SPOILER ALERT: if you have not attended a retreat in the style of Encounter or Cursillo or Kairos, you may want to stop reading, as one of the special events on the retreat is described.
Last weekend, I was the chaplain for the University of Portland's Encounter with Christ retreat. I attended this kind of retreat once when I was an undergraduate at Baylor, once during my postulant year at Moreau, and now a third time as a priest at the University of Portland.
One of the very special moments of the retreat (last chance to heed the Spoiler Alert) comes when you receive letters, called Palanca, from family and friends who have been contacted ahead of time and asked to write you a note of love, affirmation, and encouragement. Palanca means "lever," and these letters are meant to lift you up, to give you support on this retreat's faith journey.
These Palanca letters are genuinely touching and uplifting, but I have to confess that during my first two Encounters, I would get a little uncomfortable reading some of them. I think it came down to the simple fact that I, probably like a lot of us, feel a little awkward reading a description of some positive characteristics I supposedly possess. I am not my favorite subject. (I swear, the Office of Vocations has to twist my arm to write these blogs.)
This year, though, something different happened. I opened up my Palanca letters, and most of them, written by University of Portland students, weren't really about me at all. They were about them. The gist of most of them wasn't, "You're a great guy." Instead, their gist was, "When I was really down, you helped me see that I'm a great person, because God loves me." And so, I got to read about a subject that is one of my favorites – the story of someone's experience of redemption and salvation.
In one of the Scripture passages symbolic of the whole Christian ideal – especially the priestly ideal – St. Paul exclaims, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). I don't pretend that I can honestly say these words with St. Paul; I know that I still have my share of problems with pride and ego. But, perhaps in my best moments, some of my interactions with people help them to focus, not on me, but on God. At least that's what my Palanca said.
Fr. Charlie McCoy, C.S.C., is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at the University of Portland. He is a monthly contributor to the Spes Unica blog, reflecting primarily on the work of Holy Cross in education. Learn more about the work of Holy Cross priests and brothers in the field of education to bring hope to the Church and world.