a rare moment of insight and growth indeed.
Interestingly my day continued with a trip to the store with my mom to pick out baby clothes, blankets, and diapers. She wanted to bring a donation to the Sisters of Life who work with vulnerable pregnant women and disadvantaged mothers. Again, although both my mother and I knew to whom the supplies were going, the cashier did not. She looked at us
with curiosity and a furrowed brow, perhaps attempting to determine whether the things were for the offspring of my mother or for me. I saw in this just how far off our assumptions can be if we base them on little true information; we can never know the complete situation from simply looking at it from the outside.
Actually, this fact is the reason that I recently went to visit the Sisters of Life in their natural habitat; I could not possibly know the way the Sisters thought or interacted by just looking at them from afar. I had to go to them and see for myself. This meant journeying to Villa Maria Guadalupe, their retreat house in Stamford, Connecticut to spend
many hours in prayer and contemplation, and experience some of the work they do in New York City. The retreat began on a Thursday, and my parents were gracious enough to make the trip down to Emmitsburg from northeastern Pennsylvania to fetch me and then back again to Connecticut to drop me off. It was the first time my mother was able to meet the Sisters. She was absolutely
thrilled; and presented the baby clothes and diapers we had picked out earlier with a smile on her face.
As I mentioned in a previous article, each Sister radiates joy and love in a way that I have encountered in few other people or places. This particularly comforted my parents; they knew that I was in a good place. Once they left, the retreat began. I was one of about 18 other young women from all over the country, who were doing the same thing that I
was in visiting the Sisters so as to gather an accurate portrait of their lives as Sisters. We began by prayer and then had dinner together. Each table was lively with conversation as the Sisters and the women got to know one another. The night ended with prayer, and the silence began.
The next day was a day of silence and deep prayer meant to enable each woman to enter more deeply into contemplation of the Lord and forget about their worldly concerns-at least for a little while. It is from intense prayer that the work of the Sisters flows, so the day after prayer was a day to explore the work that they do for others, their
apostolate. Their apostolate is focused mainly on vulnerable pregnant women and disadvantaged mothers. Thus, we began by praying in front of an abortion clinic deep in New York City. We simply prayed the rosary and then left; we did not speak otherwise. I had never experienced something like this before, and it was truly moving. My soul was shaken to its core.
Next, we went to Saint Patrickís Cathedral in the middle of the city in order to pay a visit to the orderís deceased founder John Cardinal OíConnor in the churchís crypt. It was inexpressibly comforting to visit him. In fact, I exclaimed to one of the Sisters that I felt so calmed that it was as if I had been in his womb!...or rather, whatever the
equivalent would be. After this, we strolled down a few city blocks to see some of the Sisters in one of their convents in the city. This particular convent takes in pregnant women for a few months before they have their child and then six months after they give birth. Two former residents spoke as their adorable children ran around the convent.
Finally, we drove back to Connecticut and had time for recreation which consisted of a very competitive ultimate Frisbee game with the Sisters, habits and all. The day ended with prayer, and the next morning began with prayer. We then had one last meal together as a group. Unfortunately, after we ate it was time to leave. My parents arrived and walked
into the dining room to collect me, my mother with more diapers in her hand, face beaming.
The entire retreat was such a blessing, and it was a wonderful treat to see the absolute joy in every one of the Sisters. They love with a motherís heart, and their love spills out into the world in the most extraordinary way. They simply take delight in every person they meet; may we always strive to do the same.
Read other articles by Julia Mulqueen