The Struggle to let the Light Shine: From Camp to Mass to Life
- Chris Porter
This past summer the High School Ministry at St Vincent de Paul Church in Andover, KS attempted their first ever retreat. To most the retreat was a bounding success, full of learning, beautiful prayer experiences, and wonderful teen bonding. As one of the coordinators, my experience of the retreat was full of broken down busses, missed events, and camp management drama. However, through all of the highs and lows, one very specific thing stood out to me more than any other… these teens are in love with their faith. It was beautiful, the way they jumped at the opportunity for reconciliation, how they built such strong Christian bonds with each other, and I witnessed teens opening their hearts and letting the Holy Spirit overflow the vessels within.
After we celebrated Mass on the mountain top, well honestly it was just a hill; we walked down to the cabins to prepare for our departure the next morning. It had been an amazing weekend, and I had high hopes that the teens would carry this love with them everywhere they went. As the next few months began to literally fly by, I sat down with some of the teens and tried to gauge the fullness of their vessels. Through some really deep discussion, and the occasional random tangent, I began to get the feeling that their hearts were still full, yet they were closed. No longer was the fire within them burning on the outside, but instead locked away deep inside.
Teenagers really aren’t that different from adults. As an adult myself, I scoff at that idea. I am a well educated, well mannered, work from 9 to 5, Grown Up! I have responsibilities! Yet deep down, in what really matters, I am no different than the teens I work with. While here at the Church, surrounded by all of my catholic brothers and sisters, I LOVE my faith. I do my best to let the flame within me shine as brightly as possible. Yet when I am out in the world, living life, and surrounded by my peers, I often find myself shielding my flame. How can it be so easy to share my faith on Sundays yet so hard to share it Monday thru Saturday? The answer is simple. The answer is a four letter word that starts with an F, FEAR.
Fear comes to us in many forms. The truth is many of us are scared to praise God when our peers are around because deep down most of us really do care what others think, and sometimes we even care more than what God thinks. We find ourselves looking at those who stand on our left and our right and we let them influence our behavior. This is a way of life here on earth, but our flame is not of this earth. Our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20).
I was fortunate enough to begin my career in youth ministry as a volunteer. At that time, the youth minister had just accepted the position and the ministry was still in its infancy. While the numbers attending may have been small, we felt the Holy Spirit pushing us to do great things. During the planning for an upcoming event, the youth minister asked if I would be willing to give a short talk. As a naturally shy person, believe it or not, I was terrified. What do I talk about? I am barely out of high school myself, and still succumb to the high school peer pressure. Will they laugh me off the stage? What happens if they ask a question I can’t answer? At that moment, the fear came slamming down and the darkest thought entered my mind. What if they think I am weird?
With all of my high school fears raging through my mind I turned to the one person who I knew could help me, my mother. Mom’s always have the right answer, even if they are simply passing the buck. My mother directed me to my grandfather, a man who truly lets his fire within shine in every moment. When I laid out all of my questions, all of my fears, I just knew deep inside that my grandfather would understand. Surely he would pat me on the back, tell me my worries are justified, and that everything would be alright. Instead, he threw me a dagger. With a slight smile, that could only mean he was giggling inside, he suggested two scripture passages:
“I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.” – Jeremiah 20:9
“But the Lord said to him, "Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites,” – Acts 9:15
With those passages running through my mind how can I tell the Lord no. I gave the talk, and I am proud to tell anyone it was a beautiful failure. I was so nervous. I mumbled through most of it. The room was so quiet crickets could be heard in the background. I somehow managed to skip half of my notes, but that didn’t stop me from going over my allotted time. As my talk ended and the event continued, I vowed to never give a talk again.
I wish I could tell you that afterwards a teen came up to me and opened their heart and thanked me repeatedly for transforming their faith. I wish I could say that I changed lives that day. Sadly, in an effort to be honest, I must repeat my earlier statement, it was a beautiful failure. As for my vow of never giving another talk, well the passage from Jeremiah has surfaced many times in my career.
Now eight years, and hundreds of talks later, the fears still show up every time I feel the call to share my flame. Only now, the fear does not overshadow that call. As Pope Benedict XVI once said, we are all called to give our Yes to God to become “members” of the body. At every Mass we are given the chance to say Yes, to respond to the Lord’s call, and we are sent into the world, into life with a purpose. The word Mass itself comes from a Latin word “Missa” which means “to be sent,” and today we use the same concept when the priest gives the final blessing, saying, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”
Once the Lord has called us, the real question is how will we respond?
Will we be like Moses and object because we don’t believe we have any talent? “He (the Lord) answered, “I will be with you;” – Exodus 3:12
Will we respond like Isaiah and object because we’re not a public speaker? “He touched my mouth with it. ‘See,’ he said, ‘now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.’” – Isaiah 6:7
Perhaps we identify more with Samuel’s confusion on who exactly is doing the calling? “the Lord came and revealed his presence, calling out as before, ‘Samuel, Samuel!’ Samuel answered, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’” – 1 Samuel 3:10
We are part of the fellowship of the unafraid. The die has been cast, the decision has been made. We can’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. We don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded or rewarded. We live by faith! May we let our flame burn on the outside, and share the warmth of God’s love with those on our left and our right.