UNO! Cries out sister Marilu, showing triumphantly the only card in her hand. The kids around the table are looking with concern at their deck, planning on a strategy to load sister with more cards before the final round. All other kids and adults are playing board games or chit-chatting with a warm cup of coffee in their hands. Outside the big family reunion cabin, it’s raining, but in the living room, there is so much joy that it looks like a sunny day.
We are at the YMCA of the Rockies for the vacation of one of the JP II Families groups named after St. Maximilian Kolbe: six couples, twenty-five kids between 1 and 23 years old, two sisters, and one priest.
The schedule of the day is simple: breakfast and morning prayers. An easy hike to Bible Point, where we walk together and help each other overcome the uneven terrain. Mass in the woods, with a big stone as an altar, surrounded by the mountains still capped in snow. A quick lunch put together by the moms, a quiet afternoon with games for the kids, and finally, a bonfire with s’mores for everyone.
Why did we take the time to spend a weekend with other families in the same house? It is enough for me to see the joy of the kids playing together to know that we are made for friendship and communion. We rejoice when we can share our life with others. For the little ones, that means playing games or exploring the cabin’s surroundings, searching for bugs or wildlife. For teenagers, it is enough to hang out together, pretending to be uninterested but—in reality—observing everything. With one eye, they look at the little ones and with the other at the adults, trying to figure out where they belong now. For the adults, it’s a time for storytelling, recalling their youth and families. It’s their way of giving thanks to the Lord for the many blessings they received over the years.
But being together as a parish group, praying and attending the daily Mass together, brought an awareness of God’s presence that is usually missing.
I read somewhere, “The little things of every day are the place where God calls you to love him with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength.” This is what happened during our vacation. We did the same little things we usually do at home, like making breakfast or playing games. But being together as a parish group, praying and attending the daily Mass together, the presence of a priest and the Sisters, brought an awareness of God’s presence that is usually missing. A time together, away from our business and our homes, recenters our attention to the presence of the Lord in every little thing. A weekend like the one we lived together in Estes Park is not an evasion from the difficulties of daily life. It’s like a retreat when the presence of the Lord transfigures your everyday life, and everything becomes more interesting and meaningful.
A five-year-old boy recently asked me where Heaven is. I asked him back: “Where does God live?” His quick answer was: “Up there,” and he pointed to the sky. But then I asked: “Where else is God?” He finally realized that God is everywhere, and therefore Heaven is wherever God is. Regrettably, we often do not see God in our life, and therefore we do not experience any anticipation of Heaven on earth.
The vacation with the families was definitely an experience of Heaven on Earth. We saw the presence of the Lord in our friendship, in the blessing of the life of the kids, and in the growth of the teenagers who enjoyed being part of the group. We saw the Lord in the celebration of outdoor Mass and in preparing dinner together. We came back, like the apostles after Pentecost, not with the longing for a beautiful experience in the past but with the desire to announce to everyone that everything is better with the Lord and the community.