From Friday, November 24th through Sunday, November 26th the Home of the Mother had our Thanksgiving Family Encounter at Assumption Catholic Church in Jacksonville, FL. We were very blessed to be visited by Fr. Felix, Fr. Henry, Br. Christian, and Br. Greggy to help lead the Encounter. Many families attended, some new families as well as some families who had traveled a good distance to be there.
We started off Friday with a potluck lunch and had some time to talk with the other families, Priests, Brothers and Sisters. It is like a big family reunion when we all get to see one another again. After the potluck, the children went with the Servant Brothers or Sisters to play, pray, and learn more about the Faith. The adults went to the Servant Sister’s beautiful chapel for a Holy Hour. Fr. Felix gave a meditation on the parable of the vine and the branches from the Gospel of John. He spoke of how we are nothing without Christ, just as the branches are nothing without the vine. We must stay close to Christ and then we can bear fruits of sanctity. He also explained from the Parable that at times the branches must be pruned so that they bear more fruit. In the same way the Lord allows suffering in our lives out of love for us so that we are able to grow more in holiness.
After the Holy Hour we heard a talk by a lay member of the Home of the Mother, Monica Martinez. The talks at this encounter were based on the book “Transformation in Christ” by Dietrich von Hildebrand. Monica’s talk was on the first Chapter of the book, and she spoke of how we must have a readiness to change as the prerequisite for being transformed in Christ. The talk challenged us to ask ourselves if we are ready to become another man, completely new in Christ. The talk was followed by group discussion, Mass, dinner and a family rosary.
Saturday was the full day of the retreat. All the families had breakfast together, then a beautiful Holy Hour with a meditation, followed by the second talk about “Transformation in Christ.” Fr. Felix gave this talk and spoke of true contrition, what it is and what it is not. He said before we go to confession we should ask the Lord for the gift of true contrition, the gift of tears, true sorrow for our sins. He gave us much to think about and also recommended that as married couples we pray together regularly and with charity help one another to recognize our defects.
After the talk on Saturday, we had Mass, lunch, some family time and time for confession, followed by another talk. This was the final talk and was given by Sr. Kathryn. This talk was on the 4th and 5th chapters of “Transformation in Christ.” Sr. Kathryn challenged us to live before the Lord without any masks or pretensions. We must accept that we are nothing and allow the Lord to fill us completely, then we can respond to each situation in our life as Christ would. She spoke of true simplicity as an inward unity of life. She gave us some steps from “Transformation in Christ” that can help us to be truly simple. After her talk we had some time to discuss the talks and how they relate to our lives in small groups. The discussion time with other adults who are striving with us on the path to sanctity is incredibly helpful.
Saturday evening we prayed the rosary all together. It is so beautiful to pray the rosary with all the families and Servant Priests, Brothers and Sisters as one family coming together to Our Mother. We went to dinner after the Rosary and then had an assembly. Sunday morning we all had breakfast together followed by a Holy Hour and meditation. We then had Sunday Mass together to close the retreat. The weekend was such a blessing to the many families who attended and we were filled with many graces that the Lord generously poured out upon us. A few families share below some of the graces they received on the Thanksgiving encounter.
Sarah Hopkins (this was her family's first time at the Thanksgiving Encounter) shares: Michael and I had been in a sort of “spiritual drought” for a few months. We knew we had to do something because where we were wasn’t working for anyone. We reached out and you told us about the Home and the Thanksgiving Encounter so we decided to go for it and attend. There we were greeted with open arms by lay members, Sisters, brothers, and priests. It was so warm and welcoming - just what we needed. Being there with like-minded people who are just trying to live out their faith and grow in Him was so moving. The talks were exactly what we needed to hear at exactly the right moment in our lives. It could not have been better. It has been years since I’ve had the chance to have a whole holy hour. Before kids and moving here we would go to adoration every week and I would pray for Him to put us where we would be able to have a family and put down roots and thrive. It took us 3 years but I feel like being there that weekend was just what God wanted and just what I prayed for those years ago. That was the best fruit of all we received!
Monica Martinez (this was the second Thanksgiving Encounter her family as been on) shares: The Thanksgiving Encounter has been bearing fruit in various ways for our family. One grace we received was simply deepening our relationships with some of the other lay member families. The fact that the Home is truly a home for us and it members are all family with us has really been a theme for us this past year. Getting to spend time with other parts of our family in Christ during the retreat felt like a family reunion, strengthening our resolve to pray for other members and increasing our love for Our Lord and Our Lady as others shared from their hearts. This is just one of the beautiful takeaways for us from the encounter.
Cristi Shields (her family has been on several Thanksgiving Encounters) shares: The Thanksgiving Encounter is like a fore-taste of Heaven for our family. We look around at the Home of the Mother sisters, brothers and priests and we look at our fellow families and we realize that we experience a beautiful, unique bond with them. This bond is a beautiful and deep one because it is forged from sharing this common encounter with Christ which then fuels a common desire for sanctity so that we may love as Christ does on this earth and be a saint in Heaven. How beautiful it is to then realize that this bond will be infinitely greater one day in Heaven! At the Encounter, the religious are like our trainers, only not in physical fitness but in our spiritual fitness. They give us talks that inspire us and give us the exercises we can do to make our faith and our prayer life stronger. Sometimes the exercises they give us are not easy, like their suggestions to deny ourselves in order to strengthen our will and strengthen our ability to love others. But like a good physical fitness trainer pushes us to be the strongest physical person that we can be, the Home pushes us to be the saint God made us to be. It is not just us adults that benefit from the Thanksgiving Encounter. Our children learn similar lessons and come home sharing common inspirations as we do. One of the missions of the Home of the Mother is the conquest of the youth and we certainly see that in action. Just as Christ gives His all to us, the sisters, brothers, and priests give their all to the girls and boys because they want the kids to experience Christ's love through them. Because of this, the kids are re-enforced of their worth and that the Lord has a plan for them of greatness and happiness, even in their sufferings. One of our kids told us that being with the Home has made him realize that he can be a saint! This simple and truthful realization has become our families' goal, to be a family of saints! The Thanksgiving Encounter is just one of the many ways that the Home of the Mother has brought our family closer to Christ, to each other, to the other families in the Home of the Mother and beyond!