Kathleen Chesto discusses beatitudes at retreat



SEABROOK ISLAND — The second annual diocesan retreat for directors of religious education and youth ministers, held at Camp St. Christopher May 31 to June 2, focused on the beatitudes. That topic seemed to be just the ticket for the Palmetto State church workers.

Retreat director Kathleen Chesto said one of her points of emphasis at the gathering was that the beatitudes are not New Age commandments.

“I invite each group to understand how they are a blessing, how they are a beatitude, and how blessed we are to have God in our lives,” Chesto said.

She emphasized that people employed by the church are addicted to doing good things. “We are so busy trying to do good, but we are good because God created us. God loves us. Instead of working hard, our task is about what God does through us, not about what we do.”

A national consultant on family spirituality and religious education and a New England resident, Chesto directs parish retreats throughout the United States and Canada. “I come to pray with them, to be with them. The most important part is to be a presence, sometimes just to talk to one person. I absolutely have to stay in prayer myself to be alert to the opportunities.”

According to Paul Schroeder, director of evangelization, initiation and catechesis for the diocese, the retreat offered the ministers an opportunity to look back at what has happened over the past year and get reacquainted with their colleagues.

And Chesto added, “A retreat should be spring training for our ministry, conducive to relaxing, praying and having fun. You come on retreat and relearn the basics and be open to what God wants to do with you.”

She was scheduled to be the speaker at the inaugural diocesan retreat last May, however, a bout with multiple sclerosis left her in the hospital for three months.

The illness also forced Chesto to give up her diocesan religious education position at the beginning of the decade. However, that decision proved to be an impetus for the beginning of her retreat work.

“In 1991, a parish in Ohio requested that I give a retreat, and I said OK. It was a great experience for all of us. Then people started inviting me to do parish and ministry retreats. It gave me a chance to relate to people on a different level. The retreat setting and interchange has deepened my spiritual life. It is such an incredible privilege to do this type of work,” she said.

At the Lowcountry gathering, Chesto built in some play elements in the afternoon sessions, as well as quiet time. “Sometimes people get so wrapped up in chatting it doesn’t leave enough room for the Holy Spirit. I want to give time to listen and talk to God.”

In an afternoon talk, Chesto focused on the beatitude “Blessed be the pure of heart.” She said, “It’s a beatitude about vision, about being able to see God. We need to give more credit to ourselves and our imaginations. We’re constantly being reborn. We make God visible. A danger is that we try to fix ourselves up to make God visible. The best way to embody God is to see God. Sometimes it’s least where we expect it. We see God, and then we become pure of heart.”

Chesto has recently given retreats across the Midwest, and she will soon be leaving for a six-week trip to New Zealand. Chesto, though, is looking forward to returning to South Carolina next January to speak at a family conference cosponsored by the diocesan Social Ministry Office.