Ash Wednesday is just around the corner (March 5, 2014).
Based on his latest blog, Br. Lucio Boccacci LC
discusses how to plan a Lenten retreat for teens with
a bit of an unique approach.
I remember brainstorming last
year for ideas for an overnight middle school Lenten retreat,
one that would help the teens understand what Christ did
for them through His suffering, dying and resurrection.
for the retreat was for the teens to “accompany” Jesus
through His agony in the garden and throughout the night,
witness His suffering in the morning, His crucifixion in the
afternoon, and ending with an “early version” of His resurrection.
(Click here for the simple flyer to promote this
My breakthrough came when I asked an audience of teens
what they would consider to be an awesome retreat. They
gave me several ideas, but one suggested that they themselves
decide what to do during the retreat -- the schedule
and activities, right down to deciding when to go to
bed! At first, I rejected the idea.
But I wanted
to enhance the teens’ creativity, increase their ownership of the
retreat, generate more excitement, and hopefully better reach them with
the message of Lent and Christ´s death and resurrection. Then
it hit me. What if they did design the schedule?
What a novel concept! I had no idea what would
happen, but I set to it.
I hoped this approach would
shift the emphasis of the retreat from what I wanted
them to get out of it to what these teens
wanted to get out of it. I also hoped the
“accompany Christ” motif would encourage them to opt for the
more spiritual activities over the fun games.
The first and last
sections (the retreat started with a “Passover Meal” and an
introduction and the retreat ended with Mass followed by dinner
and awards) were set in stone, and it was mandatory
that they had to get at least 6 hours of
sleep. Then I prepared 20 different activities for them to
choose from. The list included videos, talks or discussions,
skits, different types of prayers like the rosary, Stations of
the Cross, Gospel reflections, etc. I also included the necessary
aspects like meals, games and sleep.
I had to prepare
more options than they could possibly choose from. The teen
would have to design the schedule with a logical progression
within the given time constraints. I also printed a large
poster with an hour-by-hour timeline of Jesus´ death from
the last supper on Thursday evening to his death on
Once everyone arrived, I gathered the teens together,
welcomed them, explained the standard retreat rules to them, and
formed teams of about five participants each. I then began
to explain how the retreat would work, motivating them with
the meaning of Lent and Christ´s Passion. I helped them
understand the purpose of liturgy is to experience the life
of Christ. I told them in this retreat, they would
not only be accompanied by Jesus, but they would accompany
Him! I went through the list of activities, explaining what
they would do in each one. Then I told them
they could choose what to do.
At first they were surprised,
and they tested the limits, asking, “Can we go to
bed whenever we want?” and “Can we eat three snacks
in one day?” I offered them tips, saying things like,
“It depends how much sleep you want,” reminding them with
statements like, “At that time of the day Jesus is
being scourged on a pillar, so you can eat your
second snack if you don´t mind…”
These kinds of remarks
made them think. Once the idea settled in, they were
ready. From the beginning to the end, they began to
fill in the retreat schedule. We used a white board
and dry erase markers for quick editing. I would ask
what they wanted to do next and point out the
corresponding moment of Jesus´ Passion. Some would raise their hand
and propose an idea. Depending on the amount of consensus,
I either took a quick vote or gave them 3
minutes to discuss the options in teams. Then they would
vote, with one vote per team and the most votes
won. We continued this until we finished the schedule, which
took about 20 minutes.
I was honestly surprised by the schedule
they created, and by their choices and their reasoning. They
had good reasons, making sure to put in all the
spiritual activities during Jesus´ “toughest” moments, with a good blend
of fun activities scattered throughout. They preferred to do simple
visits to the chapel throughout the night and leave the
half-hour of Eucharistic Adoration for the time when Jesus hung
on the cross Friday afternoon. At 1:00 am, they would
do the Stations of the Cross.