Youth Ministry is tiring work, both physically and spiritually. Hours before the teens arrive for a Life Night, Core Teams have been setting up environments and practicing teachings. Long after the Edge kids are picked up, Core Members are sweeping up floors and taking out trash. And then there are the trips. The long bus rides to Camps and Conferences, the paper towel thin blankets and sheets, and, not to mention, the steady diet of pizza and coffee do very little for the middle-aged body. The spirit may be willing but effective youth ministry often reveals that the flesh is, indeed, weak.
But then, it happens…
You get to share in that moment when a young soul first “gets it.” You witness the light bulb turn on and the heart glow brighter than it ever has before. You sit in awe as they extend a hand in praise. You smile as they reach for the monstrance. You weep as they run forward to Reconciliation or kneel in silent reverence, contemplating the depth of God’s love following Holy Communion. You’re not in ministry for the fruit, but you rejoice in God allowing you to see it… a small reward for the many hours of tilling, sowing, and plowing in His ministerial vineyard.
Sure, youth ministry can be difficult, thankless, and stressful, but it’s also amazing, fulfilling and inspiring. To know God and to teach in His Name are nothing short of a high privilege. That’s what led Nehemiah (and Ezra) to proclaim that “the joy of the Lord is our strength” (Neh. 8:10). Rebuilding Jerusalem’s city walls was a backbreaking task under the hot afternoon sun. Each person had a job to do – to build their individual section of the greater wall. When the flesh grew weak, God’s children learned that they had to dig deeper than physical strength or a noble sense of pride—the Lord, and the Lord alone, was their only motivation and only source of true peace or joy.
True joy only comes from God and realizing our deepest dependence on Him (CCC 301).
What is Joy?
We live in a time when society confuses joy with happiness, but Scripture does not. Happiness is human; joy is divine. Happiness is fleeting, but true joy is eternal. Without God – who is Love – joy is not possible, but if Love is the root, joy is the fruit (CCC 1829).
This is especially true of life within ministry. Joy is the fuel that carries us through the day; lose the joy and you stall. As the great Catholic writer, G. K. Chesterton said, “Joy is the gigantic secret of the Christian,” but it’s a secret that must be shared; that must radiate from our entire being.
It’s with this in mind that our Life Teen Staff prayerfully discerned our 2012 Theme to be Radiant Joy. We must not only be people of joy, but so joyful that the Spirit’s holy presence radiates forth from us in every direction, to all with whom we come into contact.
Our first Pope, St. Peter, warned us to “be prepared” when people come seeking the source of our hope (1 Pet 3:15). Put simply, when people see how joyful and peaceful we are, we’d better be able to tell them not only the “why,” but, more importantly, also be able to introduce them to the “Who.” Our current Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, furthered this sentiment saying, “We cannot keep solely for ourselves this joy that we have received; joy must always be shared. Joy must be communicated.”
Throughout Sacred Scripture we’re told of the immense joy that comes through intimate encounters of God. Moses’ face became radiant after conversing with God (Exodus 34:29), the Psalmist proclaimed his joy at God’s altar (43:4), Jeremiah’s joy was unearthed through God’s Word (Jeremiah15:16) and John the Baptist’s joy was expressed through a uterine jump that left even St. Elizabeth astounded (Luke 1:44). It should come as no surprise to us, then, to witness the sheer joy that souls – both teens and adults – experience when they encounter our Lord in both Word and Sacrament. As a Eucharistic people we, like the monstrance, reflect God’s radiance to the world in dire need of it.
Radiating Joy through out our Lives
As we unpack this new annual theme in our 2012 Life Teen Events and Resources, we will be ever mindful of our need to keep this proper perspective: joy is a fruit (and proof) of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives. The saints never forgot this truth.
St. Philip Neri bid us to, “aim for joy, rather than respectability. Let us make fools of ourselves from time to time, and thus see ourselves, for a moment, as the all-wise God sees us.”
St. (Padre) Pio of Pietrelcina encouraged us to, “serve the Lord with laughter” and Blessed (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta reminded us that, “joy is a net of love by which we catch souls.”
These radiant souls knew well the attacks and assaults on joy that came with actively ministering in God’s name and the hardships that come with trying to build God’s Kingdom on earth, but they didn’t lose perspective. They showed up, daily, ready to serve and ready, as Nehemiah might say, to build their section of the wall. True holiness comes by way of the cross, but (that cross) breeds joy (CCC 2015).
May we never lose our joy nor forget the great privilege we have of serving in youth ministry. And may the grace and love of our Lord shine radiantly from our faces, homes and parishes as we march into a new year of service within the movement of Life Teen.
For as the incredibly witty Archbishop Fulton Sheen once put it, “The only reason to take this life too seriously is if it’s our only one.”