Tuesday, December 16, 2008


I hate to say it, I am running on caffeine.  And even then, I feel more like a Model T than a Mustang.  

The Advent season, getting ready for a January retreat (based on the Chronicles of Narnia movies), and so forth has officially caught up to me.  Working 8 days straight has not helped either.  However, 2 more to go and then it is off to a far, far better place for me...Disney World.

Before I start singing "It's a Small World" yet again, I want to go back to that retreat.  I am terribly excited for it.  While we're still hammering out a title, some suggestions are:
  • "Ben Barnes: The Man, the Myth, the Movies" (catering to the girls who still drool over the Prince Caspian Movie"
  • "The retreat based off of all the crazy stuff that J (an adult volunteer) and his friends have" (due to his owning or knowing someone who owns: a rams horn, several broadswords, a lion costume, dry ice, and other sundry items)
The more likely title is "Through the Wardrobe."  Far less exciting, but fits our plans.  We're going to have opening prayer and me (as MacReady) giving the rules outside.  For once I'm praying we'll have cold and snow!  Then we'll journey inside to the meeting room.  The adult leaders are going to go all out in creating a winter Narnian landscape and a Wardrobe facade for the doorway.  Then our sessions will revolve around two major themes, Knowing God v. Knowing of God, and God's love.

So while I'm sure I'll return from nearly two weeks of Florida fun and sun somewhat more rested, I know that the retreat looms at the end of January and will likely chip away at that calmer me.  I think the most practical goal would be to cling to whatever tan I get while waiting in line for rides at the Animal Kingdom is a much more practical goal.

Until I return, this will likely be my last post, so 

Have a Blessed and Happy Christmas

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Easy Doesn't Mean Good

One of the great truths in food applies to ministry, just because it's easy doesn't mean it's good.  Now, there are exceptions.  As PB-Banana sandwiches and mac & cheese demonstrate.  However, Thanksgiving turkey, lasagna, homemade English toffee (still trying to get that recipe off my friend), and making schaumtorte that doesn't fall all attest to the fact that sometimes the really good things take a lot of work.

The past two days have flown by in the office.  There's plenty of work to keep me busy.  In addition, I'm creating more work as I want to apply things from NCCYM to the ministries here.  The January retreat is receiving the most significant overhaul.  We're starting from scratch, relying heavily on the adult leadership team, and incorporating first time volunteers (praise God for a new musician in our ministry!).  At least today I finally pulled our hook for the retreat and it was all due to the subliminal message of the music I was listening to some music while working on updating our YA website.  Amazing what the soundtracks to the Narnia movies will inspire.  Well, not all that amazing - we're going to use the Narnia movies as the arch for the retreat.    The up-coming meeting with the adult leadership team will approve or nix that idea, but the email response seems fairly positive.

As much as I agree, "All I want for Christmas is a weekend off," I am willing to let go of the easy in order to serve the Good.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Sound and the Silence

Tonight was a good young adult ministry activity.  It drove home the idea that sometimes you need to take the simple route, in ministry and in your own faith life.  Our group wanted an Advent reflection.  I went in armed with my iPod, Bible, a sheet with reflections, and all the purple candles in the youth room.  What happened was a simple night of reflecting on two very different pieces of music, Breath of Heaven (Amy Grant) and O Come, O Come Emmanuel (Instrumental version) with the lyrics on a sheet of paper.  With some time to reflect on their own thoughts and some prompts provided a quiet discussion began.  The discussion continued into the next segment.  With passages from Matthew and Luke's infancy narratives, twenty minutes of individual reflection, and gentle music, the group again returned with wonderful thoughts.

Much is said on the importance of ensuring quiet, reflection, meditation...but I forcefully saw tonight that it is necessary to be deliberate in scheduling and formatting it.

Well, tomorrow I have a regional CYM meeting.  We're going to talk about technology and my peers asked me to do a bit of a presentation.  We are also going to talk through NCCYM.  With how busy I was today, I didn't get much of a chance to organize my thoughts or the papers I came home with.  I hope to do so by the end of the week, though I fear it will be next week when things start to slow down a bit more.

Monday, December 8, 2008


The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary is always one of my favorite feasts.  Chalk it up to the fact she's a woman so I get something from her story.  Or maybe that she is so crucial to Salvation History, yet we know so very little, thus sparking my imagination.  Each feast involving Mary always leaves me with something to mull over for the days to come.  Today was no different.

However, I was exhausted and after the chaos of last week at the conference and a very exuberant youth group last night; I had planned to go incognito to an early 8:00 am Mass at a parish closer to where I live than where I work.  Hitting the snooze button a few times made it impossible for me to make that mass.  So I was able to put together my lists for my errands and not rush quite as much.  I ended up heading to the parish where I work for the mass at 9:15.  I love the school masses on Holy Days.  The kids are a mixture of divine inspiration and divine comedy.  Since some 'normal people' took up a few of the pews usually occupied by the kids, I ended up with a row of third graders next to me.  They were so well behaved (better than the teens often are!) and hearing them sing the hymns was precious.  It helped to pull me into the celebration.

Besides for the joy of the school children, it was important for me to be there.  As our pastor preached on how we all have a purpose, as exemplified by Mary, I really started to think about that with the background of the conference.  While we may not have dreamed as a ten year old of being youth ministers, we who chose this field do have a purpose.  It may not be glamorous, but it is so very important.  By the time Mass ended, I was feeling properly humbled by my previous wish to hide out today.

During the sign of peace, I turned and saw one of 'my' kid's mother.  She was behind me and we remained after mass to chat.  Her child is one of those that you find yourself worrying about when you're not praying for them.  Wonderful teen, incredibly talented, gifted artist, and exceptionally empathetic.  However, those same qualities that lead this teen into difficulties with emotions, relationships, and stress.  I was forcefully reminded during the conversation that one of my purposes is to minister with and to the parents.  This woman is faithful and growing in her own spiritual life while she so devotedly struggles with the worldly issues her family is facing.  It was a moment where I was awed by her.  She is an inspiration.  It was a moment where I was awed by my purpose.  What can I possibly do to encourage, help, or otherwise minister to her?  I did the only thing I could, I asked for guidance in one of those oh so familiar prayers of a youth minister, "Please God help me! Don't let me say something horrible."  

What further astounded me was how in the midst of talking over her struggles she still was so thoughtful as to ask how my brother was.  How is it that I am so blessed?  Days like today are the days you look to when someone asks you, "Why do you ever want to be a youth minister?"  You think of the moments where you see God.  Today I saw God. 

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Back in the Saddle

I'm back.  It is amazing how exciting it is to return to the office after the NCCYM conference.  I had my bag full of stuff to haul in.  There are the posters to put up on the youth room walls.  
I have CDs to add to our collection.  There are the massive quantities of flyers, brochures, business cards and such in a box now in my office.  Those will be sorted later in the week once I'm fully caught up.

For now it is applying the excitement and rejuvenation that the conference always seems to bring.  I'm already tweaking tonight's youth group.  I got some fantastic Our Lady of Guadalupe prayer cards we'll be using (including the Spanish version - good practice for our Honduras service trip later this summer).  Then there's the tweaking of next week's youth group.  And the retreat in January.

One of the things I really want to do a better job with, simple though it may be, is the music.  We have some kids whose musical intelligence is probably their dominant intelligence.  I want to better utilize music in the youth group.  Due to a variety of factors, not the least of which is space, we don't have live music.  However, we have a decent CD collection and now I plan to make use of MyCatholicVoice.com to find new music.  Have any songs to recommend?  I'm likely going to be listening to the couple of CDs I bought at the conference tomorrow as I deal with all the laundry and household chores.

It will take me a while to unpack this conference (mentally and physically - my suitcase will probably stay open on the futon in the den until I pack for my Christmas trip).  I look forward to tomorrow - the chance to relax, do laundry, catch one of my favorite Masses (ummm...Holy Day people...), and go through my notes (20 pages and tons of Post-Its).

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Sing a Song of Christmas

It is quite late.  I'm watching SNL with my hotel roommates and my alarm is going off at 5:45 am, but here's a quote of the day for you:

"Taking teens Christmas caroling is like state sponsored terrorism."
~ Steve Angrisano

Friday, December 5, 2008

Live from Cleveland, it's NCCYM!

So here's the total so far:

15 pages of notes
7 Post-It notes
6 books purchased or received free (love that expo hall!)
Two free shirts
Two key notes
Two workshops
One water bottle filled with goodies

Considering we still have all day tomorrow and what I have no doubt will be an amazing Mass on Sunday, I am in that state of simultaneous awe, exhaustion, and invigoration that a good conference offers.

As Michael Norman said today, only other youth ministers can understand all that it is to be a youth minister.  The joys and triumphs, the disappointments and desolation, the exhaustion and the hyper-activity, the well honed skill of pulling wax up from carpet with an iron and a paper bag.  Youth ministry is a strange field.  A room full of 2,000+ youth ministers doing the Hokey Pokey just proves it.  

This is my third NCCYM.  Each time I come it reinvigorates me.  Workshops provide the down and dirty means to improve the ministry.  Whether it is on retreats or evangelization, communication or biblical literacy, I can walk away with pages of notes and a mind full of ideas.  The keynotes challenge me.  They throw the statistics and realities of American youth into our faces to remind us what we need to be doing.  They offer inspiration with success stories and peculiar humor.  The expo hall is full of shiny new books, CDs, DVDs, websites, religious orders offering ideas, resources, and support.  Of course many offer free things like pens and candy.  

For all the concrete and spiritual development that is offered and that I rake in as quickly as possible, what always gives me the greatest joy is the fellowship.  here are 2,000 people who don't ask, "So is this your real job?"  They don't look at you like you're insane because you take two dozen kids out of the country to serve the poor in a garbage dump for your summer vacation.  They know that the greatest praise that you can receive is that one particular look on a teen's face when they have the 'ah-ha' moment.  They get it and they get me.

I will head home on Sunday with a bag full of resources and a notebook full of notes and ideas.  I will have new phone numbers in my cell phone and new friends on Facebook.  I will have books to read and CDs to listen to.  I will go home with a reminder of church and a renewed sense of mission.  For I am sent and as the last thing He said is the first thing we are to do - 

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age. 
~Matthew 28.19-20

I am sent to make disciples.  I am sent to teach as I follow.  I am sent with the presences of God.

I have a lot to do.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Ready, Set,...

I was all set to log on and write far more than you would ever be inclined to read on the first official day of the NCCYM conference.  However, reality has struck in the form of exhaustion.  Suffice to say for now that the opening presentation was fantastic.  I took four pages of notes and wrote margin notes on things to post here or other side-thoughts on what was presented.

I'm hoping to be a bit less exhausted tomorrow so I can not only share thoughts about today (Benign Whateverism & Moralistic Therapeutic Deism) but what adventures we have as the conference continues.

“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them
will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 
The rain fell, the floods came,
and the winds blew and buffeted the house. 
But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. 
And everyone who listens to these words of mine
but does not act on them
will be like a fool who built his house on sand. 
The rain fell, the floods came,
and the winds blew and buffeted the house. 
And it collapsed and was completely ruined.” 
~Matthew 7.24-27
Reading for first Tuesday of Advent

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Count Your Blessings

As part of my relaxing Thanksgiving weekend (Thursday through Saturday), I was able to see the musical, White Christmas.  One of my favorite songs from both the film and the stage musical is "Count Your Blessings."  Particularly during the difficult economic time and hectic pre-Christmas chaos, this song is a reminder of what is truly important.

When I found myself a bit under the weather, mostly congested, at youth group on Sunday I was ready to fold up and call it a day before the kids even showed.  The first one there, our resident class clown spent the first half hour (he was there 45 minutes early) alternately sharing thoughts on music (he's a gifted musician) and mocking me.  Not surprising.  We had a wonderful Advent prayer service with reflection and a quiet activity.  An entirely entertaining game of Apples to Apples followed.  A simple closing prayer that is also creating our Christmas decorations wrapped up the night.

The youth group was a bit hodge-podge and I was definitely not at my best, but the kids rose to the occasion.  Their humor was just pointed enough when making fun of me to remind me they are awfully close to being grown up, yet well intentioned so they never crossed any lines.  They truly quieted themselves as we prayed and reflected.  For over 10 minutes we had near silence as they did the activity (a minor miracle for the Sunday after Thanksgiving).  They were all good natured during the game and it was a testimony to the community that has been built among these incredibly diverse youth and adult leaders.

I count myself blessed in my ministry.  There are days I do just want to go home and sleep long before whatever activity is planned even begins.  But most days, when I do eventually find my way home I enjoy the silence of my place and think, "Today was a good day."

Not that I am the most regular blogger on the web, but I will likely be away from the blog for a week.  I am off to the NCCYM and NCYAMA conferences.  If I am able to find wi-fi I will post some thoughts.  Otherwise I will have to digest 5 days of overload and put somethings here for you.

There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD,
as water covers the sea.

On that day,
The root of Jesse,
set up as a signal for the nations,
The Gentiles shall seek out,
for his dwelling shall be glorious.
~Isaiah 11.9-10
from today's Mass readings