Dubbed the “Get Spirit Savvy” retreat, girls came from as far away as Stamford, Connecticut and Schenectady, New York to attend this first-time event which was held from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Family Life Center in Malvern. Ranging in age from 13 to 18, this group of teens learned that the “spirit savvy” girl understands what it means to be a daughter of God and to let God define her rather than the culture.
Susan Brinkmann, OCDS, co-author of the Young Women of Grace Study, introduced the girls to the unique traits of their feminine genius – maternity, receptivity, sensitivity, and generosity. They were particularly surprised when they learned about how the Fathers of Vatican II called upon women to “save the peace of the world” by bringing their unique traits to bear on the world in which we live.
At the end of the presentation, Susan asked the girls, “How many of you are hearing this for the first time?”
Every girl raised her hand!
Mary Dillenback, co-author of the Young Women of Grace Facilitator/Teacher Guide, then spoke to the girls about the importance of establishing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. She led the girls through various forms of prayer – from meditation to mental prayer and contemplation – which they could use to help their relationship with Jesus to blossom.
Mary also introduced the girls to the importance of developing virtue – a word which means strength – in order to fortify themselves against the temptations of the world. In keeping with the theme of the Women of Grace retreat, “Embracing the Holy Duet: Mary and the Holy Spirit,” which was taking place elsewhere on the Malvern campus at the same time, the girls made bracelets containing a charm for each of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The girls also enjoyed a rosary walk around Malvern’s beautiful grounds and listened to a fun presentation by Katelyn D’Adamo of Generation Life on the importance of respecting themselves.
Afterward, they played Stay-Talk-Walk, a game that involves reading scenarios designed to teach girls how to spot potential abuse in a relationship. For example, “He checks up on me all the time” or “He respects my opinion.” Girls then have to say whether they would stay with the boy, talk to him, or walk away from the relationship.
During a vigil Mass later in the day, Father Philip Scott addressed the ultimate means to strengthen ourselves in the practice of our faith – the Eucharist.
In his homily, Father spoke about the Eucharistic miracle that took place in 1996 in Buenos Aires, Argentina where a host turned to flesh. A sample was sent to an unsuspecting forensic expert in New York who knew nothing about the circumstances of the flesh he was given to analyze. He concluded that it came from the heart muscle of a person who was alive. And because of how the white blood cells had penetrated the tissue, it meant that the heart was under severe stress – as if the owner had been beaten severely about the chest.
“Did you hear that?” Father asked the girls. “The flesh was from a person who was ALIVE!” He then gestured toward the tabernacle and said, “Jesus is alive!”
The girls were also thrilled by a visit from Women of Grace founder and president, Johnnette Benkovic-Williams. Johnnette encouraged the girls with reflections on Jeremiah 29:11 where God says, “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you . . . plans for your welfare and not for woe” and the revelation of St. Paul in Ephesians 1:4 about how God “chose us in him before the foundation of the world to be holy and without blemish before him.”
At the end of the day, parents were invited to sit in on a talk about how to practice the presence of God by learning how to stay close to Him in the present moment. Parents and girls alike were given a “test” to determine what kind of thoughts most often occupied their minds – angry, sad, positive, critical, etc. – and were then instructed on how to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor 10:5).
By the conclusion of the retreat, the girls had already bonded and were exchanging cell phone numbers to stay in touch with one another.
Alicia Winters, 18, called her experience at the Young Women of Grace retreat “an absolutely phenomenal experience.”
She continued: “Getting to know all of the girls, while diving more deeply into our faith together, was truly something special. We all left the retreat knowing our ‘true’ dignity and worth as young women, and the role that we are called to play in our modern times. If every middle school, high school, and youth group participated in this study, I have no doubt that our world would not be as broken as it is today. The Young Women of Grace program is something so powerful that words cannot describe it, and the Holy Spirit has His hands all over it.”’
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