I returned home from a long day of ministry. Not that life-giving day of ministry that sends us to the sheets physically destroyed but spiritually renewed. No, it was one of those other days of ministry – it was one of those days the devil was lickin’ his ugly chops, throwing every annoyance my way, every hindrance his horned feet could kick up, every spiritual attack possible under the sun.
It seemed, too, on this particular day that God thought so much of me (in an almost “Job”-ian episode), that He threw the most unlovable souls in my path (Luke 6:32). I hate it when God thinks more of me than I do of myself (1 Corinthians 10:13). Actually, I love that He does, but it works better for my self-martyring story to pretend that I do not.
You get the idea. I’m sure you’ve had these types of days too.
I spent my car ride home from the office praying, asking God to breathe His life and His joy into my tired body before I turned into the driveway. “Don’t let my weariness or my sinfulness direct my wife and kids away from you tonight, Lord. Rescue me from my humanity” I said to Him (and to myself).
I entered my home (the second best moment of my day, following Communion) and was greeted by my princesses with a kiss to the cheek and a knee to my groin, as usual. Gasping for air, my eldest daughter offered me an intriguing yet cryptic message about her day.
Hope, my six-year old, said, “Jesus bowled a 283 today, Daddy.”
As you might imagine, a perplexed smile came across my face.
“Jesus did what, sweetheart?” I asked seeking clarity.
“He bowled a 283…on the Wii.” She responded, again, with excitement.
“Wow, that’s awesome!” I responded, shaking my head with disbelieving joy.
“What did Mary bowl?” I asked, next, in an effort to make a joke.
“Only a 36…Trin was bowling for her”, my daughter shared, explaining that Trinity – our 2 year old – has not yet mastered the Wii controller with great precision.
(Just a brief side note to those who are not Wii proficient: on the Nintendo Wii video game system, you “create” characters that function as players in the games. You are able to pick their hair color, eye color, body type, favorite color, physical eccentricities, etc. In this case, my little ones created Wii characters who really do bear striking – albeit virtual – resemblance to both our Lord Jesus and our Blessed Mother).
They immediately returned to the family room to prepare for dinner. I entered the house, greeted my beautiful bride, Melanie, with a kiss, and quickly retreated to our prayer room. There in the embrace of that sacred space, I fell on my knees before a statue of the Blessed Virgin and before the crucifix – and I was reduced to tears.
The horrors of my day disappeared in that moment and a revelation rushed over me. “They get it” I whispered to myself…”They are really starting to get it.”
The entire day was salvaged – every incredulous moment of the day’s ministry efforts immediately thrust into its proper perspective.
Our Lord’s bowling prowess as displayed through my daughter’s Wii persona reminded me of something very important, something central to the Gospel message, the Christian walk and the ongoing work of salvation in and out of youth ministry:
Intimacy Cannot Be Taught, Only Modeled.
Our young people retain more from our intimacy with Christ (or lack thereof) than from any theological truth that exits our mouths.
Put into a youth ministry context:
The youth minister with the business degree and a robust prayer life will lead far more people to Christ than the theologian who doesn’t go to daily Mass or darken the door of the chapel.
The priest who makes his personal prayer time primary will lead far more in the parish than the priest who schedules himself like a full-time administrator.
The Core member who does their own spiritual readings and gets their own spiritual director rather than relying on the youth minister to guide their faith walk is much more valuable a mentor to teens.
The reason more programs don’t “go deeper” is that the leaders of the programs have not put their own prayer lives, first, realizing that a program (and parish) takes on the spiritual depth of its leader(s): the deeper the tributary, the deeper the lake.
Here are a few thoughts and questions to ponder:
- If you want the teens in your parish to pray more, you need to pray more. Is your prayer directed to the next talk your giving or the next event your planning? Are you praying to be successful or profound or are you praying to become more like God in your own home?
- If you want the teens in your parish to read Scripture more, start reading it yourself. Are you reading it for the upcoming Sunday liturgy or is Sunday night the first time you’ve prayed it through? Are you reading the daily readings, even when you don’t make it to daily Mass? Are you reading it for your own walk or only when looking for something to share with teens?
- If you want the teens in your parish to be more reverent, check your own example. Are you praying at Mass or buzzing around doing a myriad of “other things” to “pull off” the liturgy. When you cross in front of the tabernacle, does your genuflection proclaim the truth of His presence? Do you seek the Eucharist out of want or need or both?
I’m not suggesting any of these because I’ve mastered them. Ironically, I’m offering these because I have not. Asking the right question is, often times, just as important as knowing the answer… and it’s the only way to arrive at the right answer.
The fact that my little ones feel intimately connected enough to Jesus and Mary to turn them into Wii characters says a lot, not about my or my wife’s holiness, but of our desire for holiness.
Some people, I’m sure (those who are more Catholic than the Pope) would call such an activity (allowing a cartoon Christ to bowl in our family room) sacrilege. I’m sure many more might find such a thing irreverent.
I couldn’t be prouder of my girls… their purity paves the way for and fosters great intimacy with God their Father. Not to have an intimate relationship with God, at any age… that is the seed that true irreverence springs forth from.
To imagine that Christ was not rejoicing as His Wii character was created is beyond me. To think that He is content being a “distant moral goal” and not an intimate, loving Savior is beyond me. To believe that it’s enough to tell our teens to pray when we, ourselves, do not – that is truly beyond me.
And to think He’s content with bowing a 283 is beyond me. He deserves the 300. I’m going to practice with my girls every day until Christ bowls the perfect game. That time together, in this father’s imperfect yet intimate embrace, is the first step toward Our Father’s perfectly intimate embrace that we call Heaven.
Intimacy cannot be taught, only modeled. It’s through the Body of Christ and the Sacraments that we encounter the physical intimacy of God.
And, as St. Paul affirms (1 Corinthians 12:12-27), the Body of Christ is not about the “I”, it’s about the Wii.