Spoiler Alert: If you are a high school or college student who might be going on a Kairos retreat in the future, I would advise you not to read this. For Kairos to really affect you, you have to be able to just “let it happen.” This article has some spoilers which may prevent Kairos from affecting you the way it affected me.
At many Catholic high schools and colleges throughout the United States, the Kairos retreat is offered by the campus ministry program. Kairos is a Greek word, adapted by Christian theology to mean “God’s Time.” Three weeks ago, I had the chance to go on a Kairos retreat with 40 other juniors and seniors from my high school. After I came back, I could honestly say that Kairos was indeed “God’s Time.” To really understand how Kairos changed me, a little background might be needed.
I come from a Catholic Indian family. When I tell most people that, they are confused. They ask if I converted after I came to the United States. However, my family is from the South Indian state of Kerala. According to oral and church history, Saint Thomas the Apostle came to Kerala to convert the people there to Christianity soon after Jesus died. Saint Thomas was successful, and his work eventually led to the formation of the Syro-Malabar rite in the Catholic Church.
Growing up, I have attended Catholic school throughout my life. I attended Saint Lawrence Elementary and Middle School where we celebrated mass together every Wednesday. So for 10 years I attended the Roman Catholic mass every Wednesday, as well as most Sundays. I learned to pray through that mass, so after 8th grade, when I started exclusively attending the Syro-Malabar mass, a part of my faith was lost. At the Syro-Malabar church, every mass was said in our native language of Malayalam. I had no idea what was happening half of the time, but I went anyway because my parents made me. I no longer prayed during mass, or even listened. If my friends were around me, I would mess around with them, or I would just stand there thinking about other things.
My parents are some of the best Catholics I know. They have never missed a Sunday mass and encourage our friends who do not go to mass to attend. They are also also strongly loyal to the Syro-Malabar rite. Because of this, I had no way to go to Roman Catholic mass, and I was stuck going to Syro-Malabar mass. I stopped attempting to explore and deepen my faith. I still believed in God, but I didn’t make any effort to actually do anything with my faith. I simply called myself a Catholic without following many of the Church’s teachings. While all of this was happening, I was also going through a tough time in my personal life. I was struggling a bit in school, and I also had many fights with my parents.
Kairos changed all of this. When I went on Kairos, I was not pleased with my life. I had always prided myself on being a loving, faithful and hardworking person. However, I had become a lazy guy who didn’t care for God, and who continuously fought with his parents. I went on Kairos hoping I would realize something that could change all of this. Kairos is all about finding yourself, and it gives you a chance to get away from your life and really think about everything you have.
During Kairos, the main activities are talks given by the leaders, who share how they overcame problems in their own lives, followed by small group discussions about these talks. During these small group discussions, everyone is open, and I was able to share all of my problems. I had never talked about any of my personal problems with anyone before, because I didn’t think I had anyone with whom I could to talk about them. My parents didn’t think my problem with the Syro-Malabar church was serious, and no one cared to talk about my problems with my parents because, let’s be honest, everyone has problems with their parents at some point. By opening up to these people, I was able to heal some wounds and realize a few things about my own problems just by listening to their problems and the suggestions they had for me. However, the small group discussions were not the most important aspect to the changes in my life that began with Kairos.
There’s a saying that most people will hear about Kairos: “Everyone cries at least once while they’re on Kairos.” For me, this came on the second day of Kairos, when we all received letters from our loved ones and friends. I received many letters from friends of mine who had some great things to say about me. However, the two most important letters came from my parents. I had been fighting with them for a long time and these letters helped resolve many problems I had with them and give me a sense of reconciliation. My parents both told me that, no matter how much we fought, and no matter what happened, they would always love me. This struck me, and made me realize how wrong I had been to fight so much with them. In my mom’s letter to me, she attached a quotation from the bible, Romans 8:31, which says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” This passage from the bible made me realize how important God is in my life. It reinvigorated my faith and made me start praying by myself again instead of whenever my parents made me.
Finally on the last day of Kairos, the leaders taught us the most important lesson of all. Whenever someone comes back from Kairos, all you will hear from them is how they are going to “live the 4th” but they never explain what it means to “live the 4th.” On this fourth and final day, we realized that living the 4th is to live every day just how you feel on the last day of Kairos. For me, that meant living with strong faith in God, not fighting with my parents, and being ready to work hard at anything I do. Kairos inspired me to become a better person, and I can happily say that I have lived the 4th every day since I came back.
Jeff Thomas is a junior at Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose, California.