Do you remember your freshmen/sophomore year of High School? I do. It was awkward, uncomfortable and darn-right frightening. I was short (shorter than I am now) and didn’t really fit in anywhere. When it came to friends, I had to compete with the bold and beautiful – neither of which I have ever been accused of being. If it wasn’t for a youth outreach at my high school that offered me a personal encounter with the Jesus in the context of our Catholic faith, I have no idea where I would be today. In Him, I discovered love, acceptance, freedom and most of all courage – all of which have allowed me to become the man, albeit imperfect, that I have become today.
This weekend I witnessed six youth coordinators, a priest and their team of adults lead a retreat for 86 youth from five different parishes. With uncompromising clarity and faithfulness to the gospel as presented by the Church, I saw some men and women preach their hearts out. I’m not talking about your average youth talk – I mean the preaching that has you on the edge of your seat, cuts you deep to the heart and makes you yearn for more.
The retreat theme was “Encounter.” These Youth Coordinators dared to believe that if they took away all the electronics, drove the youth to nowhere West Virginia and offered Jesus to the youth in Word and Sacrament, the youth would come in contact with the Living God found in the person of Jesus the Christ. And they were right!
Don’t get me wrong. The weekend was far from perfect because kids will be kids; because we live in a broken world that is trying to fill those places in our hearts that are made for God alone; because there is a roaring lion out there that is trying to steal our hope; because as much as we instinctively know we need God, we are afraid of hearing what He’ll say; and because few take the time to point out how and where to find Him.
But Jesus came. In majesty. In glory. In power. Not the way the world deems majesty, glory and power but in the way that dreams are made of. He first came through the preaching – the teens couldn’t believe that the speaker’s words laid bare the secrets of their hearts. He came through the Sacrament of Confession – the teens couldn’t believe the mercy they found in the three priests who revealed Jesus to them as many wept through their confessions. He came in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament – the teens couldn’t believe that Jesus would pull back the veil of their hearts and invite them to look at Him eye-to-eye, up close and personal. He came to them in the Divine Liturgy – the teens, though tired, couldn’t believe that eternity could break into time and that He had always been there for them and looks forward to their next encounter.
Lives were changed and much hope was restored. The teens left nowhere West Virginia yesterday afternoon still dazed and amazed. They realized that all the cares of the world and challenges of their lives awaited them in Northern Virginia. But nothing is the same anymore. Why? Because six Youth Coordinators, one priest and 20 adult volunteers dared to offer what the world says is dead and passé – Jesus in Word and Sacrament. The world is different today because just like 2,000 years ago, 86 young men and women had a chance encounter with Jesus.
Beware world and you enemies of the Lord, Aslan is on the move, I met 86 of His friends this weekend and you are in His way.