Like many of you reading this, it’s been a busy summer for me.
I figured out that I’ve traveled over 30,000 miles in the past eight weeks, by plane, rental car, bus, boat and golf cart (great gas mileage). Since Memorial Day my life has felt like one “event” after another.
The Life Teen Convention was a wonderful start to summer, a truly anointed time for me, personally. Life Teen Notre Dame was another powerful week in a very different way…seeing the young church really want “more” from their faith. My week at Covecrest was phenomenal – seeing the greater Church come together and so many cultures colliding (including a group from Germany that traveled 4000 miles for camp) in a truly Catholic way left me speechless (no small feat). My family and I were incredibly blessed to be there. Sprinkle in some Steubenville summer conferences, trainings, Bible Studies, XLTs and other events and I think you get the picture. My calendar, like yours, is now a series of red “x”s of locations visited, epiphanies had and gospel moments shared. And it got me to thinking…
God is great, simply beyond words.
God is great in our teenagers.
God is great in you, the leaders.
God is moving in a new and powerful way in Life Teen. I see it. I hope you do, too.
Praise God for all He is doing through sinners like you and me.
And this is the beautiful reality of the New Evangelization: new opportunities to experience God, intimately and powerfully, in large and in small groups, silently and loudly, joyfully and penitently and all very, very practically.
New events and experiences continue to become available across the country and the world, opportunities for Catholics young and young-at-heart (nice euphemism, huh?) to be wooed and wowed by the beauty of Jesus Christ, once again.
Of course, with every moment of grace and every opportunity to draw closer to God, there is a danger and a temptation. The evil one is still at work. The better we discern it and sooner we discuss it, the more proactively we can avoid it and repel it.
Danger: Event-Based Spirituality
There is a little-discussed danger within modern youth ministry that causes me growing concern, something that many of us call “event-based spirituality”.
For some parishes, that “annual trip to a Steubenville conference” is their sole youth ministry offering beyond an ill-attended, mandatory classroom model of catechesis. Teens come back from a powerful and energetic summer conference to almost nothing, a mountaintop experience that can later unfortunately be seen as a passing fad or emotional response. Possibly the greatest danger is that mass, reconciliation, worship and adoration at these events (while anointed times) are seen as experiences that “could never be replicated in their own home parish”. Obviously, nothing could be further from the Sacramental reality and truth but, still, that is the perception by many teenagers.
For other parishes who have a more relational, evangelization-based model of catechesis like Life Teen, for instance, there is often a different struggle. “New teens”, possibly friends of involved teenagers, come along to an event but are sometimes not brought into the relational fold. They fall through the cracks because the extra time and attention they need is just not available due to the sheer number of teens or the overwhelming amount of work the youth minister(s) and Core Members are doing as “chaperones” at events.
So, what’s the answer? Is there one? No, there are several.
If we are going to offer teenagers these summertime “events” like camps and conferences and mission trips (which are all great and all sorely needed), we need then, as leaders, to remember a few things:
- As hard as it sounds (and as hard as it is on our bodies), the events are the easy part. The events are merely “tilling the spiritual topsoil” of their hearts. We have to be standing by with a rake in hand, willing to continue working the soil, to insure that God’s Living Word (the seed) has fertile ground (Mt. 13) in the coming weeks and months.
- Bus rides and food lines may be annoying but are wonderful opportunities for relational ministry, often missed out of fatigue, annoyance or crankiness. We need to be careful not to miss those precious moments that God puts before us; remember, diamonds come forth from coal.
- The lines for Reconciliation at events should tell us something: the teens aren’t going at home. Arrange times to meet at the parish on Saturday. Stand in line with them. Start now at making it a more regular part of your ministry time and watch the tangible difference in your group carry through to next summer.
- Adoration is available all the time, not just at events. Take the time to connect those dots for teens between adoration in a group and slipping into the church or chapel on their own, at an unscheduled time. If there is a code to your chapel, be sure the teens have it…and use it.
- Morning mass is a wonderful discipline and opportunity for teens to develop during the summer time when they are out of school. Freed from potential distractions that might exist on Sunday, take advantage of these daily times to catechize them about the liturgy. They’ll love the 30 minute format, sit closer than they do on Sunday and will absolutely do it if you buy them coffee afterwards (a small price to pay). God and coffee: how’s that for a time of awakening?!?
- A systematic model of evangelization/catechesis (like that which parishes who utilize Life Teen provide) is essential to insure that we are handing on the full deposit of faith. It is a deeper relationship with Christ, not just one another, that fans the flame of faith, that holds them accountable and that cultivates the seed that found the soil of their heart. Sooner or later, without Christ’s truth in addition to community, they are in danger of “withering for lack of roots or moisture” (Matthew 13:5-6).
Go back and re-read the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13. Figure out which of your teens are which type of soil. Next, put on your gardening gloves, get back out into that field and get to work!
And when you’re tired under that hot summer sun, know that we at Life Teen are working right alongside of you. We are praying and interceding for you, daily. We are offering you water and shade in the form of prayers, resources, phone and email support and a full slate of fall conferences, CMUs and Inspirations – all designed to rejuvenate you and your Core Teams, all designed to keep you going out into that field.
He’s called us into the fields where the laborers are few, but are strong. It’s not enough to cast the seed. Let’s get on our knees, keep working the soil and keep praying for the Son’s light until the Master calls us in from the field, once and for all.
See you at the harvest!