This is the fifth in a series of student reflections from the Life Teen Leadership Conference last summer. Over 500 young men and women gathered together to learn and express their faith.
Surrounded by people actively praising God and hugging strangers, I began to wonder whether my decision to attend the Life Teen Conference was the right one. Sure, I was Baptized, Confirmed, and even attend church on Sundays. Still there seemed to be an obvious gap between my religious devotion and that of other students who were there. After all, during Mass, as I outwardly genuflected during the consecration of the bread and wine (into the body and blood of Jesus Christ), my mind wandered to the next day’s regatta and how my rowing team would perform. Sometimes I am not even sure God truly exists. But here, people seemed perfectly comfortable not only in their acknowledgement of God, but in their open celebration. I turned to my friend who was looking back at me with the same alienated expression.
But there wasn’t much time to lose ourselves in thought. After settling into the dorm room I joined the Mass of devotees to listen to the opening speech. With a final Amen, my initial sense of discomfort became amplified. The place was now flooded with swoons and shouts of : “Praise God!” The louder the crowd screamed “amen,” the smaller, somehow, I felt. When the talk was over, my friend and I almost ran to the safety of the dining hall. Here at last was something I could relate to… dinner. With a full stomach my mood began to improve. I did not even mind when this robust guy almost crushed me with his bear hug, and I was also even willing to give up some praises.
While I was having fun, I still had not even come close to being sold on the role of God in everyday life. If my being here was indeed God’s will, I was hoping that God would save me the embarrassment of falling asleep during adoration. As I entered Debartalo Hall I stared blankly at the monstrance on the altar, still not expecting much. But as soon as the Body of Christ was placed into it, by no act of man, everything changed. Previously, the four measly candles surrounding the empty monstrance were dim and dull, but with the presence of the Body of Christ, I felt as if a one thousand volt lightbulb was installed in the center, illuminating the darkness. Things also changed inside of me as well. I felt as if God came out and knocked me on the head saying, “I am here. I am right in front of you. I have always been here.” Suddenly the sense of worry about belonging, not only here, but outside of here as well, began to dissipate. My concern about where I belong came more fully into view. My mind, which had often been filled with trivial thoughts, finaly settled down. Whether or not my team would win future rowing competitions, and thoughts of that sort now took a back seat. As I stopped thinking about escape and diversions, I even began to sing, write in my journal and join in the dancing that didn’t seem too ridiculously embarrassing.
Although I recognized God was active in my life, I still had no idea what role He would play.
The next day at four in the afternoon, after an incredible lunch, we listened again to the keynote speaker. During his presentation, he asked us to leave and find a relaxing place to write what we would give God permission to do in our lives. I reclined against a matte grey concrete ledge outside Debartalo Hall to contemplate. I thought about my relationship with Jesus Christ. I had an epiphany. I was always asking Him for something that I thought I would need: greater strength, more intelligence, better musical aptitude, and top grades in school. I realized that religion had been all about me, my needs, rather than about God, and my relationship with Him. Instead of asking God to make me the person I had hoped to be – and often worried about becoming – I began giving God the permission to mold me into the person He set out to create. I am still in the process of discovering who that person is, but seven hundred fifty miles away, I have finally found my way home.
If I had the ability to experience the week over again, I would with no questions asked. That one week was the best I ever had!
"Let us therefore join with heart and mind in the universal homage that is being paid to Mary. Let us honor her, let us kneel in deepest reverence before her altars, and pour out our humble supplication with filial confidence in her powerful mediation."