Catholic Outdoor Retreat

Reflection by Grace Harrigan, Wyoming Catholic College Student

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Photo by WCC student Marissa Daskiewicz

“In talking with his disciples, Jesus would invite them to recognize the paternal relationship God has with all his creatures. With moving tenderness he would remind them that each one is important in God’s eyes…’Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.’ (Mt 6:26)”

Behind every tree lurks something dark, dismal, and threatening. If the mountains are not sheltering wolves or bears, they present the traveler with other equally arresting, even insurmountable obstacles. As a backpacker journeys deeper and deeper into its treacherous depths, she ventures further and further away from sanity.  This was my initial impression of Wyoming Catholic College’s COR (Catholic Outdoor Retreat), a 21-day backpacking trip. I was never going to survive.

The first day did nothing to assuage my anxiety. After a grueling uphill hike, the group and I were anticipating a relaxing conclusion to our journey. The goal of soaking up some much desired rest in the late-afternoon sunshine seemed within reach as we approached our campsite: the peaceful-sounding “Meadows.” Perhaps the journey wouldn’t be as nightmarish as I had pictured it to be. The weather had other ideas, and as soon as we began to sluggishly pitch camp, I heard the faintest splat, and felt a cool, wet droplet land on my shoulder. Looking up at the sky and dreading the outcome, not a single speck of blue greeted my eyes; a thunderstorm was inevitable.

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The solitary droplets soon transformed into a driving torrent, and the wind viciously knifed through the tents, chilling us to the bone. A brief respite brought on a hurried and bland spaghetti dinner, but no sooner had we storm-proofed our stoves than the onslaught began once more. I dived under the tarp-like transformer shelter with the rest and prepared to be miserable. I am ashamed to say the only thoughts that entered my mind were “I am wet, I am hungry, and I am FED-UP with COR.”

Thoroughly disgusted at having allowed myself to be allured by the wilderness, I huddled with my fellow travelers and did my best not to sob. How on earth was I going to survive three whole weeks in the wilderness? If I thought this was difficult now, the rest of the journey seemed impossible. I would fall and never pick myself back up.

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Yet before the despair took hold, I heard a sweet, solitary song through the storm’s din. Grasping for anything to keep myself from falling apart, I clung to that still, small voice.  “Rose, rose, rose red, will I ever see thee wed? I will marry at thy will, sire. At thy will…” Perhaps it was the haunting theme of the melody, or the sincerity with which it was sung. Whatever it was, the notes struck a chord in my shivering body. It was beautiful that an innocent rose could place so much trust in the one she loved. She could stand before him for all eternity, patiently awaiting the time when the two shall become one. Suddenly, another thought struck me. I realized how unlike the rose I was being. There I was, in the middle of God’s country. At that moment, it wasn’t the most picturesque scene I could find myself in, but I knew this was where I was called to be.

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If I accepted my duty as a daughter of God, offering up my discomfort and placing my faith in Him, surely I could then put aside my fears and trust in His plan. In that moment, I sank into the love of our Heavenly Father. And as soon as I had done this, a peaceful warmth radiated throughout my body, lending courage to my spirit.

Looking back on this experience, Matthew 6:26 perfectly embodies this lesson I learned from COR. When you’re in the wilderness, you need Him to climb that peak at 5:00 in the morning, or cross the icy waters and hike the rest of the day in wet boots. When you begin to despair, you must rely on His strength to see you through. The backcountry has an amazing way of pushing you to your own personal limits, forcing you to turn to our Lord for help and place your trust in him. Just as the birds of the air can’t always provide for themselves, so too must you turn to God in order to receive the fortitude to carry on. I pray that I will be able to follow the example of God’s creatures and remember my need for reliance on God. Like the bridal rose, may I always put my faith in Him who will see me through every hardship.

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