Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald staff

“I can’t believe that I was considering not going on this retreat … this is exactly where my wife and family need me.”

That comment, and others like it, was what Rice Lake resident Chris Janssen heard from some of the men he invited to the Diocese of Superior’s third annual men’s retreat, March 7-8, at the Heartwood Resort and Conference Center in Trego.

Janssen, a parishioner at Our Lady of Lourdes, Dobie, said some of the men he invited to the overnight gathering with speaker Ryan O’Hara had “an initial reluctance to attend for many of the typical – and justifiable – reasons you might imagine.”

Among these: Simply being too busy; valuing the weekends as needed family and rest time; and having household chores and work commitments that just don’t fit into a traditional work week.

“It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day work and pulls of life between where we feel we are most needed and where our time will be most fruitfully spent,” he added.

“As men, we want to be there for our families,” Janssen affirmed. “To provide a safe and loving home for our families to grow in. And taking a weekend away from that seems like it is contrary to what our mind, and maybe even our heart, is telling us.”

Summarizing an analogy that the retreat leader used, Janssen described life is often “like snorkeling in the ocean. Before long, if you haven’t picked up your head in a while, you may feel like you are close to the shore but, in fact, the currents of life have actually taken you quite far out. Maybe even dangerously far out.”

O’Hara’s theme was “Priest, Prophet and King,” and he tried to help retreatants grasp the importance of their role as leaders of their households and as sharers in Jesus Christ’s roles as priests, prophets and kings.

Those with misgivings about taking 24-hours-plus away from priorities, in Janssen’s experience, “quickly came to realize that this was exactly where they needed to be.”
This year’s retreat was the second attended by Dr. Cliff Tenner, of New Richmond. In his mid-fifties, Tenner said diocesan organizer Chris Hurtubise was “kind enough to let me go, even though I was over the target age of 55.”

He had also invited others to join him, but similar to Janssen, he was told they were unable to fit it into their schedule. Based off his first retreat experience among diocesan men, he was looking forward to reuniting with those he met in 2019 and also getting to know new people.

“I met some wonderful brothers in Christ last year,” Tenner said. “We desperately need each other in our faith journeys as we seek to spread the good news of Christianity.”
Tenner was particularly impacted by another story the retreat speaker told – that of O’Hara’s reaction to one of his early-teenage son’s “major screw-ups.”

Expecting it to be the “typical hardcore response,” Tenner – father of four young adults – was blown away by the response.

This one, O’Hara had said referring to the situation, is one we need to go to confession about.

“For me,” Tenner confessed, “It was a drop-the-mic moment. I would have never thought of that, and what an awesome idea! Let God be both the heavy hand and the forgiver, and give your kids a chance to appreciate the beauty of the church and the value of the sacraments.”

He said that story, and other “profound and incredibly helpful nuggets” throughout the overnight retreat, made him want to go back and redo aspects of his fatherhood and child-raising.

“It is often in the time of life when there is no time that these opportunities need to be taken advantage of,” Tenner emphasized, noting the challenge of getting younger men involved and finding creative ways to engage them.

Tenner plans to continue his recruiting efforts, cultivating the idea of a yearly retreat in others, especially younger men he encounters locally.

Janssen’s personal year-round effort to engage men (and their families) is paying off. Of the 35 men on the March retreat, 17 were from the Rice Lake area.

Several of the Rice Lake participants were part of an Exodus 90 group Fr. Samuel Schneider led last year. An estimated three-quarters are involved with the Anchored in Christ ministry Janssen and his wife Alicia have helped lead since 2014.

“We know each other, are growing in relationship with the Lord together, and encourage one another to take advantage of opportunities to grow in our faith and that flows into our families,” Janssen said.

He noted while weekend retreats “are super helpful in reorienting ourselves, it is also important that we stay in touch with one another after we go home.”

The men feel “a need to continue checking in once they return” home from the immersive encounters. Janssen said the semi-weekly gatherings through Anchored in Christ are moments of “relationship building … that make inviting to a retreat and the impetus for going that much easier,” but it also enhances their Sunday worship, as men and spiritual leadership of their families.

“We feel that it’s important to come together as men to encourage one another and glean wisdom from one another as we try our best to live virtue in our own lives and help our families grow in virtue as well,” he affirmed.

They plan to start a quarterly men’s night of reflection where they will (once the public worship restrictions have been lifted) come together for Mass, a talk on a current and culturally relevant topic and guided discussion.

While the Anchored in Christ group has been intentional about not defining themselves as a “young adult group,” Janssen admits they started out that way, clarifying, “Number one, we’ve all gotten a bit older. Number two, we realize that if we are called to help evangelize our culture locally, that evangelization and the gifts we’ve been given through the Holy Spirit are meant for the whole church locally.”

Asked what other factors played into the large number of Rice Lake men who committed to the retreat, Janssen added most have wives who are also engaged with the faith.

One thing Janssen sees that has helped men take ownership of their spiritual leadership, “is that they see other men around them taking it seriously. In one word, it would be ‘culture.’”

For the last seven years, through Anchored in Christ, they have been building a culture “that takes relationship with Christ through the truth of the Catholic faith seriously, and that doesn’t just look at faith as another subject in school or part of life. It is the lens by which all of life is looked through and therefore lived.”

Second is intentionality. Janssen described this as: “I know Christ calls me to relationship with Him. By the time my heart and my mind are convicted to step closer to Him, and I make a step closer, I realize He’s been pursuing me, calling me, and inviting me closer for quite some time.”

Acknowledging each person is different, and each path to a committed and engaged faith-life is unique, Janssen said, “Our job is to just keep tapping the person with Christ whenever we encounter them or feel the Holy Spirit move within us.”

“There are a number of guys (here) who understand how evangelization works and are intentional about evangelizing their peers. They are intentional about constantly inviting the men around them to whatever is going to bring about an opportunity for a deeper relationship with Christ … like the men’s retreat.”