This past weekend I was at the Gilmary Retreat Center in Coraopolis, PA for an annual gathering of the Life Pledged members of the Confraternity of Penitents - we have an annual retreat in July for all members, inquirers and guests but this one is much smaller (and in many ways more fun, although the July event is fun too).
Anyway, we kind of rotate the responsibility for hosting and choosing the location, and this year was my turn to be hostess and organizer, so of course I picked a place "right in my own backyard", less than two hours from home. Birdman and Lightning McQueen had been to Gilmary a couple of years ago for an Altar Boy retreat and spoke highly of it. They were right; it's a great place. Very comfortable, friendly and helpful staff, good food!
The only thing Gilmary doesn't have is clergy staff, so I had to figure out other arrangements for that.
Keep in mind that (a) I'm Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic; (b) I'm the only non-Roman Catholic in the Confraternity; (c) probably the majority of Catholics know little to nothing about the other Particular Churches in union with the Holy See; (d) there is some seriously hinky stuff going on at a fairly decent number of Roman Catholic parishes; (e) our Confraternity is very much the opposite of hinky.
I discovered that there is a Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic parish, St. George, less than 15 minutes away from Gilmary, AND remembered that the pastor there is my former pastor and my Godson's Godfather. So, I arranged for us to go to Friday evening's Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts and also to Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning. On Saturday we had a very reverent Communion Service, celebrated by a great transitional Deacon from the Archdiocese of Baltimore (who incidentally is a convert from Episcopalianism, having been a priest chaplain of a convent of Episcopalian nuns who also converted en masse) who will be ordained to the Holy Priesthood on June 24, 2011. At this Communion Service one of our retreatants made a Life Pledge and private vow to live the Rule and Constitutions of our Confraternity.
Before this, the most common thing I'd heard from Roman Catholics about the Byzantine Liturgy is "are you sure it's really Catholic?". Never mind that we pray for the Pope by name a minimum of four times at every Divine Liturgy, some people get hung up on the filioque (really the fact that we don't add it when we say the Creed) or our use of leavened bread.
None - not one - of my Confraternity brothers and sisters expressed anything but appreciation. Some of them have assisted at a Divine Liturgy before, but most had not. But they weren't put off, they were excited! And they loved it! (I'm sure it helped that the building itself is very beautiful, and Father has a great voice....)
All in all this was one of the best retreats I've had. I won't even complain about having to scrape ice off my car on Sunday morning, because the rest of the weekend was just so full of awesome.
Oh, almost forgot: if anyone ever needs a bakery cake and the Moon Township Giant Eagle is within reasonable distance, definitely get your cake from there. Try the white almond cake with buttercream frosting. Paradise in a box, no kidding.