A special thank you to one StPYG parent who wanted to share her story as a source of encouragement to other parents of teenagers. You can read her full message below:
Should I Send My Child on the St. Paul Youth Group Spring Retreat?
-from the perspective of the searching parent-
As a parent, the first child seems to be like a test case. When our first (out of six children) approached Confirmation, St. Paul was offering a Spring Retreat to the Youth Group. My thought was – if my daughter wanted to attend the retreat – fine, if not, fine – I never attended a retreat. So, why should I press her to attend?
Fortunately, this child decided to attend. When she returned home, she couldn't refrain from talking about the retreat. She was utterly exhausted but had the time of her life! My husband and I were amazed… as this was a religious event and the kid was so happy.
The easy answer is "yes" -- you should send your child on the retreat, but that would be too simplistic an answer. For us, we have covered the spectrum of interest by the time all our children attended. Some of our children were very excited to go, while others did not want to attend at all. After the positive experience of the oldest child, we wanted each of our children to attend one retreat. It would be optional for the teen to attend any subsequent retreat. We wanted each to give it a try and knew from the feedback that we received from the oldest child – that the retreat would be enriching and enjoyable!
As a family, we have faced various challenges and it is in those times that we have called upon our faith the most. By allowing your child to go on the retreat, he/she will have the opportunity to open up with kids who are his/her own age and see that life is not always perfect for everyone. Each of us faces struggles and knowing that God is there with us is comforting. During this time in your teen's life, he/she is trying to figure out so many different things. This retreat gives your teen a safe and fun weekend that will provide an opportunity to not only grow as an individual, but also in faith.
There is one common thread that has taken place. I can honestly say and believe that each of my children's faith has been strengthened by not only the retreat, but also participation in the Saint Paul's Youth Group in general.
Our six children had varying interests, personalities, and medical issues. One child absolutely refused to attend a retreat. This child was in travel ball and exceptional in soccer. The teen made the varsity soccer team in high school as a freshman and was a starter. We simply stated that organized soccer would end, unless the teen attended the retreat. We meant those words and would stick by them. We didn't receive a call Friday or Saturday. Our teen arrived back to St. Paul on Sunday – exhausted and wasn't talking like the older sibling had done. However, there was no complaining either. So, we went home and really didn't discuss the weekend events unless something was mentioned. Fast forwarding to the next spring, we knew (without a doubt) that the teen had been affected by the retreat. Our teen made sure to register for every retreat, thereafter. In Senior year, the teen was actively involved with the retreat preparations and grew deeper in faith.
Medical issues also should not dissuade you from sending your child to the retreat. Our family has serious medical issues and most of our children continue to be followed up by specialists. I can confidently assure you that there is no worry with the exceptional staff at St. Paul. They are very competent. Two volunteers are trained and certified in nursing.
The teens attending the retreat will have an amazing time as their faith grows. This is the faith which you also must feel deeply about because you are contemplating this retreat. You have a decision to make for your child. Be strong. There is no looking back. It would have been so easy to just tell my teen that he/she did not need to attend this retreat. However, your son/daughter will need their strong faith someday to pull through even the most recent events of this world – difficulties that I never had to face.
The original question was should I send my child on Saint Paul Youth Group Retreat? For me, the answer is a definite YES! If you allow your child to go on this retreat you will not ask yourself: Should I have allowed my child to attend? Instead you will wonder why did I even ask that question and when is the retreat next year? We want the best for our children. As parents, we need to encourage and promote activities such as this retreat. I hope that you send your child on the retreat. I am certain that your teen will get a lot out of the weekend – so much more than you and your teen ever expected.
- A StPYG Parent
What is Lent?
Lent is 40 days of preparing our hearts for Jesus’ passion, death, and the celebration of His resurrection. No matter what the season, we are all called to live lives of holiness-- to strive for sainthood! Lent is a special chance to challenge ourselves to answer that call in a real way in our everyday lives; a chance to remove from our lives all the obstacles that prevent us from being who Christ created us to be. This means getting rid of the gunk in our hearts through repentance and the sacrament of Reconciliation. It also means making sacrifices to give ourselves the opportunity for growth. That kind of growth can be difficult and painful, but also draws us even closer into relationship with Jesus who suffered on the cross to save us.
So-- how do we do that? The first thing people usually think about when they think about Lent is “What are you giving up for Lent?” Let’s expand this view a little.
We have three major tools at our disposal to prepare our hearts during Lent:
My Week at Encounter
This blog post was written by Davey Creegan, a current student at the University of Maryland who participated in StPYG and was a member of our Teen Leadership Team when he was in high school. Davey was a Young Adult Leader on our 2016 trip to Encounter the Gospel of Life Service Camp. [above: third from left]
What is Encounter?
Encounter the Gospel of Life is a six day long camp that sends high schoolers around the Washington DC area to do service, ranging from working at summer camps for children to doing yard work and moving furniture, and everything in-between. This year, there were roughly 240 youth, a host of adults, and about 30 young adults. While this was my fourth year at Encounter, it was the first time I was able to serve on the “young adult team”, college students who take on certain responsibilities within the group and assist the adults in making sure the youth are having the best experience possible.
The participants are randomly assigned to a group of 8-15 people (usually none of whom know each other) before the week begins and during the week go out with this group to an assigned service site somewhere in the area. The majority of the days begin with mass at 7am, followed by a brief breakfast. At 8:30, we are rushed out the door, and by 8:50, the Colony Ballroom is empty, and we are on the road to our sites, where we will stay in most cases until 3:00, and then return to home base at the University of Maryland. Following some free time and dinner, we move back to the Ballroom in the Stamp Student Union for some evening programming. At 10:00 or 10:30 we start to head back to the dorms, and by 11:00 it’s lights out. Wednesday night Reconciliation and Adoration occur, and Thursday night there is only a bit of programming and then we all break out our best moves for a dance party until it’s time to go back to the dorms.
I have attended Encounter every time that St. Paul’s youth group has gone so I definitely know the routine, but part of what’s so great about Encounter is that it never fails to surprise me. It’s designed that way.
Each year of Encounter has been unique for me because of the many sites at which I have been able to serve. I have worked with the elderly, people with cerebral palsy, and even participated in an “advocacy group” learning about immigration and speaking to congress members.
This year, as a young adult, I was happy to go to Inwood House, an apartment complex for the elderly and people with disabilities. I was eager to help my group if they had any trouble making connections with the residents, as I could use my experience at similar sites.
I expected the first day or two to be slightly awkward as the members of my group would slowly make their way out of their comfort zones and open up to the residents. What surprised me is that this took almost no time at all, because almost as soon as we were finished touring Inwood House and walked into the cafeteria to talk to the residents while they ate lunch, we were greeted by some of the biggest smiles I have ever seen and a slight breeze from the many waving arms motioning us to sit.
As I waited, expecting clumps of kids from my group to go to the tables with the most chatty residents. Again I was surprised to see no tables without a youth member from my group.
As it turns out, the residents of Inwood House wait all year for an Encounter group (or “Camp Inwood”, as they affectionately call it) to come, and everyone wanted a piece of the action. They loved us before we even had a chance to say hello. Throughout the week our group laughed with each other and with the residents as we made arts and crafts, washed wheelchairs, helped fix up the “little shop around the corner” for the residents, made a wall hanging (pictured right) for the main lobby, and just chatted with the residents.
We could tell how grateful they were to have us with them, and we in turn were grateful to be able to share this week with them. I was surprised to find how much about gratefulness I had learned from them. As I reflected on gratefulness during reconciliation and adoration, I was surprised to find that the people of Inwood House were the first example that came to mind.
I thought of their smiles, their delight at eating the cupcakes we made with them, their faces when they saw their newly cleaned wheelchairs. I saw that their gratefulness for everything that week cultivated a simple and beautiful joy in them, and I wanted to emulate that.
The only problem is that I had a hard time understanding what exactly what the source of all that gratefulnes was. I was fortunate enough Thursday and Friday to have two lengthy conversations with a resident at Inwood House (for the purposes of this I’ll call her Jane).
Jane, at first, seemed as though she wouldn’t open up to anyone but one of my adults who she already knew. In our first few interactions, we had barely spoken, but Thursday was different when I sat down with her in-between activities. I quickly learned that Jane is a Christian, and she began to talk to me about how grateful she is to have God in her life. She wasn’t an overtly joyful person on the surface, but I could see the joy of God in her as she told me she would pray for me.
It turned out the source of her gratefulness was simple. The single quote that will stick with me the most from the week is when Jane said “I know God is in my life and has a plan, and that’s all I need to be grateful”. Jane, if you’re reading this, thank you, I’ll never forget our conversations and I’m praying for you.
There was one final surprise waiting for me Friday as we were leaving Inwood House. As the bus rolled out of the parking lot and back to campus, for the first time in a long time, I wept. It was the first time in my life I can say I experienced a true catharsis, every emotion I built up over the week was released, and once we got to our gathering space on campus, I felt a deep peace and security in God, and that feeling has stuck with me since.
So here I am writing this after Encounter is over. Each year I have hoped for the same things: to leave camp with a renewed zeal to 1. grow closer to God and 2. “spread God”. This year I am surprised to have taken something away in addition to those two. I am surprised to find myself genuinely happier, and I attribute that not only to my strengthened relationship with God but to my successful efforts to be more grateful.
A message from Mother Teresa (Saint Teresa of Calcutta)
video credit: Outside Da Box
At a retreat my senior year of college, we had this awesone Australian nun named Sister Bernadette speak to us about our faith through the lens of psychology. She was a graduate student at the time at the Institute of the Psychological Sciences, and I can't think of her without smiling. She was the truest example of a woman living out the beauty of her vocation: unshakable cheerfulness, full of life, and on FIRE for the Lord. For the students who knew her at the Catholic Student Center, she was like the pied piper, except her pipe was her Australian accent and she was leading souls to Christ with her effortless joy like a big, dancing parade!
She covered a lot of ground in that retreat talk, and really challenged us to think about some tough topics. At one point in her talk, she brought up masturbation and discussed the psychological aspects of addiction, explaining the harm pornography and masturbation can do to your brain as well as your soul. I remember how powerful her words were, but what I really will never forget was a conversation I had with a female friend about that talk a few days after retreat.
We were discussing in a small group how amazing her talk had been, when this friend, we'll call her Hannah, disagreed. "I mean, it was really good," she said, "but she kind of ruined it for herself when she started talking about certain things." Wait, what things? we wanted to know. "Well, she just shouldn't have brought up masturbation. A bunch of people have been talking about it... it's like, as soon as people heard that word, it just threw them off and they weren't really going to listen or hear what she was trying to say. She kind of ruined it for herself by going there, I feel like it really hurt her impact." Who felt that way? we wanted to know. "It's not just me," Hannah said, "a bunch of the guys were saying that afterwards. I'm just telling you what people thought!"
I was astounded. Why is it, do you think, that people were so "thrown off" by Sister Bernadette bringing up masturbation? When you were reading this post, and you saw that word, were you uncomfortable about what might follow? Did you think, forget it, I don't need to read this.
What is that resistance that many people feel at the sound of the word, or the idea of someone discussing it with them?
Real talk: In our own youth group, within your own friends, within your own heart, perhaps, the struggle with masturbation and pornography addiction is very real. There are people right here in our own community of believers that are struggling with this. Let's put that right out there.
If this is something you can identify with, take a moment to think about how you feel about that aspect of your life.
Are you ashamed? You may be encouraged to think, no... people say it's completely natural for guys or girls my age to be experiencing this, so no, I'm not ashamed. Do you feel comfortable with the idea of sharing this opinion openly with your family, your friends, your significant other, your future spouse, your God in daily prayer or before the blessed sacrament?
My point is not to inspire shame in you, but to call you to be truthful with yourself.
The fact is, it isn't just the religious community who understands the true impact these addictions can have on our relationships and our state of being. The largest anti-masturbation movement online was founded by some non-religious guys who opened their eyes to the negative impact seeking sexual pleasure through pornography or masturbation had on human beings just based on biochemical and social science!
So now that we know this isn't just an issue because you believe in Christ and want to follow His will, let's talk about your faith life.
I want to ask you another question, and I ask you to be honest with yourself. How is your relationship with God? No really, how is it? Do you feel close to Him, or far away? Do you feel connected in prayer to him, or do you sometimes doubt He is listening or even there at all?
One of testimonies I read in my research for you guys really stuck with me, an account from someone who was at the time addicted to pornography, but trying to sort out in her mind the notion that it really wasn't a serious issue, because all in all, "life was good"...
"Yes, my relationship with God was a little rocky. I often felt like my prayers were bouncing off the ceiling. I just attributed that to my immature Christianity. I needed to practice praying harder. I needed to practice serving more. My faith was just out of practice."
Does that sound like you? I really believe any of us could identify with that in times of sin. But can we take a minute to process what the true cause of that distance is? If you can open your eyes to the devastating impact of these addictions, physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, the fact that you are feeling this way makes perfect sense.
Shame is a powerful force.
More real talk: Stop making excuses for yourself today. Now. It's time to power through that shame and seek healing. Don't be cowards like the guys who shut out Sister Bernadette and then tried to cover up their shame with weak justification. These were guys I knew well, guys I worshiped our Lord with, men who were cowardly enough to hide in their sin rather than challenge themselves (and each other) to something better. Keep reading.
If you aren't personally experiencing these addictions, I urge you to keep reading too. What Hannah told me the guys were saying may have astounded me, but another thing I couldn't shake was a disappointment in Hannah. What I think happened was that she was uncomfortable too, whether she had a personal struggle with the issue or not, it's easier to avoid the awkwardness of realizing that people close to you are experiencing this. She had a chance to be real with them, to challenge them, even just by not validating their justifications. Even just by expecting more.
I spent the morning gathering resources, and although what I've got here is just the tip of the iceberg, i'm hoping it will be a tipping point for you.
It's obvious I am not a youth minister because the pay is great, so what is it then? It's because I care about you guys, and not just about your comfort and your happiness, but about your eternal happiness, about your fulfillment. I cannot erase your shame or heal your hurts, but I can refer you to someone who can.
The gospel reading this Sunday is about Jesus beginning his ministry:
From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say,
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17
What does that mean, "Repent"? It means turn away from sin, but it goes a step further. It is a call to do a complete 180, to turn away from sin and move FORWARD in the opposite direction, towards Christ and his loving mercy.
It isn't enough guys to resolve not to sin anymore, facing away from the darkness will not remove you from it. You have to move forward, to walk toward the light. If you were trying to do this alone, especially with an addiction, like masturbation or pornography, I'd say this is going to take every bit of will that you've got...and then you will still most likely fail.
But the beauty of God and his infinite love for you is that you aren't alone.
"Confession is the bridge that connects the hurt with the healing. It is how brokenness becomes whole" - Jessica Harris
That's an incredible gift. A way out of the messes we've made for ourselves. We aren't alone. With every step towards Him your will gets stronger. He will gladly send you the graces you need, as well as the people and the resources you need to truly do a 180, to repent. But you have to seek that help. Get to confession as soon as you can, but don't wait until confession to start seeking God's healing power. Do that today, right here, right now.
I ask for your mercy and your guidance. I am a sinner, and I am ashamed of my sins and the way they have pulled me away from my relationship with you. I pray for healing of my soul and the courage to stand up against this addiction. Give me the graces I need to be strong, and send me the resources and the people who can help me truly repent and grow closer to you. I pray for all those I have affected by this addiction, including the people I may have objectified, the people whose relationships with me I have harmed, and my future spouse. Cleanse my soul and restore in me the respect of my sexuality and the purity of myself and others. Glory to you Lord, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, forever and ever, Amen.
What I've written here is just the beginning, just a challenge to you to do a little leg work and find the strength to challenge yourself.
I strongly urge you to click on these links and read more about how masturbation and pornography hurt, and how to heal. DO NOT LET MY WORDS BE THE LAST THING YOU READ.... don't let your shame paralyze you. Freedom starts here:
Get the BRUTAL TRUTH about the impact Masturbation and Porn has on your life, and the people it affects:
Q&A: You're Most Likely Wondering... (also click on video, audio, resource, etc. tabs above to discover more from the section on Masturbation/Porn)
10 Shocking Porn Stats
4 Ways Porn Kills Great Sex in Marriage (biochemical evidence!)
5 Myths about Porn
Your Brain on Porn
Okay, so now what? Check these links out for some solid advice on how to move forward.
What to do in the Heat of Temptation
How to Cleanse Your Mind of Pornographic Images
What if You Can't Stop??
Your Sin and God's Mercy
Accountability - This is where it really gets tough, but don't back down now. At least read this first article!
Secrets and Shame: Why Confess to Others
Finding an Accountability Partner
MEN - These men will inspire you and remind you what it means to be a Man of God, each of them touching on personal struggles with Masturbation/Pornography
Jason Evert Men's Talk *VIDEO*
Matt Fradd Men's Talk *VIDEO* (Bonus: another Australian accent!)
WOMEN - This issue does NOT just affect men! Don't let the stereotype make you feel like you are alone in this struggle.
Testimony of Jessica Harris
Beggar's Daughter: Jessica's Blog and Support Community
This is me the first time I heard Katy Perry's new song Roar on the radio:
I sat up straight, turned it up, and hmm, what do we have here? If you haven't heard it yet, (hey...even if you have!) here's the lyric video. You're welcome.
Yeah, I see you boppin your head over there. It's tough not to!
Generally I like Pop music. No shame in thinking something that was designed to keep you from changing the station is, indeed, crazy catchy.
The bummer is that sometimes Pop lets me down. Actually, more than just sometimes. I'll hear a song that sounds awesome and is fun to sing along with, the kind of song you really don't mind getting stuck in your head, only to listen to what I'm repeating and think, wow, I really shouldn't be listening to this.
Sex, drugs, alcohol (sometimes cliche is accurate!) --the Pop world is built on the idea that living with no limit is as glamorous as it gets. Don't think I think Katy Perry is above it (she may not remember "Last Friday Night" but I didn't forget about it!)
It's no secret: Pop just loves to take it too far. If Pop were a person, they'd be that friend who is always making vulgar jokes even when your English teacher or your parents are within earshot...and all the sudden you're guilty by association.
But this is where it gets dicey... because pop is more than just catchy tunes: Music is Powerful and really good at leaving an impression on us, whether perceived or subconscious! It can change our moods, our taste, it can change political opinions or even our morals...and often it's meant to. Have you heard Macklemore's song "Same Love"? Catchy music and poetic lyrics can be so captivating, you can get all turned around and forget why you believe what you believe. [For a Catholic perspective on Macklemore's "Same Love", check this out: Same Love or Some Lies? ]
When your heart has been broken by Pop so many times, you start to guard yourself. So it was with a cautious ear that I listened to "Roar" that first time...carefully, waiting for the other shoe to drop. But it never did.
I have kind of a rating system for Pop songs. How well does a song pass the following test?
One Star: It's catchy.
Most Pop songs are catchy, and actually a lot of them don't get past this level because catchy is really all they are other than vulgar or suggestive.
Pretty much every Pop Song = PASS
(it's POPular because it's catchy!)
Two Stars: I can listen to it with my parents in the same room (unedited) without reservation.
When you listen to the song, does your mom cringe and ask you what the heck you are listening to? Do you turn it down strategically at certain points? Do you hope they aren't actually listening to the lyrics (sometimes you aren't even really listening to them anyway...so who cares, right?)
Thrift Shop - Macklemore = FAIL
Roar - Katy Perry = PASS
Three Stars: I can sing the lyrics to the song with my parents within earshot without reservation.
Ever start singing a song and realize it sounds a lot worse coming from your mouth than when you were just listening to the artist sing it? You may feel comfortable belting it out in the car but do you want mom and dad to hear you singing about fill in the blank ? Or grandma? That might be an even better test...
Some parents are a little more relaxed about music. They listen to the same stuff you do or they just take whatever is in the lyrics with a grain of salt. If that's the case, imagine if what you were singing was an actual truth about your life you were expressing. Example: they might not let it bother them if you are singing "back that thang up", but would they be cool with you telling them all about an actual situation of you backing that thang up? Probably not.
Obviously, a large, large majority of Pop songs do not make it past level three.
Domino - Jessie J = FAIL
Roar - Katy Perry = PASS
BONUS LEVEL: (just for fun) It passes the
Kidz Bop test
I discovered this test in the kindergarten classroom last year and it is hilarious. Have you ever been watching a Kidz Bop commercial and you hear a song that's on the CD and think, KIDS are listening to THAT? Kidz Bop has to rewrite the lyrics to these songs, sometimes extensively, to allow kids to sing them. For example, in Tik Tok by Ke$ha, instead of "brush my teeth with a bottle of Jack" (...oh, Ke$ha...) the kids sing "before I leave, brush my teeth, and then I go pack", and all the sudden an alcohol reference becomes a reminder to practice good dental hygiene when you start your day.
To pass level four, the lyrics to the song must need NO REWRITING to be featured on a KidzBop CD. A very rare feat indeed.
It Will Rain - Bruno Mars = FAIL
Roar - Katy Perry = PASS
(Kidz Bop edit of It Will Rain: “If you ever leave me, baby/ Leave our memories at my door/ Cause it would take a whole lot of remembering/ To realize what we used to have/ We don’t have it anymore...")
FINAL TEST: It has a positive message that you can actually apply to your life
This test makes the difference between a catchy/fun song, and a song that makes a real difference-- and what really got me excited about Roar. You may have heard me talk about this before: I love to take secular songs and find a way to apply them to my spiritual life and my relationship with Christ.
Girl on Fire by Alicia Keys becomes a song about being untouchable when you are on fire for Christ, the best version of you and able to face anything.
Next to Me by Emeli Sande becomes a fun anthem to remind you of Jesus being by your side no matter what you are going through.
David Guetta's Without You becomes an expression of our need for Christ, and how empty life would be without His love.
...I love finding those songs! It has become sort of a game I play, and I get really excited when I find a new song that passes the final level.
Roar is about knowing what you believe in and owning it. Being willing to live out loud what you are passionate about, and for me, that's the beauty of my Catholic faith. This song describes perfectly how I want you all to feel about your faith: do not be afraid to live boldly the Catholic lifestyle, and do not be ashamed to be different from the rest of the world. If we don't stand for something, we will fall for anything, and too many teens (and adults!) are too nervous about dedicating themselves to their faith to be able to resist the constant cultural opposition to it.
So pump yourself up. Be a fighter, dance through the fire. Fight through all the obstacles and disapproval of those who don't understand your faith. Show them the confidence of a Christian who trusts completely in the Lord and his love-- enough to bet it all. And don't make it a secret, if you really believe in the healing power of Christ's love and the beauty that awaits us in heaven, you want everyone to know, you wanna live a life that shouts it out!! We wanna hear you ROAR!
So, needless to say, after my initial hesitation, as I finished listening to Roar that first time, I wanted to stand up and applaud! I am pretty sure I looked exactly like this:
Yes, Pop doesn't always get it right, but this just goes to show that we can find Christ in anything! Pop is powerful, God is infinitely more powerful, and when you combine the two... what an amazing way to see God working in our everyday lives. Listen closely to see if you can find more "five star" songs, and let us know when you do!
Bravo, Katy Perry, bravo. Until next time....
Check out what 4 teens from our Youth Group have to say about their StPYG experience:
[His experience on the Encounter the Gospel of Life Service Trip, Summer 2013]
"The Encounter experience was very life changing especially because I was assigned to work at a men’s homeless shelter called the Father McKenna Center for a week. While I was there I not only learned about the other boys in my group but we spent a lot of time socializing with the homeless men. What we expected was nothing like what we found out, the men were often well educated, had jobs, and were much like normal people. One of the men I talked to said, “we’re just people the only thing separating me and you was one bad decision I made a long time ago that messed me up for life.” By the end of the week the men were sorry to see us go and said they talked to us like their sons because they couldn’t talk to their own. The camp changed my entire viewpoint on life but especially on the homeless and others in need because they are really just like us."
"What is Saint Paul's youth group. To me, it is a place to make friends, share smiles and contagious laughter. Whether it be playing some outlandish game or hanging out, I always feel welcomed and part of the group. To me, it is a place of adventure. Ice skating in DC, Youth Rally mass and retreats like Encounter, there will always be opportunities to take my gifts elsewhere. But most of all, to me, it is a place to let go and let God. No one can do everything alone, and here at STPYG, I realized that. Its a place where you can find God or to strengthen your relationship with him. Its a place to find your gifts and use them for him. So to me, STPYG is a group I am glad to be part of, and one that everyone should come to."
"Even before I started high school, my mom would talk to me about StPYG. She had heard that the youth group there was great and she wanted me to get out of my comfort zone. Every time we passed by the church she would ask me if I wanted to go. I always said no. However, it had always been at the back of my mind. I finally said yes to St PYG when my friend Livy, whom I knew from Journalism class, asked me if I wanted to go on the Miraculous Retreat. I had just come back from Mount 2000-- a retreat that really did change my life. The retreat 'high' was fading away and I felt in my heart that God wanted me to go. I was nervous-- yes I knew people from school that went there, but I was still reluctant. But all of those worries went out the window the first night of retreat. Everyone greeted me, hugged me, laughed with me. I found people that got my jokes and had the same hunger for God as I did. There was no one that was excluded-- we all came together, like a family. This is what StPYG is, a family. And even though I haven't known all of these wonderful people for that long, they are all special and bathed in God's light. I was struggling with a lot of things for the longest time and that night at adoration, I walked up to one of the prayer groups and told them one of my biggest worries. They held me as I cried and their strong arms, strong hearts and powerful faith washed over me and it was the first step to my healing. Even though everything hasn't completely gone away, I still am fighting against it, the Miraculous Retreat was one that left me with beautiful memories and a new motto to live by: "faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains." And during that weekend, I finally realized how everlasting God's love is and how he has been, and always will be, by my side. It also introduced me to a whole group of people that have made me smile, laugh, cry, and enjoy God's work and love. I thank God for using Livy in giving me that final push and allowing me to be part of this youth group. StPYG will always have open arms, a huge grin, and will cover you with an immense love."
"After spending three of my four high school years participating in St. Paul's Youth Ministry team, I was
able to gain two of the greatest things in life: some of the closest friends I could ever ask for and an
ever-growing relationship with God. One great thing about youth group is that you can be completely
and totally yourself. As I write this in my college dorm room, I'm even a little jealous of those high
school students that have the opportunity to become a youth group leader or that can even just go to the events that take place. My relationship with God, my peers, and the adult leaders grew so close
that it was tough to leave behind, but I am excited for this new chapter in my life because I know I have moved on to college with a foundation in my faith that I know will help me keep strengthening my relationship with God."
Want to share your own experiences with StPYG? Email us for a chance to be featured in future blog posts and other promotions: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is our first blog post for the "StPYG Suggests..." series! Looking for some new music? A book to read? A website to check out? A movie to watch?
StPYG is here to suggest some youth group friendly media that we think you will enjoy! Sometimes it is difficult to sift through all the junk that's out there and zero in on something you'll enjoy, and you don't have to turn down or put away when mom comes in the room.
As far as music is concerned, you might be thinking, Is she seriously about to suggest that I listen to Jesus music?
Well, yes. Some of it is not as bad as you are assuming it will be. BUT ALSO, I think it would be a little absurd to expect you to only listen to Christian music all the time. I definitely don't... but I also try to steer myself away from all the "junk"... if you catch my drift.
So for our Music suggestion posts, you can expect to see some Christian/Worship songs, but you will also find at least one suggestion for a secular artist that you can listen to without having to worry about plugging in headphones when your little sister walks by.
She has a new CD out now, but I haven't had a chance to check it out yet. For now, enjoy two of her songs I do know in the videos to the right.
You may recognize her music from some of our events this year!
Minor Disclaimer: When I am suggesting non-Christian artists, there's really no guarantee that I can stand behind all of their lyrics 100%. I can stand behind the songs I post, and I won't post any artists that I know for sure have questionable songs. As far as I know, Ray is good to go!
So that's our first installment of StPYG Suggests! If you have suggestions for StPYG, you are welcome to leave them in the comments section! Stay tuned for future StPYG Suggests entries about music & MORE!
I have a very clear memory of myself on one particular day in the spring of 9th grade, walking to Spanish class. My hair was short then—I had just chopped it all off for locks for love, and in the process I was experiencing this crazy awakening that came with the redefinition of myself. Where this awkward, uncomfortable, and out of place girl had once stood, high school presented me as a fresh sheet of paper, on which I could draw my own self-portrait and write my own story. I felt like I was a new person all-together, and I was looking ahead at four years of new experiences, growing up, coming into my own, and making a life for myself through my friendships, clubs, sports, and whatever else came my way.
On this particular day, I was dreaming of what I might be like senior year. Being a senior seemed a lifetime away, something that seemed it would never come. I imagined myself with senioritis, walking the halls as an upper classman, owning the school, much older and wiser and having it all together. I thought about that stranger—the future me—and wondered what she would be like. What would my style be like then? Would I still have short hair? Would I have a boyfriend? Would people know who I was? Would I sound older?
That moment from 9th grade stuck with me somewhere in the back of my mind. When senior year finally arrived, I was walking in the very same spot and suddenly remembered the way I had felt way back then— all the questions, the hopes, and especially that feeling that senior year felt so far away. The senior version of me was no longer a stranger. I was the vice president of our “senior sweep” class, columnist for the school paper, editor of the literary magazine, national honor society officer, manager of the wrestling team, marching band drum major, the homecoming queen. I was a lot of things, to a lot of different people. My hair was still short, I had a wonderful boyfriend, I had a lot of good friendships, but most of all, I was invincible.
I was invincible. I felt like nothing could touch me that I couldn’t handle. I was a senior, right? I had it all. The relationships, the extra-curriculars, the college acceptance letters. Life was a plot line and I was in the epilogue. The happily ever after. The “she rode off into the sunset” part. Nothing had ever or could ever again feel like senior year. I remember that feeling distinctly—even though it came and went in the blink of an eye, it was as if the Earth was coasting in slow motion rather than spinning the spring of senior year. The world had stopped turning, and it had left us unstoppable.
There is certainly something beautiful about the moments when we are young and feel untouchable, and I will hold that beauty in my heart for as long as I live. I will take it out and look at it every once in a while, like a family heirloom, and remember who I once was. But the fact of the matter is: the world keeps turning. It never really stopped, and it never really will.
I’m not quite the older, wiser person who has it all together that I had hoped four years in high school would help me become. In fact, I will never quite be the older and wiser person I dream of becoming. Never quite. But what I do have is the ability to look back at high school through the lens of my own experiences. I will tell you this, you are not invincible.
You aren’t. It’s important for you to know, not so you will think less of yourself or your accomplishments, but because a person who believes themselves invincible is a person who doesn’t bother with defenses. Relationships, positions, awards, reputations…none of these are eternal. And yet, I remember as a high schooler how essential to my own existence these things seemed. I was leaning, heavily, on the things of this world that do not last forever—the things of this world that can be taken away from us in an instant, or fade away slowly as our lives change. The invincibility I felt in high school had me pushing myself out into the water on a leaky raft. When you find yourself in that position, with your only sources of security deflating beneath you, what good can these things do you. How will you preserve yourself in the face of loss?
The Truth, with a capital T, is that the only invincibility lies in the Lord. Believe in Him, hope in Him, rely on Him. You still won’t be invincible in this life, but you will be holding onto something that is. As the water rises and falls, as life tosses you around, you will run no risk of losing yourself. After all, our Lord walks on water.
The things of this world fade away. Jobs, status, friendships, feelings…your day to day situations will forever be in flux. Even the people you know and love are not permanent in this life. Some fade in and out of the foreground, others will disappear from our world all together. Sometimes slowly, sometimes suddenly. We are often shocked by these moments, when we are suddenly stripped of things we love or value, sometimes with no warning at all. In our mortality we are terrified of the loss of anything, even more so the loss of something or someone we feel has helped make us who we are. Although we know these moments are a fact of life, this does little to comfort us when we realize that instead of invincible, we are actually powerless.
Who will stand strong to the tests and struggles of this world? Who will be left in the wake of this tidal wave we call growing up? One thing is sure—those who are rooted in the Lord cannot be shaken. Those whose focus first and foremost is on the Lord, no matter what is changing in the world around them, will find the strength and the hope and the graces through Him to keep going.
I’ll share with you a quote that holds a special place on the family refrigerator to remind us of just this:
Do not fear what may happen tomorrow.
St. Francis De Sales reminds us of three things. First, no matter how life changes—for the better or the worse, drastically or in the tiny details—the Lord will be with us through it all. Day after day. Second: struggles and suffering are a fact of life that are not apart from the Lord. He awaits you not with a magic wand to wave suffering from your path, but with a love that will carry you straight through it.
Lastly, he reminds us of Christ’s call to be at peace. Be at peace?? How can I be at peace.Everything is changing. I feel as if my world could just sink beneath my feet and swallow me whole. For many of us, this feeling is all too familiar. In Matthew 7, Jesus tells the crowds about a man who built his house on a sand foundation. As our lives shift and change, as we experience growth, trials, and loss, a person who relies on the things of this world for stability not only struggles, but loses hope for themselves. As Christ tells the crowds who have gathered before Him,
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them,
Remember, you are not invincible… but you don’t need to be. The Lord is ready to be that for you--your rock. He is waiting for you patiently, not to make your life perfect, but to remind you to be at peace in Him. The part of your life you are in right now is just that, a part. A big part, a small part, a boring part, a beginning, an end… no matter the part you are in, now is the time to find the right foundation.
I wish each of you invincible peace in knowing the Lord has you on His heart always and has a great plan for how this part of your life will shape you in the next.
If you were in the pews this past Sunday you probably noticed how Palm Sunday really stands out from other masses....We get to start in the narthex and process into the church together, we get to hold those fun palm branches, oh yeah...and we have to stand forever to hear the world's longest gospel reading.
If you found yourself annoyed or struggling through the gospel this past Sunday, I have some advice for you. Next year, when you stand up for the gospel on Palm Sunday, put down your palm branches. If you weren't too busy using your palms to make a cross, or smack your brother, or lightly tickle the ear of the person sitting in front of you, you might be able to concentrate on the gospel long enough to realize it's actually one of the most riveting stories ever told.
On Palm Sunday, we hear the entire account of the Lord's Passion-- from His entrance into Jerusalem to when he was laid in the tomb. This is an account of one of the most fascinating and influential stories in history, the death of Jesus Christ. And we aren't just getting the basic facts here folks, we are hearing the whole story....and what a story it is! This story's got it all! Celebration, tradition, betrayal, danger, surprise attacks, denial of friendship, suspense, behind the scenes with world leaders, angry crowds, violence, a treacherous journey, a wrongful death, destiny, love, anguish... it's got all the makings of a blockbuster hit, really. Any novel you pick off the shelf that has all of that in one story would certainly be considered a page turner.
So while you were maybe busy seeing if you got the kind of palm that can split into two palms, this incredible, true, deep, and memorable plot was unfolding. Often, the readings at mass kind of flow in one ear and out the other, because we think we've heard it all before. But truly, no matter how many times you've heard it, it's always capable of revealing something new to us. That's the beauty of the word of God, it never changes, but we do. We grow, we mature, we find ourselves experiencing different situations in life, and even though we may hear the same readings over and over, each time we can uncover a deeper truth we may not have been able to see before.
This year, we have been reading the gospel of Luke. Luke's version of the Passion has a story in that doesn't appear in the other accounts-- the tale of the two criminals who hung on either side of Jesus, and the conversation that takes place between the three.
Today, you will be with me in paradise. That is something every Christian longs to hear-- a promise that they will ascend to heaven and bask in the glory of the Lord for all eternity. Sounds pretty sweet to me. But remember, the word of God has the ability to reveal truths about ourselves to us...if we are listening well enough and openly enough to hear them:
One criminal had this beautiful eternity offered to him in mercy; the other isolated himself in his own despair.
So the question is, which are you?
Both criminals were sinners. Both had no business receiving mercy and forgiveness from the Lord for the choices they had made. None of us do. Even if you have never committed a crime that would warrant public persecution like the criminals, each of us have sinned against our Father and made choices that distanced us from Him.
When you encounter suffering or difficult experiences, do you respond like the first criminal, crying out that it is "no fair" and demanding that God to get rid of the problem, acting as if it is your right to be bailed out and His duty to do so?
Instead, in the face of suffering, we should seek to react like the second criminal. First, he recognized his own shortcomings, and took responsibility for what he brought upon himself. Instead of demanding to be saved from the situation, he instead appeals to the Lord's mercy without expectation...but instead in humility, he adored and glorified the Lord regardless of his own suffering.
Do we deserve eternity with our Lord in heaven? Absolutely not. If you think about it, even one who has lived a spotless life doesn't deserve to be living with God in heaven. And we are far from perfect. Yet, the Lord offers His children a place in His heavenly kingdom. How will you respond to this opportunity?
This Holy Week, humble yourself before our Lord. Recognize your own sins, and pray for the Lord's mercy in adoration. You will be amazed at the outpouring of love and graces the Lord will bestow upon you. He did it 2000 years on a cross...and His arms are still outstretched awaiting you.
Have a blessed Holy Week and a very happy Easter.
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