On June 12th, I travelled down to Scottsdale, Arizona for the National Life Teen Training Convention that was held for all youth ministry coordinators who had already subscribed, or were thinking of subscribing, to their youth ministry program. It was such an amazing time, filled with so many great people, so many great talks, and so much great music.
A lot of information was thrown at us over the course of 4 days. With over 500 people, we had to choose different breakout sessions. But after every session of "How to Recruit Leaders" or "Teaching Teens and their Families to Pray", or "Leading Teens into Sacred Scripture", all 500+ youth ministry coordinators and 70 priests came back together and listened to a talk that mentioned The Eucharist, or a talk that mentioned Mary. Accompanying all of this was prayer, and there was lots of it. Everywhere. Liturgy of the Hours when we woke up, prayers during general sessions, prayers at the beginning, middle, and end of breakout sessions. Daily mass and Eucharistic Adoration. Liturgy of the Hours before we went to sleep. It was incredibly challenging, yet incredibly peaceful.
I had my "turning point" though, during Eucharist Adoration (appropriate, no?). It was the 2nd time that we had had the Blessed Sacrament exposed on the altar. Because there were so many of us, video cameras projected the Eucharist onto 2 huge screens at the front of the room, and I was looking at one of those screens. As I knelt there, one of the altar servers walked behind the Sacrament. And this is where I saw the most beautiful image: The Eucharist in the foreground of that projection, shining bright, clear, and in perfect focus. All the while the altar server, the back wall of the room, and the altar that the Eucharist lay on were unfocused, hazy, and dark.
Jesus might as well have appeared before me (accidents and all) and smacked me across the face; the image was that jarring. "Oh my God." It really hit me then. The unity among all of us youth ministers, there for the same purpose, there with the same failings and faults, left me thanking God that He had led me to come to this event. I realized that the whole point of this conference was not to show us what prayers to say or what songs to play during a youth event, but to break us - break us from ourselves and all the things that can distract us, so that the only thing we are looking at is Christ. And through Him, and only Him, call others.
I immediately thought of Peter, cautiously stepping out of the boat onto water, as Christ called Him. The passage makes it very clear that while he was looking at Christ, he could walk on water. It is only when Peter "...noticed the strong wind [and] became frightened" (Mt 14:30) did he begin to sink. Jesus rebukes Peter in the same passage and says "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" (Mt 14:31)
And as I continued to kneel there with those thoughts in my head, I really began to let go, and a wave of understanding came over me. If we keep our eyes, our minds, our hearts, and our lives set on Christ...everything else falls into place. No waves can knock us down. In all of our ministries, despite all the waves of complaints and miscommunication, if we keep our eyes set on the Living God, we'll do just fine.
It was through my encounter that night that I clearly saw why all the talks always came back to our Blessed Mother and the Eucharist. Because...everything in life ultimately points to that too. All for Christ, all through Mary. And the only way that we, as youth ministers, can pass that message and pass that love and Truth onto youth, is to understand it, and live it ourselves.
Doubting. Losing focus. We all do it. Peter did. But he also became the first pope. He realized the primary focus in the end. Let's all strive to do the same.
St. Peter, pray for us.