Last weekend, I went on the annual Ad Maiorem Group retreat. For those of you who don’t know, Ad Maiorem is a service group here on campus that is deeply rooted in the Jesuit ideals of service and reflection. I have been a part of the group for almost three years now, helping to found it in my freshman year. For this year’s retreat, we had picked to go white water canoeing on Antietam Creek. The plan was to spend two days and two nights out in the wilderness for reflection, hard work, and a lot of fun.
On Friday, the group met up at the FAC to pack up our vans and hit the road for our two hour drive. We left around 5:30 and, after a brief stop for dinner, arrived at our campsite at about 8:15. Immediately, we unpacked the cars and set up camp. That night, we were led in reflection by two of our group members about defining moments in our lives. This sharing of experiences really brought the group together and that night, under the stars, we went to bed excited to start the next day’s activities.
Saturday was the day of the big paddle. We got out to Antietam Creek around 9 in the morning, and after a brief on-land tutorial by our OAE leaders, we were off. This experience was amazing. We paddled 10 miles up the creek, avoiding rapids and other obstacles along the way. The atmosphere of the group simply could not be brought down by cold water, the occasional fall, or even the grueling workout that we got courtesy of Antietam. After almost 8 hours of being on water, however, things were about to turn for our group.
When we did actually get off the water, everyone was wet, cold, tired, and beat up—physically and emotionally. There were grumblings within the group to cut the trip short, and forgo the final day on Sunday. For Sunday, we had planned a sunrise hike and mass on top of a look out over the creek. After a group meeting, everyone’s opinion was heard and we had a choice: do we do the easy—pack up and head home for our comfy Loyola beds or the hard—stay and stick out another night at camp. After much back and forth, as a group we decided to go for the challenge and stay the extra night.
The mass and hike the next morning were well worth it. We were all so happy that we got to stay and experience God’s greatest gift to us all in the company of each other and in nature. The setting on top of the mountain was serene—the sunrise was beautiful, and the feeling of fulfillment and accomplishment that we all felt was incredible. Evan though we were all physically and emotionally drained, that mass rejuvenated us and filed us up with something that our dorm rooms at Loyola could not have even come close to matching. This decision, choosing the tough path, truly seemed to pay off and make everyone that experienced it richer in the end.
The group Ad Maiorem, in my opinion, is a true embodiment of the ideals that Fr. Kolvenbach talks about in his article. Our mission is to create what Fr. Kolvenbach would call “men [and women] for others; men who will live not for themselves but for God.” Also, with our service projects at Cristo Rey, St. Ignatius, Care-A-Van, and countless others, we try to deliver service along with compassion. We try not only to help those who need it, but to educate others on the plight of the needy. According to Fr. Kolvenbach, “The overriding purpose of the Society of Jesus, namely ‘the service of faith,’ must also include ‘the promotion of justice.’” This quote seems to show what Ad Maiorem tries to do on a daily basis, which is not only to serve those who need it but to also empathize with them and with their situation. In the Jesuit ideal, we do not simply “serve and go home,” but we strive for the magis, strive to get more out of our service.
This magis also came into play last weekend. We had the choice to pack up and go home, and nobody would have blamed us or even said that we were making the wrong decision. But, we decided to stay, to stick it out, and that extra effort did indeed pay us back ten-fold. This seems to be what Fr. Kolvenbach is getting at in his article—those who put in the effort to help the needy, to help those who truly are disadvantaged in our society are the ones who will be rewarded in the end. This tough work will not come with any sort of monetary reward, but it will carry something greater. By making a difference in their lives, we allow them to make a difference in our own. We can learn from the very same people that we are serving. If we are open, then we will be forever changed for the better. As men and women for others, we will be helping to make the changes that we want to see in our world.