Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

While 2024 is not the first year the Diocese of Superior has hosted overnight retreats for both men and women, these retreats held a special historical significance as the first events at the new Trinity Woods Catholic Retreat Center in Trego.

Purchase of the former Heartwood Resort by the non-profit Minnesota Catholic Youth Partnership was finalized days before the Jan. 27-28 men’s retreat. While the facility will primarily be used for Extreme Faith Camp during the summers, parish liaison for MCYP John O’Sullivan introduced himself Saturday morning and said how the group hopes that Trinity Woods can be a place of blessing for Catholics all across the Upper Midwest.

Director of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship Chris Hurtubise offered his own welcome and introduced the men’s retreat speaker, encouraging attendees to “dive deeper into intimacy with Jesus Christ.” He said that after having dinner with their presenter, “I was profoundly blessed by our conversation. I’m gonna be a different dad after it. If that was just over Jimmy John’s, I can’t wait to see what’s in store” for all the men after 36 hours.

Speaker Pete Burak immediately connected with the men, announcing the “big deal” it was for him to embark on the adventure of retreat together. He quipped that when the retreat was scheduled the year prior, he never imagined that his Detroit Lions would be in the playoffs and he was hoping to get back to Michigan in time to watch.

Burak is an international speaker who was booked more than a year ago because of his high demand as a presenter. He graduated from the Franciscan University of Steubenville and earned his master’s in theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, where president of Renewal Ministries Ralph Martin is a professor. Burak directs “id,” the organization’s young adult outreach, and he is co-director of Pine Hills Camp for junior high-aged boys. He and his wife Caitlin are parents to five children.

He began by offering “rules of engagement” that would best facilitate the Lord’s ability to move in the men’s hearts and minds during the retreat. Burak instructed the men to be present, be normal, be active and to be open in a new way.

“Knowing who we are lays the foundation for everything else,” he began the first talk. Burak then shared about the gathering his father had organized for his 16th birthday. Told they were going on an adventure, Burak and his father arrived at a restaurant where 15 men, all significant in the young man’s life, waited with serious faces and sheets of paper in their hands.

“Tonight is about you learning to be a man of God,” Burak’s father announced. One by one, for two hours each one read his letter – and others that had been mailed were presented to him later – about their expectations, “bestowing upon me what it meant to be a man; by calling me by name and looking me in the eye … this is the story that we’re inviting you into.”

He proposed to the men two competing stories about a man’s identity and mission – the narratives of the kingdom of the world or the kingdom of the Gospel.

Burak said, “Knowing who we are lays the foundation for everything else,” and then recounted elements of the story of Gideon in the Old Testament in that context of God looking for “men who are willing to believe what he says about them,” and given a purpose in God’s plan for his people.

The summary of the worldly narrative was sin is antiquated, there is no need for salvation and you are the hero of your own story; of the Gospel narrative, you are loved simply because God loves us, and we bend our knees before God to acknowledge our need for him.

“Spoiler alert,” Burak quipped. The end of the story is that the world’s narrative will be destroyed, he continued, “Every knee will bow – either in love or abject terror. You will bow, but why?”

After the talk, there was a time for silent prayer and small-group discussion.

The second talk moved from identity in Christ to relationship with him. Burak gave examples of the difference between knowing about someone and actually knowing them; like the difference between knowing about a famous athlete and knowing your spouse.

“A lot of us treat Jesus like we’re his fan,” he said. “Maybe even a big fan. We know a lot of facts about him, but do we have a relationship with him?”

Again going to the Scriptures, Burak showed over and over the consistent patterns in which God encountered men, gave them new names even, called them to a mission and then waited for their response. These encounters are mysterious, he acknowledged, but that doesn’t make them any less real or capable of changing them. Burak offered the Blessed Virgin as the “perfect and full yes” given to God – the kind of “yes” to which we should aspire

He then spoke about the five core desires men have, explaining each with Scriptural references. They were: First, to be free living by God’s laws; second, to be whole and healed of our wounds, which everyone has; third, to be better and to let God transform through his grace; fourth, to be glorious through making a real impact; and fifth, to be known through intimacy and friendship.

Burak invited the men to take personal time to reflect on which of those desires were being fulfilled in their lives, and which were lacking.

The final talk on Sunday challenged the men to live with greater intentionality. Using another athletic image, the speaker likened “grow” and “go” to two legs on which men run to win the race with the growing as a result of relationship with God and others and the going a sense of mission in life.

He enumerated seven reasons men don’t evangelize, starting with not knowing that it’s a call every baptized person has received; followed by fear of failure; thinking that success depend on ourselves; believing that witness, without words, is enough; believing it doesn’t really matter; or not feeling ready or prepared.

“The vast majority of people we are called to mission with,” Burak said, “are already in your life.” We don’t have to look far but do need to remember that Jesus is already pursuing them.

He concluded with the reminder that Jesus said, “I will be with you,” and that his promise is real and effective.

Hurtubise shared comments after the retreat of how “in awe” he was of “how the Lord showed up at this year’s retreat. Every aspect of the weekend felt like it was in a higher gear than years past, which is no slight on previous retreats at all.”

He said that all Sunday afternoon once the retreat was over, “My phone kept blowing up with texts from the guys,” sharing their thoughts which included, “exceptional, super engaging and outstanding.”

From Burak’s last talk, Hurtubise recounted the idea of “getting in the game. About how we so often want to be on the team, wearing the uniform, hanging out with the team, but that the game is the whole point.

“For us,” he continued, “the game is pursuing holiness and evangelization. It fit hand-in-glove with Bishop Powers’ pastoral letter and was so inspiriting. We finished the closing Mass, there was so much energy and inspiration, it felt like we were ready to take on anything together.

Hurtubise shared a favorite moment from the retreat’s start when he asked for a show of hands by age groups – men in their 20s and 30s, 40s and 50s and then over 60. “Each time about one-third of the room raised their hands,” he said. “To have men of all ages there, digging in, investing in their faith and relationship with Jesus, coming together… Our speaker and musician were blown away by that. They said they’d never seen that, and we are onto something really remarkable here.”

He concluded, “To the men of the diocese, the Lord is doing something really powerful on these weekends. If you haven’t come to one yet, get it on your calendar!”

Pete Burak, vice president of Renewal Ministries, speaks to men at the annual diocesan men’s retreat at Trinity Woods Catholic Retreat Center in Trego. (Catholic Herald photo by Jenny Snarski)