I have been a youth minister in some form or another since high school, and have many joyful memories. This weekend at CYC (Catholic Youth Celebration) in Spokane, though, rates as one of the most amazing and profound experiences I have had as a youth minister so far. I am so proud of our youth group and the experiences they had at this Catholic teen retreat, and I am so excited about our future together. They rocked this weekend, and worshiped God with amazing grace. I had a lot of fun with them, and I hope that the memories and encounters they made at this retreat stay with them. I know mine will.
Not all of our youth group was able to make it to CYC (mainly due to short notice as we're newly formed), but eight teens were able to attend, which was great! We had six young men, and two young women, along with myself, Fr. Gus, and a male parent that came along as a chaperone. We may have been a small group, but we made the most of our time this weekend. I expected to serve only in helping create an atmosphere in which they could be challenged and embraced by God, but I wasn't expecting to also be challenged and embraced deeply by Him. It was amazing.
The theme of CYC this year was THIRST*ENCOUNTER*REJOICE. Friday night started in the evening with great music by a Catholic rock band called The Thirsting (based out of Vancouver, and very reverent to Jesus), which really got the teens excited. We then listened to our opening speakers (main speaker was Tammy Evevard) discuss the theme of the first day, which was THIRST. She emphasized that each and every one of us is loved and cherished by God. Every single one of us matters to God. We are not alone, and we do matter. We all thirst for something or someone that can fill this deep desire to matter and to feel truly and unconditionally loved. There are many ways we try to quench that thirst (materialism, addictions, relationships, etc.), but it never truly fills us in a way that satisfies us. They are external 'fixes' when, what we really need is an internal fix, one that fills our soul and radiates outward.
The only way to quench that deep thirst is through a relationship with God, our Father and Creator. The one that molded us with love and care, made us uniquely beautiful, and who cares about what happens to us. So much so that he sent His only Son to live amongst all of us lonely and broken people. For those same people who then nailed Him upon a Cross. He suffered - and ultimately conquered - death for the sins of every single one of us. He would have died on that Cross for only ONE of us. That's how much we matter. That's how much we're loved.
This is something all humans experience, but our youth yearn for it so deeply, and are at the same time facing fresh challenges and disguised 'fixes' to fill that thirst. With so many other external pressures and temptations from the world - ones that will never fully fill their deepest need - we need to make a strong effort to make the love of God known to them. Friday night was meant to be an invitation to the teens to feel deeply loved, and to open their hearts to Jesus. To let Him heal them.
"Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." - 1 John 4:8
After the wonderful opening program (interspersed with more music from The Thirsting), we had Stations of the Cross. It involved some deeply moving readings and music. I have always been partial to the Stations, but this night really touched me deeply. There was a song about Mary holding her Son in various points of His life, and death, and still inviting us to come and hold Him. No words can really do it justice without listening to the song, but it was profoundly beautiful. It brought me to tears. Looking around that gym, I could tell that there many other teens and adults being touched by their experiences during the Stations of the Cross.
Our Friday evening ended with us taking our teens out for some ice cream and conversation. Since Fr. Gus was involved in organizing CYC and also was still doing Stations and Masses back at our three parishes, he wasn't able to spend a lot of time with our youth group for much of the weekend. This excursion afterward was the perfect opportunity for him to get to spend time with the teens too. Saturday morning we were back at Gonzaga Prep bright and early before 9am. The teens (and adults) were tired from being out late the night before and getting up early, but the teens all pushed through and still made the most of the retreat. I witnessed them being challenged, stepping out of comfort zones, and even finding joy. They each expressed it in different ways, but it was there, and it was truly inspiring.
Saturday was centered around the theme of ENCOUNTER. It was all about encouraging the teens to open up and become vulnerable so that they could encounter Jesus in the Sacraments, in their sharing with others, in worship, and in prayer. So that they could be filled with the Lord's healing grace and love. To have their thirst quenched. That full day brought with it fantastic speakers, small group sessions, music that brought us to worship openly, a moving Reconciliation service with Confessions, an Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament that left many teens in tears and made my heart ache with how amazing it was for everyone, and a fun rock concert at the end of the night to celebrate (where we were able to witness nuns in head-to-toe habits rock out to the music!). So much happened that day, that we will only be able to process all of it over a long period of time, and with prayer. It was an explosion of love, joy, peace, hope, courage, wisdom, and other wonderful things, all in a short amount of time.
We left the concert early to take the teens to get frozen yogurt with Fr. Gus, and ended up playing a competitive game of Apples-to-Apples with them. It was a great way to bond more with the teens, and it involved A LOT of laughter. Nobody wanted to leave and stop the game, but we eventually had to leave to let them close-up the shop. The car was even rocking with the music from The Thirsting on the way home, since I bought their CDs. This opened up even more discussion about the retreat, and the hopes for the future in the youth group. At the end of this day, I truly felt like our brand new youth group was starting to bond together around our Faith, and it is humbling and incredible to be part of it. I'd say that was a successful day!
Sunday we were back again bright and early, for the closing speakers to discuss the theme of REJOICE. Now that the kids had encountered Jesus in their experiences at the retreat, they were encouraged to let it fill them deep down, and let the light of it radiate out. To find joy in that relationship with the Lord, and make their Faith a priority in the future. To regularly receive the Sacraments, read the Bible, pray, and find gratitude in their life. To love and to be loved. This theme was encouraged by Mass with the Bishop (nothing says rejoice like the Eucharist: Jesus with us!), lots of worship music, thanksgiving for the gifts of the weekend, and tearful/joyful goodbyes. It was so beautiful to watch the teens not wanting to leave, to see them so joyful in their worship during Mass, and to see them giving standing ovations to say thank you to all those that helped make this retreat possible.
These youth aren't just the future of our Church; they are our Church. They are open and willing, and filled with love. They have wonderful and beautiful gifts, and a unique calling, all just waiting to be explored. They can do amazing things strengthened by God and the support of the rest of the Body of Christ. I'm so excited to see what they do, and to see how our youth group grows in the coming months. I'd estimate there were roughly 250 teens & leaders that attended. That is 250 people (mainly youth) that were given an opportunity to encounter God, be invited to the Sacraments, and walk away open to their vocations and callings for their lives. God is infinitely amazing!
I've witnessed the Sacraments transform hearts this weekend, and I am in awe. I didn't just watch others be transformed, but I was transformed and healed myself. I'm open and willing to see what God has in store for me as a youth minister, and what He has in store for this youth group. I'm so grateful we were able to attend CYC and bond at this retreat. It did great things for all of us, and we're all (including the teens) already looking forward to the Steubenville Northwest Youth Conference in July, and CYC next year!
Thank you to the teens, the parents, Fr. Gus, our male chaperone Mike Lavoie, the entire team behind CYC, and the whole parish community that kept us all in their prayers this weekend. We appreciate all of you!
St. Anne's Youth Group Coordinator
Please join us as we strive to move our parish further into the 21st century with an updated website and now a parish blog. We still have our parish Facebook pages (see home page for links), but we realize not everyone uses Facebook, hence the updated website and blog. The plan is to update the blog with current events happening in our parishes along with some Catholic reflections for each liturgical season. The website will be updated frequently, like the Facebook page, with an updated Calendar of upcoming events, and other information about parish ministries and activities. So please check back at least weekly. If you have any questions or items to submit (for all three parishes), please contact Jessica or John Spracklen, or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As we close out the first Sunday of Lent, please continue to pray for our parishes as we continue to grow and change in an effort to bring Christ's light to our communities. May this Lenten season be a time of spiritual growth and a deepening understand of God's love for us all. God bless each and every one of you!
"Lent is to be lived as a time of conversion, of personal and communal renewal through drawing close to God and confident adherence to the Gospel." - Pope Francis (3/5/14)