On a flight a couple of weeks ago, the captain welcomed us as follows:
“Good Afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen. This is your captain. Thank you for flying with us, our flight time to New York is 1hour 40 minutes. The weather is great there about 75 degrees with a strong wind. So relax and if you have any questions, find a teenager and ask them – they know EVERYTHING!”
The plane erupted in laughter and we parents of teens nodded with understanding; even acknowledging, “He must’ve had a rough morning!” It’s as if this is what is expected and we just need to grin and bear it because there is NO solution…
Being a single mother since my daughter was nine months old (she is now fifteen), I can attest that while the struggle was more physical in her early years, it seems like pie compared to the mental and emotional challenge that the teen years bring. I find myself in constant “combat mode,” believing I need to be “one step ahead” and vigilantly protecting my daughter from the enemy: “secularism”. Talk about exhausting! My daughter is no devil incarnate – from most people’s perspective, she walks on water (and sometimes she does)! It’s the “other times” that have me in a tail spin. When I’m tempted not to work so hard at it, I realize that with all the available technology, all it takes is one slip to have a “crisis”.
Along comes my friend Rosanne earlier this year asking me to help her create a Chapel in a conference room for the Steubenville Youth Conference. I agreed and volunteered to stay the duration of the conference, which was last weekend. I enjoyed painting the theme “CHOSEN” for the Chapel and working with others (including my daughter) to create the ambiance conducive to prayer.
However, I was ill prepared for the magnitude of the event. While we were working on this, other volunteers (142 total) were working on logistics like stage set-up, food service, book store set up, registration, security, prayer teams, orientation, confession rooms, etc, etc. I felt the enthusiasm building in me! We started our “mission” with a Volunteer Mass on Friday morning and then almost 2500 teens descended on us in busloads – it was noisy and wonderful.
Everything was high octane! The stage was set for a huge concert and there was a huge concert! The kids were caught up in the moment – they could relate. However, this was not about a concert it was about Jesus. The concert was a way to communicate the love for God; and boy, did it ever work!
During the course of the weekend there were talks and discussions educating the teens on the fact that they were “Chosen” by God for a specific mission; encouraging them to discern; to make good choices; to strengthen their faith; to let go of sin; to accept God’s forgiveness; to understand the definition and interpretation of truth and the difference between objective and subjective thought; to share their love of God; to love their neighbor, to be silent by cutting out the texting to hear Jesus; to reject the “me first” culture; to present modesty in dress and behavior and to live a Christ-centered life. Topics such as porn0graphy, abortion, gay marriage and contraception were addressed. They also participated in a service project (sponsored by Catholic Relief Services) to help prepare 100,386 meal packages (each one feeds six) that were being sent to Africa to feed the hungry.
I was overwhelmed by the response. To have pin drop silence from about 2500 kids during Adoration was absolutely amazing. To have long, unending queues for Confession (with 25 priests) and a huge Chapel filled with young bodies (sometimes crying) on the floor; spending time in front of the Blessed Sacrament took my breath away. Yet, these were just “normal” kids – laughing and chatting and loud during their break times – but filled with a newfound, contagious peace and joy.
By Sunday, despite their fatigue, the kids’ love for God, their renewed strength, their unburdened spirits – were palpable. The air was charged – Mass by Bishop Zarama was all it could be. The kids related to his very personal message. He challenged them to use the word “love” judiciously for God and people but not for pizza and kittens!
Steubenville conferences have been around for over 15 years and it still seems to be a relatively well kept secret. My question is “Why isn’t everyone chatting this up?”
Since I could not think of an answer, I came up with a few possibilities:
1. This is for “those kids” that do everything right – the “holy rollers” – MY kids would never like this.
I want to assure you that every level of spiritual maturity (and immaturity) was represented. I am sure some had been “sent” and others came for a supposed “good time”. On Saturday morning, I witnessed two young lads on their feet – openly praising God. In between was their obviously uncomfortable friend who prodded them and giggled. However, after a few minutes, he stood up and joined them – in his own way. The two lads were able to stay strong and pull him up rather than have him pull them down. Isn’t that what we as parents want: good, strong influences?
2. All that loud music is not praying.
I can just hear some saying this. However, music is a means of communication – per St. Augustine: “to sing is to pray twice”! Kids gravitate to music. Today’s music may not sound like the music we grew up with but it is the way our kids relate and it would behoove us to utilize this tool to get the message across. I can assure you, I have never seen so many kids on fire for Jesus, speaking of God from the heart – not the head.
1 Corinthians 9:23-23: ”I have become all things to all, to save at least some. All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it.”
3. That clapping and dancing is “disrespectful” to God – Prayer is personal.
People from different cultures, have for decades been worshipping God with song and dance. Keep in mind that anything good (such as love) does not need to be hidden and quiet since there is no shame in it. If we force love of God and prayer to be “quiet”, we cannot bemoan the absence of God in public places. Loving God openly should be encouraged – though not everyone may gravitate to it.
4. I am sure we can create “other” or “better” weekend experiences for teens.
What if Henry Ford had the same mentality (“I think I should fix the wheel”)? We would probably still be waiting on cars and planes! Steubenville works wonderfully – let’s use it to help our kids grow on the right track. After experiencing the conference for myself, my only regret is that my daughter did not attend this last summer before she started high school. Since our parish did not have its youth present, she was paired with another parish to facilitate group discussions and activities.
5. Steubenville is not diocesan – it is all about the Franciscan University.
“Steubenville” and “Life Teen” partner to create these events. The teachings are in total keeping with that of the Catholic Church. If you are not sure, volunteer at an event to see firsthand or just attend the Mass on Sunday. I promise you will have a new perspective.
My daughter is on a high and determined to “stay on Jesus’ track”. I don’t know if one day she will have all the gifts of the Holy Spirit like healing and speaking in tongues but all I want for her is to have a real relationship with our Lord. I believe this conference makes my life as a parent of a teen a bit easier. It brings God to my daughter in a way that she can relate to. I would like to see the archdioceses, parishes, pastors, youth leaders and parents all work together to get our kids (they are our future) to receive this shot of adrenalin every summer. Christ has chosen them to carry on his mission. Even if only fifty kids a year were brought closer to God – isn’t it worth it?
For more information click here: http://www.steubenville.org/home/home_index