COLORADO SPRINGS. A diocesan-wide group that helped lay people grow in their faith recently held their final retreat on Feb. 17. Participants and the team who staffed the retreats met for a farewell party in the home-like upstairs meeting room of Mary’s House on the grounds of Holy Apostles Parish, remembering the blessings of the past seven years.
Laity Engaging Laity (LEL) grew out of the 2010-2015 diocesan pastoral plan, which included the goal of helping “the laity to change the culture.” In 2009, Ed Gaffney, director of Mission Effectiveness for the diocese, along with volunteers he had gathered, began talking about a way to empower the people of the diocese through catechesis and spiritual development. One of the volunteers was Brian Krutka, from St. Dominic Parish in Security. As the idea grew, Krutka included his spiritual director, Patty Degen, of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Colorado Springs. By November 2010, Krutka, Degen, and the team were ready to go with their first Saturday retreat.
Over the seven years, each retreat provided a spiritual exercise which the spiritual directors offered a prayer reflection, then a teaching on a topic for the day, after that small groups. The monthly retreats continued through November 2017.
“Patty and Steve (Hall) and I did not do this alone,” said Krutka to the group who gathered for the farewell party. “Many others helped us through the years.” Flo McKiernan, Sue Cox, and Sandy Connor served with Patty as spiritual directors for the retreats. Many speakers helped them for one retreat, and others stayed for an entire series.
Father Larry Brennan, a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis who was serving in Colorado Springs, helped the group define their purpose and taught for the entire year of 2011, Krutka said.
Sherry Weddell, the author of several best-selling books on discipleship, worked with the group for four months about discipleship. “Many others helped us,” said Krutka, “21 in all over seven years, not counting the team. We brought Ralph Martin in 2012 and Archbishop Chaput in 2013.”
Steve Hall, of Our Lady of the Woods Parish in Woodland Park, operated the small group sessions at each retreat. He was known for providing thoughtful and innovative activities. Once he brought empty gift-wrapped boxes so each participant could reflect on their gifts.
“Between the planning session for this and now, I moved. I’m sorry, I lost the crayons,” he said to the laughter of the group.
Degen provided spiritual catechesis for the group. “It’s been seven years,” she said. “The mission was to help laity unpack the culture by developing their faith more deeply and living as strong witnesses in every area of their lives. These two statements by the saints were two things we went back to quite often, as well as “Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society,” and “I will pray and I will understand.”
Mary Schlut of Holy Rosary Parish in Cascade made a special trip to town to say goodbye to the group.
“This was spiritual C.P.R. to me, and then growth. I got better, and then I grew. I have more of an awareness of the bigger Church. The body of Christ. This is one little piece of it, and the richness that is in it.”
Nancy Goodbar of Holy Trinity Parish said of LEL, “I came not knowing what to expect. I’m a cradle Catholic, but I had strayed after Vatican II. This really helped me. The Holy Spirit became much more important. Everything I learned, the fellowship, there were a couple of people . . . things they told me in small group, that really resonated at that time. I felt that God was here. This really helped me in my journey back to the true church”
Debbie Caldwell, a participant, said that the group helped her, and her husband, start a spiritual journey that deepened their faith. “There was such a powerful spiritual presence when we all prayed, sang and especially when we got together for group discussions. It was always a revelation to me to see how differently people saw things and it opened my eyes to see the heart of others and to more deeply understand our faith. I wish that it wouldn’t end but I guess, ‘to everything there is a season.’ It was a special time and I will miss all the people I shared it with.”
Ed Gaffney assured the group that what they started was part of a larger plan.
“Today is an ending of sorts for LEL, but perhaps that’s a limited vision of what’s happening today,” he said. “Perhaps more importantly, it’s a new beginning, even when we don’t know what that new beginning is. Today’s gospel is from Luke. Jesus said to Levi, the tax collector, ‘follow me.’ And like that, Levi gets up and follows Jesus. So, we’ll be following Jesus today, tomorrow, the next day and so forth. We’re not sure exactly what form that will take, but as we trust Him who is calling us, then we shall know eventually, and we’ll have the grace to follow it.”