No, this is not an article about marriage! Rather, this is an article about discernment, more directly related to my discernment process. At this moment in my life, I am currently discerning my priestly vocation with the Paulist Fathers. I have been on this journey with them for 2 years and am currently in the process of applying to their formation program, with possible entry in August of 2016. They host three events each year directly related to vocation discernment: two “Come and See” weekends at their house of formation in Washington, DC (one in the Fall and one in the Spring) and a one week long discernment retreat at their summer compound, St. Mary’s on the Lake, in Lake George, NY called the “Paulist Plunge”, hence the name of this article.
This is the second Paulist Plunge I have attended and the fourth discernment retreat with the Paulist Fathers. It is a unique experience in which you get equal parts discernment time and fun/relaxation time. While it is traditionally billed as a retreat, I would more accurately describe it as a spiritual vacation.
There are moments set aside for conferences related to vocation discernment, specifically Paulist discernment. While the discerners are up here for the experience, there are also several Paulist priests here on vacation, as well as most, if not all, of the seminarians currently in Paulist formation. It is after all, their vacation home.
As this is a discernment retreat, all expenses, apart from travel expenses are covered by the order. Room and board and all meals are provided for by the order. I must say, the food is top notch! In my daily routine I tend to practice portion control in my diet, but when I am here, resistance is futile! It is tradition during the Plunge to take a group trip into town to visit Martha’s Dandee Cream, a local treasure that offers 10 flavors of soft serve ice cream on a daily rotating basis. During this year’s Plunge, one discerner took it upon himself to order a large cone of ice cream. By normal standards, a large cone would seem like nothing to get excited about. Well, not at Martha’s! A large ice cream cone at Martha’s is close to 12 inches in height! Massive! What contributes to this unique experience is that when someone steps away from the counter with a large cone, all the patrons in line applaud and holler in approval. It adds to the ambiance of a fun evening.
As this is a retreat there are plenty of opportunities to connect with one’s spiritual side. We attend Mass daily and prayers twice a day. The atmosphere of the whole experience is very casual. After all, you are on a lake in the Adirondacks, which is a very rustic environment. One of the unique experiences on this retreat is a trip 18 miles up the lake to a cluster of islands owned by the Paulist Fathers. On one of these islands is a very small 19th century chapel dedicated to St. Isaac Jogues, a Jesuit martyr. These islands are only accessible by boat, so you can imagine how breathtaking the natural scenery is while traveling by boat up to the islands. We spend a few hours on the island where we have Mass, lunch, a brief discernment conference and some relaxation time. It is one of my favorite moments during this whole experience.
One of the benefits I take from these retreats is the new friendships I forge with fellow discerners. During this year’s Plunge I have had the pleasure of meeting and building friendships with six individuals, all unique in their discernments. Some of them are discerning a priestly vocation that is very new and recent for them. One guy had just been discharged from the Army a week before arriving on the Plunge. A couple of guys are college students. It just goes to show the diversity among discerners. The Paulist Fathers are a very diverse order of priests, from all walks of life.
If you are discerning a vocation to the priesthood and religious life and desire a unique discernment experience, consisting of both fun and spirituality, check out the Paulist Fathers and make plans to attend their “Paulist Plunge”. It is an experience you will never forget or regret. I can promise you that!
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