Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Confessions of a Kairos Leader

Kairos began at Saint Joseph’s College in November of 1986. Campus Ministry began the program due to the interest of students who had attended in high school and wanted to continue the experience for others. The original Kairos team consisted of Doug Daulton, Karen Johnson, Mike Momper, Kevin O’Shaughnessy, Frannie McVeigh, Carla Veneziano, Nina Kasch, Sister Donna Liette, Val Sperka, and Fr. Ben Berinti. The retreat has been inspiring and changing the lives of students ever since it was introduced. In 2002-2003, Kairos began happening three times a year in order to give students the most opportunity to attend.

Kairos is a Catholic religious retreat that spans over a four-day period. The retreat allows students to experience the love of God through many different talks, meditations, and discussions. Each day has a different theme, and these themes tie together to help students connect many aspects of faith and Christ in a variety of ways.

Kairos aims to give the students an introspective look into themselves, and then challenges them to share their ideas and beliefs within a group. Through these small groups, students are given the opportunity to connect with each other and learn from one another through each person’s unique experience. At the end of the retreat, students are challenged once again to “Live the Fourth,” as in the fourth day of the retreat, and to bring the love and knowledge they have received back to school. They are also encouraged to try and incorporate this into their everyday lives and relationships.

One of the most amazing results of Kairos is that it creates strong friendships and bonds, and relies on a strict code of confidentiality, so that students will feel open enough to share their feelings without the fear of their personal stories and ideas being compromised.

The group is sponsored by Campus Ministry, but each retreatant is required to pay a $35.00 fee in order to attend. Should the student not be able to afford it, Campus Ministry will cover the cost. The retreat is held at the Hammond Spiritual Life Center in Hammond, Indiana. This center has been the host of most of the Kairos retreats, due to its low cost and available space for retreatants and leaders.

This opportunity has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I had previous experience as a peer minister in high school, so being given the opportunity to be a leader once again was a great honor. I attended Kairos Thirty-Five as a retreatant in March of 2003. Two months later, the rectors approached me and asked me to be a leader for Kairos Thirty-Six in October of 2003. I gladly accepted, and we began having meetings each week to prepare.
I was a little wary at first of the process, because it was so different from any retreat I had worked on in high school. Kairos turned out to have a very rigid schedule that allowed little to no room for change. I was used to doing a variety of skits, games and music along with talks and small group discussion, and I saw some of this format as being stagnant, but felt I did not have an authority to initiate any sort of change.

I was assigned to give the “Life Graph” talk, in which I created a chart with the highs and lows of my life and re-iterated my life story to the group. This was challenging for me because there were a few people on the retreat that I felt uncomfortable sharing some rather personal and uncomfortable experiences with. I learned to overcome this though, due in part to the fact that the entire group sat in front of me with respect and kindness in their eyes. I felt at ease sharing my story with them, and talking about the various foundations that have supported me in my life. They taught me to be less judgmental and pre-supposing about other people and what they may think of me and my ideals. I certainly had not expected to learn so much about myself as a leader.

My small group was where I learned the most about the retreatants. It was in our small group discussions that I was able to see the service that Kairos does for others. They started very quiet, and only one or two people were willing to discuss their stories with the rest of the group. One person admitted that they did not believe in religion, and by the end of the retreat attempted prayer for the first time within the group. The transformation that occurred between these people was amazing; I never expected them to open up as much as they did to each other.
The change after we returned from Kairos is the one that influenced my opinion of service, and its benefits. As trivial as AOL instant messenger may be, each person who attended Kairos takes a giant leap by inserting a simple, “Live the Fourth” or “Kairos was an awesome experience!” into their profiles along with silly quotes and sayings. This symbolized to me that what happened on Kairos had a very real impact on their lives, and I continue to see the difference in their faces each day during class. People became friends who under any other circumstances never would have spoken to each other. They taught me about respect for all kinds of people, and proved to me that people are generally good at heart.

Bro. Rob Reuter was one of the adult leaders on Kairos, and he mentioned many things we have discussed in Core 9 in his talk. He discussed Gospel Values and the connection between Jesus Christ and his mission, and his plan for us to follow his example became much clearer. We discussed the ability to see Christ in other people through the role of leader, mentor, friend, servant, and called these people by name within the group.

Personally, I felt that what I did on Kairos was representative of sharing the Good News with others as Jesus did. We also tried to put a great emphasis on loving one another. I do not think this retreat would have meant so much if the team had not been truly genuine in the giving of their time to help other people experience the love of God and the affect it can have on their lives.

This experience has helped me to better understand what I personally believe in regards to Christian Humanism, because it has tied a real life example to the information and ideas we have learned in the readings and lectures. It reminded me of Bro. Rob’s lecture on salvation and his three conditions for salvation. By using his format, the state of need for many of the people who attended Kairos was for love and acceptance. Their fulfillment then would be a sign from other people that they are accepted and loved. We accomplished this task on Kairos for many people by providing them with encouragement and support with their struggles, words of encouragement through the talks and meditations, the opportunity for the sacrament of reconciliation, and most importantly with letters of praise and love from family members, friends, and Kairos alumni.

This service project also emphasized the ascending Christology we discussed in class, because we were able to bring Jesus into our midst as someone who is still affecting us here on earth today. Our discussion of him was in relation to how he directly taught us through his actions that he performed as a fully human person, instead of focusing on his more divine power. What was taught on Kairos was the idea that the purpose of our life is to grow in love with others and Christ. It is undeniable that people will make mistakes, but God’s mercy and forgiveness helps us to not lose faith in the things we do, just because we mess up along the way.

One of the activities was to create a symbol of God out of Play-Doh. When we discussed symbols in class, the first thing I thought of was this exercise from Kairos. People created many different items to symbolize God and their idea of religion. These creations ranged from eyes, stars, and even a taco. These Play-Doh creations symbolized the ability to see Christ through another persons eyes, the infiniteness and mystery of God, and the conglomeration and all encompassing love that God has for us.

Overall, being at Kairos at this time had a profound affect on the way I see many of the issues we discuss in Core 9. This service project brought some of the loftier, philosophical ideas down to a tangible level, and I think if every person at Saint Joseph’s College were required to attend Kairos, they would at least walk away with a better understanding of themselves and their own beliefs and ideals.


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