Let me start with some shameless sacramental advertising. CONFESSION – APRIL 8 – 7:00 PM. Be there! For the first time in several years, 8 priests have offered to come to St. Monica to hear Confessions. Come! The lines will be short. The priests are friendly. The music will be good. You’ll enjoy the experience. Want to make an impact? Bring just one other person with you. They’ll thank you. Ok, on to another topic…
Over the past few weeks, we have been examining the topic of discipleship within the context of our young people. Are young people really capable of being disciples? Are they even interested in going out and speaking on behalf of Jesus Christ? Do they have the skill set to explain our faith in a compelling manner?
Young people want to “do stuff that counts.” They are looking for meaning. They also are people who want to please. A Notre Dame study found that the influence on parents on their children is higher than at any time in history. Regardless of what they say, young people really want to please their parents. They are also watching what their parents do and will model parent’s behavior. If parents go to Mass, the children will go to Mass. Fathers have a special influence on this. Children are significantly more likely to continue attending Mass after high school if dad regularly attended Mass with his children.
Young people also like hangin’ with other young people. Events such as Steubenville Conferences, World Youth Day and Seek are attractive for young people who are already engaged in their faith. They include exciting, motivating speakers, solid catechesis, music and energy. These conferences also offer something else that young people are craving – a challenge!
Consider SEEK2019. SEEK is an annual conference sponsored by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students or FOCUS. This year’s five-day event marked the 20th anniversary of the first FOCUS Conference. FOCUS’ founder, Ralph Martin was one of the keynote speakers. He noted that two decades ago, the event consisted of 20 students from Benedictine College. Today SEEK includes more than 17,000 attendees, with thousands more watching online. Martin spoke in a passionate and direct fashion to the young people:
Martin told a packed conference hall during the opening day of SEEK2019 Conference in Indianapolis: “There’s two types of people in this world: there’s thermometers, and there’s thermostats. When you walk into a room, does the room impact you, or do you impact the room?” “Eternal life is all that matters,” Martin reminded the crowd. “Your primary focus in life is to seek heaven, and to live your mission here on earth, rather than becoming embroiled in day-to-day cares and materialistic goals.” “This is why you’re here, nothing else matters,” said Martin. He joked that in heaven, no one will care that a person owned an expensive car.
Martin insisted that not much has changed since that first SEEK conference. There was still an urgent need for Christian leaders in the world. “The message is still ‘Christ is the key, and you’re the answer,’” he said. “The world is still waiting for Christ-like leaders to better shape society.”
Conference speakers like Martin encourage young people to go back home and attend Mass. Go to Confession. Tell their friends about the conference and about Jesus. Bring their friends to church. Many do. Once they attend these conferences, these young people share compelling stories about the experience with family and friends.
Take Missy Brassie for example. Brassie is a 31 Denver resident who attended SEEK2019. What did she like the best? Let her tell you: “All of these people coming together for Eucharistic Adoration is the best part of the conference. Surrounded by thousands of their peers during adoration, they feel that they’re not alone in their faith, and they feel that they’re personally spoken to by the Lord. People say that everyone around them disappears. It’s just Jesus and that person at that moment.”
The overwhelming emotion Brassie experienced has happened before at SEEK conferences. This year’s event, held January 3-7, was her eighth.
This kind of opportunity for large-scale devotion experiences has an impact on many young people. One student, “Nancy D” shared that “God was far away. Jesus was more of a historical person and I think Mary is who I turned to the most for prayer. I was Catholic educated in grade school and high school but had to learn my faith from the beginning after a powerful moment of Jesus revealing himself in the Eucharist. I could go on and on. Are you surprised by this? I find it to be very common in and headed into the third generation.”
Lisa Cotter is a Catholic speaker and author on the topics of relationships, femininity, and living life with excellence. Since 2007 she and her husband, Kevin, have served FOCUS (the Fellowship of Catholic University Students) as a family and together they are the co-authors of Dating Detox. She calls herself a “SEEK addict.” “My first conference experience began with my joining a FOCUS Bible study during my freshman year in college. Upon learning about their winter conference in Omaha, I enthusiastically signed up to attend. (I know you’re jealous. Nowadays we host conferences in less exciting locations.) With my new college BFFs crammed into my two-door sports car and a freshly burned mix CD in our player, we drove 2.5 hours north of Benedictine College for the conference in January — and I entered into what I believed to be Catholic utopia. There were, like, 500 Catholic college students there! I couldn’t believe it. Where did they find 500 Catholic college students to attend this conference? I thought all of the good Catholic college students attended my school!
I was impressed. This was huge. We weren’t alone in Atchison.”
Young people from St. Monica have had similar experiences at Steubenville Conferences. Young St. Monica parishioners (and yours truly) attended the conference in Steubenville, Ohio two years ago. Last year we attended the satellite conference in New York City where we are going again this summer. “Teens encounter Jesus personally, in Word and Sacrament. (Fr. Zlock: Gee…where have I heard THAT before?) At the Steubenville conferences, there are two Masses, Reconciliation, adoration, and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, praise and worship, workshops, and ministry booths. God’s grace works through all of them to inspire our teens. They’re free to encounter Him, without the pressure of schoolwork or sports commitments. This is often so overlooked, but teens can be totally present to the message without thinking about that assignment due on Monday.
It creates a summer buzz within the youth ministry and keeps teens interested in the follow-up events. Bible studies, daily Masses, youth nights, socials, etc. that your parish offers, continue what has been built upon over the weekend conference.
It shows teens that God isn’t meant to be contained within an academic calendar but rather is meant to be experienced throughout our entire lives. How do you show newly confirmed that their faith is continued after Confirmation programming? Continually offer them discipleship opportunities.
It challenges teens to think or rethink about summer leisure activities that may be morally ambiguous or just wrong. Teens + boredom = creativity. Sometimes they need to be reminded there are healthy and holy creative ways of socializing under the summer sun.
I know that many parents are already planning what their children will do this summer. Advanced studies, academic drills, and sports camps are high on the agenda. In the end, God won’t care about any of that. Consider your kid’s soul. How do you build a disciple? Provide your child with that “Encounter with Jesus Christ” over the next few months.