Joseph Murdoch, a three year old Eugene resident, walked with his family (Anne Le Chevallier and Taylor Murdoch) past the bell tower on the University of Portland campus. As the bells chimed the hour, he grinned widely and exclaimed in a lilting voice, “The bells are singing! Do you know what they’re singing? That Jesus is alive!”
Joseph was expressing the theme of the 30th annual Summer Conference that took place last month on the campus of the University of Portland; he'd learned the idea in a morning preschool class. While Joseph was busy learning and playing with children his age, the other 150 participants of the five-day intergenerational retreat were doing the same.
Benedictine Father Jeremy Driscoll, monk and theologian from Mount Angel Abbey, chose the theme for this year’s conference and presented it to the adult participants in keynote lectures as well as speaking to it in the liturgies of the week, which included Masses and even a baptism woven together with a reconciliation service.
“The Christian faith stands or falls on the truth of its central proclamation that Jesus who was crucified, has been raised up and lives forever in the glory of God,” writes Father Jeremy.
For the four keynote morning lectures, Father Jeremy led the adults on an extended meditation on chapter 15 of St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. There, Paul explains the mystery, truth and significance of the Resurrection. "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is in vain,’ he says in verse 17. Father Jeremy recalled that the apostolic witness of the early church used the development of St. Paul’s thoughts to emphasize that we too are daily witnesses to the Risen Jesus.
Father Jeremy said that Jesus is not just "up and running again" to die a human death again. The resurrection is a unique reality, a new dimension of existence in which Jesus, completely filled with the glory of God, draws all to new life in Him. Father Jeremy brought with him an icon, "The Resurrection of the Just," written by Brother Claude Lane of Mount Angel to capture in visual form the message of the conference.
During the other two class periods, participants attended classes of their choice on a wide variety of topics, such as "Fun in the Sun" for little ones, to batik, stained glass, fiber arts, yoga, tennis, karate, kids science, drama, and classes on discernment, the writings of Dante and contemplative prayer.
In addition to the hospitality of the Holy Cross priests and brothers at the University of Portland, some UP staff also helped out with classes. Sister Kathleen McManus, a theologian, taught participants about grace amid suffering and tennis coaches Aaron and Susie Gross inculcated basic tennis techniques to their afternoon class of students ranging from 4 year-olds to those older than 60.
On Friday evening for the third year in row, Father Jeremy met with the young adults, high school graduates and older, in a casual circle on the UP lawn to listen and respond to the hopes and concerns of the young adults about the church, the world, and their own futures. They continued to talk in their circle on the grass until long past sunset.
Conference days were filled with ways to connect with other participants and to nurture their relationship with God. There was opportunity for Mass, reconciliation, rest and relaxation, time for conversation with other participants, Liturgy of the Hours prayed in the dorm chapel and with the Holy Cross priests and brothers, the rosary prayed at the foot of the UP bell tower, root beer floats, a sing-along and field games.
Participants say the conference is always a strong experience of the church.