The week before Thanksgiving, the Youth Ministry team traveled to Indianapolis to attend the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC). NCYC is where over 20,000 high school students, representing their respective parish/school/diocese, travel from across the country to worship, learn, and witness how God intersects with all areas of life through speakers and themed breakout sessions. In addition, there was an exhibition hall where the young folk could walk around to different booths and pick up some stickers, information packets, and giveaways. It was a wonderful opportunity to see how different ministries, organizations, schools, etc. are using faith-developing to impact youth.
Personally, I had a field day. This was my first time attending NCYC and I had a blast. I enjoyed tabling the booth for the JSC because it allowed me to not only articulate and appreciate our mission as a retreat center, but also to share what our Youth Ministry department is doing in the lives of young people through our retreats. When I wasn’t tabling, I enjoyed walking around the different booths and speaking with people. I visited tables belonging to the Jesuits, lots of graduate programs, and an outdoor recreation team that leads spiritual backpacking trips for youth. The energy of the conference was high. It was so exciting to witness the joy and passion that everyone brought with them, which was evident from the crazy hats that people wore and echoes of laughter. I saw one group wear traffic cones on their heads!
During the evening, everyone regrouped in Lucas Oil Stadium, (where the Colts play), where there was a big stage set up at the 50-yard line. I enjoyed this part of the conference because it emphasized the communion of the Church, that we come together as one body in Christ. On the second night of the conference, the stadium transformed from a football field to a sanctuary. We had a very powerful experience during Adoration. It brought me to tears. We worry about how more and more young people are leaving the church, but I completely forgot about that while witnessing the events of that evening unfold.
During the silence, the teens flocked to kneel as close to the monstrance as possible. They surrounded the stage and the entire field was covered so you couldn’t even see the ground. There were thousands of young people, kneeling alongside one another in the aisles and wherever they could find room. The longing to have that intimacy, that closeness, to be as near to Jesus as they could reminded me of the faith-filled disciples that dropped their lives, possessions and left their homes to follow him. It’s easy to dismiss the young church and that it is up to us to keep it alive, but it is very much alive within the hearts of our young friends. These teens are our future and they are already teaching us how to be faithful. They are growing up as we speak, in a world that is very uncertain and ever-changing. To be there in that stadium-turned-sanctuary, watching these young lives approach with boldness to the call of God, is the greatest blessing from the week. We need to see that the Church is very much alive and to invest in young lives. Let them be exactly who God made them to be! Because from what I saw, the faith is in good hands.
During one of the worship sessions, a song stood out to me. This is an excerpt from “Who You Say I Am” by Hillsong United:
Free at last, He has ransomed me
His grace runs deep
While I was a slave to sin
Jesus died for me Yes, He died for me
Who the Son sets free
Oh is free indeed
I’m a child of God
Yes I am
In my Father’s house
There’s a place for me
I’m a child of God
Yes I am
I am chosen
I am who You say I am
You are for me
Not against me
I am who You say I am
This song spoke to my heart because these are reassuring words that resemble the providence of God and how we are first and foremost children of God. Everything else is secondary because the most primary truth is who God is, and what God is doing and has already done. This song emphasizes how God is gracious, victorious, and the source of liberation. God not only invites us to the state we most desire, which is being fully present with Him, He has already set a place for us. God chose us and ransomed for us, even in our most desperate and worst state. We now have the option to let that state define us, tell us who we think we are or even what others think of us. Some days, it can feel like suffering is all that we are. We might feel inclined to believe we deserve the pain and isolation that runs deeply in our hearts. It can be hard to accept the gift of mercy and grace because it seems too good to be true. How can we be deserving of such a Savior?
Because we are who He says we are. That is the truth that we are longing for- a sense of belonging and community. In God’s community, all we are is exactly what is wanted and needed. Yes, that means with our “baggage,” our regrets and hurts. Nothing is so great a burden that God cannot bear with us, to think otherwise is to forget the very being of who God is. We are called to come as we are and to become something more, to transform in God’s midst. To come alive in a way that is glorious, painful even, because to live in the truth of who we are is to embrace one of the greatest gifts of life. By living in this truth and knowing that God will not leave us out to dry, we can experience joy.
When I was younger, I just wanted to be happy. I wanted to find something I loved doing and be in a community where everyone was connected and supported one another. I figured “as long as I am happy” that will be enough for me. As I grew older, I realize that’s not enough. In fact, I felt miserable at times. I struggled with my faith, my relationship with God and my family, and my friends couldn’t fix the God-sized hole in my heart that kept me longing for something to fill it. Once I started to realize what joy meant for me, as something that is more enduring than happiness, the more I was eager to find hope again. It meant I could offer myself, which was the only thing that God finds worthy. He doesn’t want my grades or my resume and I can assure you he does not want my credit score. God just wants me. The Real me. The me He created me to become.
As children of God, we are under His care and watchful eye. The beautiful aspect of this is manifested in our freedom from our chains and the hope that lightens our journey, as both illumination and spiritual buoyancy. We also have the option to respond to the invitation and allow ourselves to experience the fruits of the spirit. We can offer our lives as a vessel of joy, peace, and hope in a very hostile world. We still have our disappointments and we will still make mistakes. But even if we do not have it all together, together we can indeed have it all.