When this writer drove into 'The Tops' Conference Centre near Stanwell Park south of Sydney around six o'clock on Saturday morning, 12 October, there was a hushed silence over the Centre, surrounded by virgin Australian bush and overlooking the rolling breakers of the Pacific Ocean.
However, within a few minutes, I found the temporary chapel and already five young men were at Adoration before their Risen Lord, their prayer led by Father Ken Barker, author and well-known Founder of the Missionaries of God's Love.
Over the next hour, the remainder of the 130 men at the retreat emerged from their rooms and at 7am Fathers Barker and Dave O'Callaghan concelebrated Mass for the whole retreat complement.
After such sustained prayer, the men were ready for the full breakfast provided by the management of 'The Tops' Conference Centre.
Stand and be counted
The Young Men of God movement emerged from the network of dedicated young Catholics inspired by the charismatic Missionaries of God's Love. Ben O'Heir, a Melbourne builder, joined Father Ken Barker in initiating this body of young men who resonated with the age-old call of the Old Testament Prophet, Ezekiel, to stand tall and be counted for the Lord in whom they believed and whom they worshipped.
That was over ten years ago and now the Young Men of God are established throughout Australia.
Meanwhile, the Missionaries themselves were founded in Canberra in 1986 and have made steady, consistent progress over the years since then.
On 8 February 2014, at a ceremony at St Christopher's Cathedral, Canberra, the Missionaries will be inducted as a Diocesan Congregation - a decisive step in the acceptance of their ministry by the Church.
This year the Missionaries have 14 young men in their two-year Novitiate in Canberra and over 30 in training for the priesthood in Melbourne. They are a great point-of-light for the Australian Church in challenging times!
Meanwhile, at the Young Men of God Retreat, Saturday's breakfast was followed by two busy days of visiting speakers, small group discussions, socialising at meals and recreational activities.
There was an impressive range of speakers all of them committed Catholics, all leaders in their respective fields. They ranged from Robert Falzon of Men Alive Ministries, to Paul Ninnes of Real Talk (Australia) and Australian Winemaker of the Year, Tom Kirk.
Other speakers included Francine Pirola, Director of the Marriage Resource Centre, and Joe Dean Sola, Founder of CARES, an organisation in the Philippines ministering to desperately poor street kids in the grim Manila slums.
The YMG Retreat brings together the cream of youthful lay leadership in the Church. This was evident to this writer soon after his arrival. In the few minutes between Adoration and Mass he met Father Ken, Luke O'Connor, the Victorian YMG leader, and Robert Schroeders, who has developed an inspirational peer-to-peer (Freedom) ministry at the two campuses of the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane.
After Mass, there was breakfast with Robert Falzon, the keynote retreat Speaker, Nathan Galea, the NSW President of YMG, and Mark Lysaght, Director of Tertiary Ministry at the Australian Catholic University as a whole and Campus Minister at ACU, Banyo Campus (Brisbane). Highly talented and thoroughly Catholic young lay leadership has rarely been as strong in the Australian Church as it is at the present time.
The YMG retreat was blessed with glorious Sydney spring weather and it is a feature of these retreats that after demanding mornings of Adoration, Mass, talks and small group discussions, the men need to unwind. In this vein, the surf beach at Stanwell Park provided a convenient outlet for male energy. Many swan and some played touch rugby on a grassed area nearby. Local lads joined in.
Ninety minutes of intense activity followed with YMG leaders like Ben O'Heir and Luke O'Connor showing the sort of men the talent scouts of major Sydney Leagues Clubs like the "Roosters" had overlooked.
After recreation at Stanwell Park, Father Ken led the retreatants in preparation for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Of course some of the YMT leaders attend the sacraments regularly but this is a chance for every man who wishes to receive the forgiveness of sins. Already, three additional priests, led by Father Tony Percy, Rector of the Good Shepherd Seminary of the Archdiocese of Sydney at Homebush, arrived to assist.
With 130 men on retreat, most of whom were expected to take the opportunity to approach the sacrament, five priests were not too many.
As the Missionaries of God's Love and the Young Men of God have their origins in the charismatic wing of the Church, they pray within an idiom of modern popular music. At each YMG retreat there is a YMG band to lead and fire those present with their energetic music. This musical idiom gives a distinctive style to a YMG retreat.
The event climaxed late Sunday morning with a final Mass which brought together the speakers, the participants and themes of a very spiritually uplifting weekend. There were many "Thank You's" with the men wishing, especially, to congratulate the Missionaries of God's Love and Brother Dan Serratore, who did the lion's share of the necessary organisation to make the weekend the success it was.
Father Ken Barker's book titles include: Alive in the Spirit, Young Men Rise Up, Amazing Love and His Name is Mercy. These can be obtained or ordered through Freedom Publishing.