Recently, nearly a third of the student body at the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts gathered for a Lenten retreat led by Father Paul Check. In the context of the penitential spirit of Lent, Father Check focused the retreat on the virtues of Christ, particularly his humility, mercy, and intimate love for us.
Throughout the academic year, Thomas More College hosts retreats to replenish and nourish the students’ spiritual lives.
“Our Lord Himself went in the desert for days and regularly withdrew from the hurley-burley of life for quiet contemplative prayer,” said Dr. William Fahey, President of Thomas More College. “He did so, I would suggest, so that we saw the need always to create moments of peace and detachment so that we could draw closer to God and see to the nourishment of our souls.”
This particular retreat included Mass, Confession, adoration, benediction, spiritual direction, a question and answer period, and four profound mediations on Christ’s virtues. The lectures, complemented by the time of prayer during adoration and Mass, delved deeply into questions central to Christianity: who is Christ? How do we interact with him? How do we imitate him?
“Fr. Check has long been a dear friend and spiritual counselor for students, families, and staff at the College. His arrival on campus is like Jean de Brébeuf arriving to visit the faithful Hurons,” said Fahey.
Father Check opened the first conference with a reading from Saint Mark’s Gospel,
As [Jesus] went out of Jericho, with his disciples, and a very great multitude, Bartimeus the blind man . . . . . began to cry out, and to say: Jesus son of David, have mercy on me. And many rebuked him . . . . . but he cried a great deal the more . . . . . And Jesus, standing still, commanded him to be called (Mark 10:46-49).
Bartimeus responded to Jesus’ call with the humble confidence of a child. He was sure he would be healed, and indeed he was healed.
“Take heart, and rise, for he is calling you,” Father Check, addressing his listeners, echoed the crowd’s words to Bartimeus. “These words are not for Bartimeus alone, they are for you too. Think of this time of prayer as a solitary personal interview that God has granted you. He is calling you to a deeper intimacy with him.”
“It was refreshing,” said freshman Gracie Lloyd. “Sometimes Catholics make the mistake of separating the person of Christ from the teachings of Christ. Father Check presented the person and the teachings together and that is essential to the Christian life. When holiness is about getting to know the heart of Christ, it just never gets old.”
Oliver Kress, also a freshman, was equally struck, “I am not Catholic, but I like to ask questions. Father Check was approachable and his wisdom was evident after only a few moments of listening to him. He made things easy to understand without debasing their meaning.”
All young men and women should be blessed with the opportunity to participate in such a weekend—a weekend of being silent and listening, of reflecting and examining, of wondering and questioning, of prayer and surrender.
At one point Father told a story of a young man about to be ordained in Saint Peter’s and as he was processing down the aisle, he caught sight of Mother Teresa in the congregation. He broke from the line, approached her, and said, “Mother, tell me something.” She, being a humble woman, was rather taken aback, but, looking him in the eyes, she said, “Give God permission.”
This is the advice our rising generation needs; this is the advice that the young men and women of Thomas More College are blessed to hear. They are blessed to follow a curriculum created by those who understand that the pursuit of truth calls for the gift of faith and the gift of reason. In a tightly knit community, with spiritual guidance and academic rigor, students blossom into capable and devoted men and women formed by the habit of giving God permission.
The College was very fortunate to have Father Check lead the retreat. He graduated from Rice University in 1977 and served as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps for nine years. He was ordained a priest in 1997 and holds a S.T.B from the Gregorian University in Rome and a S.T.L. from the University of the Holy Cross, also in Rome. He is now a priest with the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut and is the Executive Director of Courage International. Additionally, Father Check teaches Moral Theology to seminarians, permanent deacon candidates, and religious.