By: Krysti Patient
This past weekend, 6:00AM Saturday morning, I drove out to “The Ultimate Outing”, with All Saints and Holy Trinity Catholic Churches. The Ultimate Outing begins with a retreat and ends at Diocesan RALLY. Like perhaps most working adults, my initial expectations were leaning towards a more negative perspective- I was going to be up early, go to bed late, and in the meantime be totally energized, friendly and relational with 40+ teenagers who would undoubtedly be representing the whole spectrum of willingness to participate in the retreat. I knew it wouldn’t be terrible! I simply braced myself to experience all of the challenging parts I’ve become familiar with at youth ministry events and retreats chock-full of talks, small groups and activities. After a particularly busy week (well, month) at the office, I thought, “there won’t be enough coffee in the world to sustain me this weekend!”
Thankfully, the Holy Spirit is an excellent caffeinator. I had forgotten that the last retreat I went on with teens was a Confirmation retreat-which I remembered fondly, but perhaps was more aware of the mandatory nature of that particular weekend. As a result, I was surprised right off the bat to find many of the teens I encountered at The Ultimate Outing were very open to whatever the weekend held in store. Even if some weren’t totally jumping up and down with excitement, there was a really beautiful surrender that wasn’t a “giving up” but rather a “giving in.”
From the beginning of retreat we introduced journaling as a form of prayer, and encouraged them to journal in places of quiet throughout the retreat, before coming back together in their small groups to share what God was revealing to them all. Throughout the retreat, I was pleased to find that every teen I spoke to was filling their small journal in those quiet moments of prayer. There was even a teen in my small group-who I had thought was fairly disengaged because she would doodle or write in her journal while the rest of the group shared-that later shared with me that journaling was the only way she found that would let her focus and really listen to what others, and also to what God, was saying. She told me she didn’t know journaling was a real form of prayer, or that anyone else prayed the way she did. I could tell this was a big deal for her.
Later, in Eucharistic Adoration, several more teens who I may have mentally flagged early on as more difficult to reach, seemed to have the most impactful experience of the group when before Christ in the monstrance. Almost every single teen received the Sacrament of Reconciliation that evening. I wrote in my own journal my thanksgiving to Jesus for the gift of their vulnerability, “These young people are braver than most adults I know. Your kingdom truly does belong to such as these.”
That Sunday morning, we had one last talk and journaling exercise before packing up and heading out to Bishop O’Connell High School for RALLY. When gathered together to hear the welcome message, we received an introduction to this year’s youth ministry theme, and a keynote message from speaker Sean Forrest. The youth ministry theme comes from one of The Church’s newest saints-Mother Teresa of Calcutta. “I will love” is a mission statement, a call to make a firm resolution based on Jesus’ sacrificial love. As he spoke about his first experience serving the poor in Haiti, one line from Sean’s keynote stood out. He said, “I was more exhausted than I ever remember having been. That was because I gave all of myself, in love, to those who needed it.”
“And so today, when we have gathered here together, let us carry in our hearts one strong resolution: I will love. I will be a carrier of God’s love. For that is what Jesus came to teach us: how to love one another.” – Saint Teresa of Calcutta in her address to the United Nations on October 26, 1985
Two workshops, inflatables, Sunday Mass with Bishop Loverde, bacon pizza, and a photo booth photoshoot later, RALLY concluded with a concert and Eucharistic Adoration. I watched my teens gather now with hundreds of other young Catholics to adore Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, and could see that the retreat the day before helped them prepare for a beautiful encounter with their Lord. Most of my teens asked me if we could position ourselves as close to where Jesus would be as possible. In watching each of them give their undivided attention to Our Lord-their love for Him was tangible.
The final time in adoration was everything I needed to see that any extra effort or sacrifice on my own part from the weekend was worth it. I was exhausted, more than I had been in a while. In that moment, I too was glad “because I gave all of myself in love to those who needed it.” This is the true power of this year’s theme, this mission statement “I will love.”
Jesus came to teach us this and He is teaching me this still each day…how to love. There are a lot of things that make loving others difficult. However, if all I had to lose was a little sleep or a little of my time, I will give it all again in a heartbeat for one fraction of that moment with young people in Eucharistic Adoration-the teens knowing they are loved by Christ and watching them respond in love.