Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Confession time for me.

I love Doctor Who. Initially it was just something a group of the girls in the youth group loved so I felt I should have a clue what they were talking about each week. Now I am as much a Whovian as they are. I even spent most of my free day on Saturday making a Tardis cake for a going away party.

There are countless reasons why I love the show. Here's two:

Nobody important? In 900 years of time and space, and I've never met anyone who wasn't important before.
Now how many shows support that view? How many shows put the value of each individual on a level playing field - beauty, intelligence, money, power - these don't factor into the Doctor's valuation of anyone. Everyone is important. And he would know, all of time and space are his playground.

And then there is this one:
Of all the people to survive, he's not the one you would have chosen is he? But if you could choose, Doctor, if you could decide who lives and who dies... that would make you a monster.

With words that speak to me from the script, the excellent acting, and the fun of the show, I am an avid fan now. I must also admit I am glad my youth group is developing a love of the show too. There is just so much that we can discuss; there is a depth not found in many shows out there today.

Head's up - the Christmas special is echoing The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe apparently! Last year's was a wonderful special that could make a great youth group viewing that takes the basic idea of A Christmas Carol and brings it to a whole new level.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

We Broke the Cell System

This past weekend was a little shin-dig in Indy called the National Catholic Youth Conference. Never heard of it? Well, honey! Let me share a few of the highlights:

  • 23,000 teens swampped a city...and there were no riots. The wonderful police force who helped keep our kids safe were greeted with kind words, offered the trinkets (and hats, and moustaches) that the kids brought to trade.
  • It wasn't a rock concert that brought in all those stage lights, sound systems and filled the stadium - no, it was a wonderful group of faith-filled adults sharing humor, music, and faith with the young Church.
  • Those kids flooding between the Lucas Oil Stadium and the Indianapolis Conference Center weren't looking for trouble - they were looking to get the good seats at one of the fantastic workshops!
  • Then there was Mass. On a Saturday night, 23,000 teens rocked LOS with entrance hymns (I think 4 or 5). Praised and worshiped God in the Word, Eucharist, and community. And spent hours happily Mass.
  • Let's not forget when, under the specific instructions of Bishop Coyne, we all pulled out our phones, tablet computers, and so forth. We then happily Tweeted, emailed, texted, or Facebooked "Called to Glory!" And promptly flooded the towers in downtown Indianapolis. Oopps - what a way to go though!

But that's not the whole story.

  • At an event where they had to fundraise or pay several hundred dollars to participate, I saw teens buying bagels by the dozen. Not to eat, but to give out in packages of six to the homeless people they had passed by.
  • I watched teens offer seats to those with crutches, even if it meant they had to go and stand in the back of the room.
  • I listened to the stories kids told after workshops of how they felt they encountered God.
  • As someone in a long time military family, it warmed my heart to see kids making greeting cards to send to troops that are abroad when the teens could otherwise be playing in the games area.
  • Teens shared trading items, snacks, bottles of water juice or soda.
  • Teens lifted each others' spirits when exhaustion took hold.
There are times these days when things look dire and we may fall to the temptation of despair. However, these teens that descended upon Indianapolis reminded me of the great hope for our future. And the great hope of the now. For they are not the future Church. They are not the future of our nation or our world. They are the Church now. They are hope for us now.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Friday Thoughts

Since I nearly broke my wrist off a few moments ago attempting to twist the cap off my favorite beverage (Sparkling Ice Black Raspberry flavor), I have temporarily misplaced my concentration so here's a blog post instead on a few rambling thoughts.

It is pedal to the metal for final NCYC prep. I've got the kids and parents coming to a final meeting Sunday before out evening Mass. Handing out all sorts of final information including the packing list. The packing list really helps to make sure that those kids that tend to forget things bring the crucial items and those that overpack have the written limits.

I also highlight the idea of tips. The kids are good about this at restaurants (they pull out the tip calculators on their phones). Few though think of tipping the housekeeping staff and bus driver. It is customary to do this. The general idea is about $1-2 per person per day for housekeeping. So if you have several kids in a room, it will be a nice tip. Especially as kids tend to leave a natural disaster behind them each day and in the boys' rooms there will be that peculiar and yet to be identified...odor... The other tip is for the bus driver. There also the idea is about $1 per person, per day. I'm going to nab an idea from another area CYM and print envelopes for the kids with the date in one corner and the simple address "housekeeping" in the address field.

While I bring a couple of basic prepackaged snacks that the kids can take with them during the day like fruit snacks, granola bars, I encourage each family to pack another snack their teen can share with the others. This adds variety. Since we're in a hotel with microwaves in the room, I am also giving the kids microwave popcorn for at night to add to their stash of food.

On the personal side, I'm thinking of what I'm going to pack. As a vegetarian, I know that a problem for me at many of the restaurants and concessions stands will be finding vegetarian sources of protein (salads, vegetarian sandwiches are common). So I always make sure to have some bars with me that are high in protein. I also take chocolate covered espresso beans. Sad, but helpful. Two or three of those guys and I've got a second wind. My water bottle will also be crucial. I always have my pouch of first aid items, feminine hygiene products, and basic OTC medicines in my backpack. Between blisters and paper cuts a few band-aids are used just about every day.

I also would strongly recommend you plan on having Monday as a day to recover! NCYC is a fantastic experience, but with the chaos for over 12 hours with 25,000 teens and an average of 4-5 hours of sleep each night I usually come back exhausted. My dog loves the naps I inadvertently take while we're curled up on the sofa watching NCIS or L&O:SVU reruns after events like this!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Vocabulary Words

I hate catch words. I use the word hate here in the fullest sense of the word. There are always the latest words that come down the line of business and church books. Synergy is one I regard with particular loathing.

Why does this bother me? Probably it does so on two levels. First, many of these words are made up. There are so many beautiful, descriptive, and unusual words in the English language. You really couldn't find one that worked for you? Unless you're the 21st century Shakespeare, please stick with one of the many, many words you can find in the dictionary.

Second, so much time is spent tossing around these teasing terms. We read them, write them, speak them, debate them in committees, and nod agreement at meetings. If we're going to get so caught up in the term du jour (sorry to drop some French), then can we at least focus on some that have real meaning, drive, and perhaps are not so much term of the day but ancient and meaningful terms?

So please, should you see me rolling my eyes at a committee meeting or conference call where synergy, fusion, or what ever hot word o' the day is tossed around, forgive me. Perhaps I will claim one odd word for myself, snarky.

I promise to be more of my usual cheery self in my next post. Just had a frustrating morning of emails and committees (that will easily dampen the most shining spirit). Enjoying the soundtrack to The Way and I relax before my next committee call.

Watch for a post with my thoughts on the incredible film, The Way.

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Lesson from the Cable Company

My cable company is pretty far down on my list of favorite businesses to call. In fact, it is probably at the bottom of the list.

However, during a conversation with a sales representative last night, I had a surprising lesson.

I was calling simply to reduce my cable channels - getting a big packet of channels just to watch Doctor Who for a few weeks of the year was silly. I never watched the vast majority of those 200 channels.

Anyways, I digress. The gentleman who answered my call, we'll call him Joe. In my ever on-going effort to get better at remembering names, I say, "Hi Joe, I'm Jennifer and I would like to change my service." We go about the business. He does the usual little sales pitch about whatever special they have going on at the end of the call. Then he says, "Thank you and have a nice day." I in turn say, "I hope you have a nice day too, Joe." I could hear the shock in his voice at what I assume was my using his name and doing so in a positive manner.

I found that a profoundly sad commentary on the state of the world. I've been the disgruntled customer, but I try my hardest to never take it out on the representative on the phone. It isn't their fault, they just are the messenger. I also try to be personable, it just seems right.

And therein lies the rub. I think what I learned in this call is how we are losing touch with recognizing the humanity, the person-hood of those we interact with on the phone, web, and other non-face-to-face ways.

Why am I writing about this on a ministry website, well, because isn't that what we're all about - incarnation? If we believe that each person is a holy creation of God, shouldn't we treat them as such? Shouldn't we at least recognize a person's individuality and honor that?

As those in ministry, should we not be doing this ourselves? Should we not be modeling this?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


"The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley."

~Robert Burns, "To a Mouse"

That, in a short and oh so Scottish way, sums up my week. All those little things and routines have fallen apart at the seams.

Without going into overwhelming detail about my less than relaxing day off on Monday, we'll just say it set things up well for what was waiting for me here in the office yesterday.

For the past few years I have taken a small group of teens down to New Orleans during winter break. We work with Catholic Charities - Helping Hands. I was notified via a voicemail yesterday that the organization would be shutting down, so our trip was canceled.

Thus I have spent all the spare moments of my day tracking down alternatives for lodgings and work sites. I have encountered many kind individuals, but unfortunately none have been able to help me out with this problem.

So like many moments in ministry, we soldier on looking for how to "Make it work!" as Tim Gunn says.

On the bright side, later tonight I get to go to a screening of The Way where Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez are to be present for a question & answer session following.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Quote of the Day

It is a busy day here. So I simply leave you with what I love, a quote that makes you think...

God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn't do.
~Regina Brett

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

For St. Francis

I'm a dog person. How can you tell? Well, let's gauge me and cats. Cats love me, I mean find the cat that hates all humans as lower life forms. That cat will adore me. Ironically, all those cats that love to come and find me when I visit friends houses result in me scaring away all other life forms with monstrous sneezes and a horrifically congested nose. My theory is that the cats derive some sort of pleasure from causing such suffering. Just a theory.

Now, enter a dog. Specifically my dog, Gracie. Gracie is, without much ability of anyone to argue the fact, one of the most pathetic canine creatures on Earth. I got her about 2 and 1/2 years ago from a rescue. She had no fur on her hind legs as that is where the puppy mill bound her for two years. She had several litters for the mill. Her entire being would quake and cower whenever anyone approached her. Yet, for some strange reason, I just had to take her home.

For the first few months she and I struggled to find our groove. She ate her way out of a plastic kennel I would put her in while I was at work. She actually ate a hole in it. Somehow she managed to destroy a giant terry cloth robe, a 2x2 foot square pillow, a sweatshirt, and various other items all while in her kennel (with no opening more than 1 inch square!). I replaced the plastic kennel with one that was metal. She figured out how to open it.

After two days of her exiting the kennel after I left and me returning to a happy dog and tidy house, we had a new routine. She ruled the house (i.e. napped) while I was at work and let me think I ruled the house while I was home.

Until that fateful night last spring. I came home from a long day with the teens and just wanted to go to sleep after a short walk with Gracie. It was past 10 and I was beyond exhausted. Apparently Gracie was too. She had destroyed nearly everything! My bedding was gone. Fabric crates in the shelving unit were decimated. The living room looked like a war zone and my bedroom gave the impression of a winter wonderland from all the fluff.

This was the climax of a week of escalating destruction. Gracie had developed severe separation anxiety. This manifested itself in destroying my bedding and eventually her things too. I went through 6 sets of sheets, 2 bed skirts, 2 mattress pads, and a king size comforter before a desperate 2 am call to the vet that night. Thankfully the vet was able to help me out and now my high maintenance little dog gets Prozac (yes, human Prozac).

Now that I am able to come home to a normal dog and a tidy bedroom, I can say that Gracie is the best catechist and spiritual director I know. So in honor of St. Francis, here are a few of the things I think Gracie would say if she could preach to you (or the birds):

  • All that is needed to make me happy is to have my human at home all day. If my human could just sit by me, maybe pet me a bit or comb me, I'd be thrilled. I don't need treats or those frilly sweaters the lady down the street makes her dog wear. I just want to lay there in the sun with my human. Don't you think that ultimately all God wants from you is the same thing - to just be?

  • When you are totally frustrated and at the end of your leash - sit down. Pulling on it will only cause you to hurt and look ridiculous. Just stop, be still, and listen to what comes.

  • When the storms come, know your safe place. Don't be afraid to go and retreat to it.

  • Being fearful isn't a way to live. No matter how badly someone may hurt you, most people just want to pet you and play with you.

  • Playing games is great. Take time to play. But remember the most important part isn't chasing the ball, it is bringing it back to the one who threw it.

  • Protect what you love. Especially from those crafty woodchucks. If you love something, fight for it.

  • But if you have to lose something you love, like your most favorite fuzzy toy, let it go. Something new and better may be around the corner.

  • Always greet people with a wagging tail and not a noisy bark.

  • Show great joy even over the little things like meaty treats and tennis balls.

Yeah, Gracie's pretty wise. And best of all, when I'm done tonight with Theology on Tap, I know she'll be right at the door with her fuzzy bone waiting with a wagging tail.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Hearing the Unheard

A few years ago I took a very small group of teens and chaperones (nearly equal numbers) on a service trip to Guatemala City with International Samaritan.

Let me set the scene. Picture the worst poverty you have ever seen first hand. Got it? Toss that mental image out the window because it probably doesn't hold a candle to the poverty of the individuals who live in the city garbage dump community. Think Slumdog Millionaire and you're closer to this reality.

I was rather squished into my seat on the flight down between some rather large gentlemen. Think defensive line for it? Okay, that's where I was. These were guys who were former military were going down there to train with the police or Guatemalan military. We struck up a conversation and they were impressed I was crazy enough to be doing this. I didn't blink.

Then we get to the zone (that's what the areas of the city are called zones - there are two that are the garbage dump community). And my breath was taken away from me. First you are hit with the physical force of the stench of the dump. Then you are assaulted by the shacks assembled from scavenged material, sewage, dust, and devastation. Once you survive all that, you encounter the worst volley - the poverty of soul and hope in the people staring through their huts.

That is what the single greatest part of the service trip is. Recognizing that the little we do over the week or 10 days is inconsequential. What is so very crucial is the sense of hope and validation we brought to those people. They are forsaken by their countrymen who hold to a class system. We, the strange Americans, noticed them, they were heard, and they were cared for. It was not our wealth or our citizenship. It was not our clothes or our technology. It was our ears and hearts that they wanted.

They wanted their stories told. They wanted hope for their children. They wanted their voices to be heard.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Two Handy Tools

Switching gears, here are two digital tools I find incredible -

This handy little app for your computer, iPhone and so forth allows you to clip text, websites, etc. and come back to read them later. You can sync it with your Twitter app on your phone which I find helpful when there's a link I want to follow but at that moment the dentist calls me back for that pesky appointment. It is also great because it works well with ....

I am hardly the first to extol the virtues of this handy little application. However, I am really digging it right now as I am working on my workshops. I have three workshops to present prior to the end of the month. Two deal with media and technology so I am creating handouts and finding articles online. Since I do some of the work at home, some at work, and some on the go, it allows me to have access to the info no matter where I am. You can also directly email someone your files from Evernote. Images, websites, text, it all falls neatly into Evernote and you can easily create notebooks and tags to keep things organized. The app for my iPhone is also great so I can add a note if something came up in conversation or while reading something.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Unexpected Composition

We have now had two Sundays of youth group for this year and we have an unexpected composition forming this year.

Being of an internationally minded community courtesy of the large university in our area, many families host youth from abroad. A few drop in to youth group, some stay, some find it a bit too foreign for them. Most years we don't have a steady number, maybe just one.

This year a mom brought a carload on the first night - 5! We had Korean, Japanese, German, and Mexican students at our session. This past week brought four of those back plus another boy from China. One or two of them aren't Catholic, but still came for the community and perhaps something else.

It is quickly teaching me a few things that may be of use to those out there.
  1. Once you know you have kids from another country - be aware of language issues. While their conversational English may be better than yours, how is their biblical English. A German girl was unable to really participate in small group until she found the text in German on her smart phone. Try preparing the texts in the languages to give to the youth so they can feel comfortable.
  2. Help them through the paperwork - they may not recognize the phrases we toss around like parent/guardian on a form or what phone number we're looking for on that particular line. Explain why you are collecting that data. They may not be familiar with those requests.
  3. Determine how you and your ministry can best work with the host families. If they are parish members, great, your job just got a bit easier. If not, determine their comfort level with your faith community and make sure to keep lines of communication open.
  4. Watch the money issue. For many of the youth, they may have limited funds available for additional trips and retreats. Look into ways that these youth can be sponsored for those events or (if you're lucky) offer them financial aid from your budget allocation.
  5. Find ways to connect them with the youth. Introduce them to kids that go to the same school (we have 4 major schools that feed into our youth group). Find connections about likes and hobbies. Doctor Who is an obsession for a group of our girls and a few of the exchange kids like the show too; they spent a long time chatting about it last week.
  6. Pay attention to their specific needs - are they home sick? Do they long for more familiar food? I was at an international conference in Italy where the food was fantastic. However, a young man from Burma just wanted the simple rice dish traditional to his home.
Most of all, I try to be as warm and hospitable as possible. This is all strange to them and having been in far away places often enough myself, a friendly face with a listening ear can be a blessing.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

In the Smoke

For days following September 11, 2001, it was eerie in Manhattan. Bustling streets were haunted by the thousands of feet and voices that would never again echo down the pavement. Smoke and debris covered the ground like shockingly painful snow.

Beyond the physical ramifications and clear tragedy of the day, we were left in a state of questioning. To quote my favorite fictional President, "What's next?"

The days wore on and months turned to years. We sent men and women to battle in two far off countries. The outpouring of patriotism, solidarity, and compassion turned into something else, something a bit less idyllic. Patriotism became a political tool for some. Solidarity turned into partisanship. And compassion, well, that was inconvenient.

Now, ten years later we are left with a haze that affects us all and we need to be aware of it in ministry.

In college I had a very good friend freshman year in the dorms. We had gone to middle school together but she moved away before high school. Inadvertently, we ran into each other soon after beginning university. She was Muslim. She was a good friend. Four of us young women, a Buddhist, a Catholic (me), a Muslim, and a Catholic turned agnostic/atheist ate dinner together about once a week. My Muslim friend and I periodically turned our discussion to our faith. At a public and very liberal university, we both faced attacks periodically for our faith from fellow students and even some of the professors and TAs. However, she and I found solidarity with each other. She chose to wear her head scarf. Her mother didn't, if I recall correctly, and no one forced, coerced, or argued her into doing so. I don't think they would have succeeded if they tried. She was educated, eloquent, and faithful. She was the sort of friend you wanted in your corner.

We got strange looks at time. I would often have my Bible study things on the table next to me since I would dash down the drive after dinner to the next dorm where my Bible study took place. She would have her Koran and other materials for the Muslim student group she was very involved in at her elbow. My crucifix or cross necklaces would stand out even more vividly next to her beautiful scarves.

We would laugh and commiserate like every other student in that cafeteria - after all papers, exams, boys, the unique dorm food, concerned us just as much as anyone else.

But our friendship could go to other topics. She would understand when we talked of faith and the struggles of having value systems not held by the majority of students. She understood the pressure I faced when my hall mates went to the big party or talked of their colorful weekend exploits. She knew what it was like to go to a professor with a question about the class and end up defending your faith and your right to wear that crucifix or headscarf while maintaining your individual identity as an educated young woman.

Unfortunately she and I fell out of touch. As sophomore year came we both became increasingly committed to our respective campus ministry programs, work, school, and different groups of friends. As we lived on opposite ends of the large university, we no longer had the simplicity of a shared dining hall. I regret losing touch with her.

But I think of her often. When I read of those who wish to burn the Koran, I think of her. When I read articles about young Muslim women in the US who are pulled aside for pat downs each time they fly, I think of her. When I frustrate and anger myself by reading ignorant comments on news articles online that mention the words Islam, Muslim, or terrorist, I think of her. When I hear people who in fear and ignorance think all Muslims wish harm on others, I think of her. I think of her and I have great hope. When I see the wary looks otherwise good people give to those who look different, practice faith differently, I think of her.

I think of her when I face a room full of youth or young adults and we discuss identity, faith, prejudices, fear, hatred, ignorance, and true friendship.

It has been just over ten years since I last had a good conversation with Fatima, but I think of her often and pray for her safety, well-being, and joyful life often.

As I do for all men and women of faith and good-will.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Day Before

Everyone in ministry always is thinking of "the day." The day you need to deal with tragedy, suffering, mourning. We prepare. We have that file of counselors, therapists, extra leaders, local resources. We dread the day, but we know that it will come.

But what of the day before? We never know when "the day" will hit. Today could be the day before.

What are we doing to prepare ourselves and the people we work with? Are we laying the foundation of healthy spirituality and faith to sustain them through the time of pain? Are we making sure that they know and experience God's love?

As prepared as we may be to cope as ministers in our programing, are we equally prepared personally? Do you have someone to turn to for comfort? Do you know who you can call if you become overwhelmed? Do you have a network for support? Do you know how to identify when you are overwhelmed?

The vast majority of days are average. But for every extraordinary day, there is a day before.

Friday, September 9, 2011


I wasn't there.

I was on the second to last step of the beat-up house I rented with 7 other Catholic women during my junior year of college. I was confronted with my other early-rising roommate who simply said, "Can you believe it?"

She thought I already had been up and watching the news. She and I were routinely up by 7:00 am CST allowing us the chance to watch one of the major network morning news shows. We would eat our cereals on the mismatched sofas and I would drink my coffee; we'd discuss the news and commentary of that particular morning.

However, on September 11, 2001, I woke up a bit late. I was just heading down to get that bowl of cereal and cup of coffee. My roommate caught me off guard. We went to the living room. The cereal remained untouched.

Together we watched the second tower strike and sat, wordlessly, as the Towers fell.

Shaken, but caught somewhere between needing to have a sense of normalacy and the every present avid student, I walked to my first class. It was a constitutional law course. My professor had been at the State Capital in Madison that morning (I went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison). He had been evacuated along with the rest of the officials and visitors.

I do not remember much of that class. Snippets still are etched in the recesses of my memory - discussions about the legal repercussions, refusing to give in to terror by canceling class.

Later I sat on a hill by "The Tower of Babel," or as more commonly called, Van Hise building that housed all the foreign languages. I had brought a radio with earbuds to campus. I listened to an interview of Tom Clancy. I sat in line of sight of the Capital. I sat in a flight path that was normally humming with regular flights into the regional airport just a few miles from our campus and the Capital. I sat in that path's silence.

Yet later I would walk by the famous statue of President Lincoln at the top of that hill. I would walk down the eerily quiet Bascom Hill to the Catholic Campus Ministry Center of St. Paul's. There I would work my first afternoon as a peer minister at the front desk.

I would make copies of song sheets on our ancient copier until it literally shuddered. The songs were songs that were carefully chosen to fit the non-denominational, interfaith prayer service that was coordinated by one of our campus ministers. We had to make sure the music would be appropriate for all Christians, Jews, Muslims, and the rest of the mishmash of faith found on and near our campus.

I stood on Library Mall amid that crowd. There was sound and there was silence. I can't recall.

September 11, 2001, remains much like an art film. A few moments of shocking clarity surrounded by out of focus and confused chaos.

The days that followed remain much the same. I attended lectures. Many continued to be visibly shaken. I remember the moment I heard the first flight overhead when the airspace was reopened. I was in Bascom Hall for a Congressional Politics class. I was early. It flew overhead, directly towards the Capital. I held my breath, looked up, said a prayer as I watched the window. Silence. I went back to my book.

That book. In the days after, I needed comfort. I prayed. I talked with friends and mentors. I played my flute. I read. Somehow my usual comfort I could find in Jane Austen was inadequate. I picked up The Magician's Nephew. Over the next five or six days I read The Chronicles of Narnia. Perhaps it was merely escapism. Perhaps it was knowing that the world has been thrown into chaos before and it is possible to survive.

Ultimately, that first official day I worked in ministry wove together with all the other moments to lead me into a call to ministry and not law.

On Sunday when I wake up, I will have some cereal and my mug of coffee just like I have done every day for ten years. And I will remember.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


Just have a few moments before a staff meeting.

I've dropped a few things into Delicious, but for those not using that service, here are a few items of interest:

The Beloit Mindset (yet another great thing from my homestate of Wisconsin). A fascinating look at this year's freshman college class. Also, likely the only time that Ferris Bueller and altar servers will be on the same list.

A great article on Millennials and media.

And a way to address 9/11. I found this video as a great thing to use for youth group where most teens have no real memories of the day. A pilgrimage through Ground Zero with Fr. James Martin, S.J.

Friday, September 2, 2011

In the Heat of the Moment

I was going to wait a couple of more days before diving into my reflections on this most recent WYD. Perhaps it was the quick trip to Trader Joe's in 100+ degree heat index that brought back far too vivid memories? Perhaps it was a 20 minute phone call with our travel group? Or perhaps it is the greatest truth of WYD...

Since we took such a small group, only 13 total, I most frequently deal with the, "Is it worth it?" question from people. In the years leading up to WYD 11 and in the weeks that have followed. There is no doubt in my mind that the answer is a resounding, if slightly exhausted, "yes!"

I will be the first to admit, this WYD was a particularly difficult struggle for me. I got sun poisoning on our first day in Rome (that was new). Then my ankles swelled up (looked like I had water balloons in my sandals) on the flight from Rome to Madrid. Then I got a migraine at the vigil (best way to cure a migraine - cool, dark, and silence - that was so not going to happen).

Thankfully I had an incredible group. The lovingly called my sun poisoning, "the plague." They offered to pour water on my ankles and take lovely photos to be posted to Facebook. When we were waiting for our luggage in Madrid they pushed me to the floor, stacked up a few backpacks and had me prop my feet up. A couple then kept poking my ankles and giggling, "They feel like Jell-O!" At the Vigil, where I sported a great sunburn and dust spattering to the point that the kids didn't recognize me when I came up to them after going to the bathroom, one girl drenched a bandanna to tie round my neck (mine was already dripping around my head). The kids made it okay for me to be flawed and imperfect. That was lesson number one - no one is perfect and the more imperfect you allow yourself to be, the greater the gifts that others are allowed to show.

But mostly I say it is worth it because of the moments -

The moment when I looked down from the altar at the catechetical site (I was an animator) and saw my whole group talking during Cardinal George's talk. I was annoyed. Then I nearly wanted to cry - they were all talking to come up with the wording for the question they wished to ask him and who would ask it. They were engaged. They were a community. They were church.

The moment when they didn't complain. When it was hot. When they were given the wrong food at the sandwich shop. When they were hot. When we had to walk an extra hour. Maybe they offered it up. Maybe they heeded my "no whining" rule. Maybe they did not see those moments as burdens. I saw them as blessings.

The moment when the girls invited me to walk through the Prado with them. I learned some things about art. I shared a bit of what I knew. I shared my love of sticky notes (who knew you could buy a little book of sticky notes at the Prado?) with another teen who bought the same items as me at the shop.

The moment in the Prado cafe where I enjoyed a cold soda and the mom in the group drank an espresso. She shared some of her concerns for her child and some of her own story.

The moment my sister-in-law and I sprayed my brother's feet with Febreeze. Then were still laughing when we went to dinner and could barely explain our mirth to the rest of the group.

The moment when the group helped encourage others on the Saturday pilgrimage walk by singing everything from Queen to MuLan to Spirit & Song.

For me, seeing the Pope is incredible, but it isn't the moment. Rather that moment comes when I see the joy of God in the youth and young adults. It is the moment when I see their strength, weakness, honesty, their hope.

For me, World Youth Day is about the people and those moments.

The Dust Has Settled

Quite literally. I pulled out the umbrella I took to Cuatros Vientros for the Vigil and a cloud of dust descended. Should have cleaned that previously.

I fully intend to share my reflections. However, today is just my second day in the office after being out of the office for a month (literally from August 2 to September 1).

Should you wish to hear what we did for our WYD pilgrimage, here's our website.

Now my biggest problem is deciding two things:

  1. Do I want to lead a group to WYD 2013 in Rio?

  2. If so, do I accept the offer from the diocese to lead the diocesan group? (Or, hopefully, co-lead with another minister, I'd take control of the young adults and she would take control of the youth.)

Hmmm...not too much time to decide. I want to be able to announce my decision by the October 2 family night at youth group.

As always stay tuned...

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

And we're off!

Surprisingly, I am all set and have about an hour and a half before I have to head to the church to meet all the kids and young adults.

I had a leisurely morning thus far of last minute packing (toiletries), Monkey Bread, and hanging out with my brother and sister-in-law.

The bin is al set with final information to pass out - rosaries, bookmarks for trading, and our pilgrim books. We will then check luggage weight. I make sure everyone has their passport and it is not packed in their luggage. We also check for a few other crucial items like the sleeping bags for the vigil, any prescription medications (packed in carry-on, not checked luggage), etc.

Then we sort into carpools so we have as few vehicles as possible heading to the airport.

We're all set! Europe, here we come!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Less than 48 hours

Periodically I get odd looks from my brother. Even more than usual. It is probably due to the strange little "I-can't-believe-we-leave-in-less-than-48-hours" dance I do. If Jello-O could carry electrical current, that's what the dance looks like. Not attractive.

Basically my excitement has hit full force. I pulled out the suitcase (my dog is suitably depressed now). I'm sorting what goes into my suitcase and what goes into my carry-on. My iPod is being set up with new playlists and season 6 part 1 of Doctor Who. My Kindle has plenty of good reads. I've got cards and card versions of Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble, and of course the perennial favorite of Uno.

A few recommendations for your personal packing for WYD:

  • Pack some clothes in your carry on. Trust me, fresh undergarments and a clean shirt will be your most prized possession if your luggage is lost.
  • Also stick your toothpaste in - your seatmates on connections will appreciate it if you've been running for 24+ hours.
  • Put all your chargers for your electronics in your carry on. If you have cell phones, iPods, laptops, Kindles, whatever - put the chargers in your carry on! My sister-in-law can attest to this should your luggage go astray.
  • I recommend wearing glasses instead of contacts (if this applies). If security changes and your contact cleansing solution is tossed out by security, you'll be quite miserable in the often dry cabin air.
  • Take water and a snack (or two) onto the plane. This way if you're stuck on the runway for a while or if turbulence doesn't allow for your meal to be served for quite a while you won't faint from hunger.
  • Drink water! This helps with jet lag and with the heat we'll be facing, hydrating in advance is key. Take your empty water bottle through security and then fill it at the bubbler as we say back home (drinking fountain for the rest of you).
  • I also keep lotion, hand sanitizer, Vaseline, and lip balm. That cabin is dry!
  • Make sure you've left all that lovely contact info, itinerary, and so forth that you lovingly presented to your pilgrims and their families for your own family!
  • Headphones/earbuds or ear plugs are helpful for those overnight flights.
I'm off to have some of the fantastic homemade salsa my brother is making. Enjoy your final prep. I may not post again until our group is safely in Rome!

Monday, August 1, 2011

And for today

Since there's enough to do, here's rundown of today's WYD highlights:

  • Put copies of passport photo pages into the chaperone packets

  • Put the birth certificates (new requirement from Dept. of State) into my packet

  • Check the information on the phone tree, print, copy and put into chaperone packets

  • Put one phone tree into the folder that will be left for our pastor and at the front desk

  • Put the letter for the Vatican Museum tour into my packet

  • Put the relevant email receipts into my packet that are for the Vatican Museum and Scavi tours

  • Finish two bulletin submissions that I'm waiting on details for

  • Write the newsletter articles

  • Laminate the flag identification cards (actually it is 11x17 page with all the flags and their country)

  • Create the cards that are the interior luggage tag (list our hotels & dates there, the pilgrim's name, and travel agency)

Once I'm done with that it is off to the youth room to tackle the pile of WYD related items:

  • Create bags for each pilgrim with the key chain exchange items, bandannas, fans, etc

  • Sort through the first aid things - most will go home with me so that I can pack it in my luggage and put some in my carry on bag

  • Put name labels on the pilgrim books

  • Put permanent marker in tub for day of departure - useful for labeling identical water bottles, etc.

I'm sure I'll come up with more, but there you go. The basics of my last full day of WYD prep (in the office - I'll be working from home in between hanging out with my brother).

Sunday, July 31, 2011

I've Said It Before

One of the best things you can do for your WYD preparations is to take care of yourself.

I woke at about 5:45 am this morning. Well before I needed to be up. I woke with a terrible headache and was quite warm (didn't turn my ceiling fan on last night and I have grown accustomed to that - thanks Dad for installing that this past spring!).

Instead of wallowing in my misery, I pulled myself together, rolled out of bed and got moving. Since it was still dark enough I didn't want to walk my dog, I headed to the kitchen. I emptied the dishwasher (second least favorite chore), made a cup of coffee, and did one or two other things while the Excedrin kicked in. Then it was out with Grace, my jungle dog.

When I came back in, with a tidy kitchen in view that matched the fairly tidy living room, I thought this was a perfect opportunity to spend time in prayer. It also gave me more than enough time to reorganize my prayer things at my favorite spot. (Can you tell I'm a Type A?) After some time in Romans, journaling, and spending some time reading from a book, I'm ready for my day.

This morning's prayer time was great. No revelations, definitely no burning bush (would have scared Jungle Dog), but rather the quiet peaceful time being with God.

I get to continue my day with some of my favorite things. I'm heading out soon to take a friend's daughter to Greenfield Village for the morning and early afternoon where we shall enjoy a tea (fantastic thing to do as a treat). Then I hope to convince her to stop at the craft store so I can buy some lace (I want to make something). Once I drop her off at home I will return home myself where I shall make two more skirts and several fabric watch bands. Very Suzy Homemaker, yes, but it is nice to make something tangible and the skirts will be worn in just over a week on the WYD trip (one to travel in and the other will be for in Rome).

It is so important to get your rest, take care of yourself, and even pamper yourself prior to WYD. While I don't have family in the area, make sure if you are married, have kids, or are near family to spend time with them. I get to do that as my brother will be flying in on Tuesday so I am working like mad so I may take the latter part of this week off to enjoy time with him.

Take care. Literally.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Peace, Joy, Chaos

It is probably a toss up whether Matthew 11.28-30 or Hebrews 11.1 wins the favorite scripture verse for me. Usually depends on my mood.

However, in the lens of my normal state of being and, in particular, WYD, Matthew 11.28-30 wins today.

"Come to me all who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light."

We stand in a tumultuous time - tragedies of great and small proportions daily make the news; financial woes haunt countries and individuals; fear of others and violence simultaneously immobilize some while leading others to those very acts of violence.

The need for the gentle burden, the rest, that Jesus offers is so very necessary. One translation states: "you will find rest for your souls." That is a rest that goes far beyond a good night's sleep (something that is getting more difficult as the countdown to WYD proceeds).

What I look forward to at WYD is the opportunity to feel this promise. No where and at no time, will I be more physically exhausted than the week spent in Madrid. I know that the heat and sun will drain and dry me physically and strain my mental patience and processes. However, I also know that there are other, far more powerful forces at play than the sun, heat, and wind.

I will never forget the nearly tangible feel of Tor Vergata (Rome WYD in 2000). You could practically feel the communal joy, energy, and hope of the young people in that field. You could also, almost touch the Holy Spirit. Despite frogs, heat, dehydration, exhaustion, and a new found distaste for that Italian version of Spam, it was one of the most wonderful experiences. There, in that packed, frog infested field, I found rest. God showed me that being peaceful has nothing to do with your surroundings, that being given a great mission does not mean an equally great burden.

This is one of the many reason why I go through the exhaustion, chaos, fears, and doubts to lead a group to WYD. Maybe, just maybe, the individuals in my group will experience a similar moment. Maybe, just maybe, they will be given the grace they need to face the particular challenges they will return home to face. Maybe, just maybe, they too will find rest for their souls.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Packing List

I give out a packing list to the group that is pretty comprehensive. I will skip the hopefully obvious items (clothing, shoes, shampoo, etc.). Here are some of the items you may not have thought of (or may be forgetting in your busy preparations):

  • Travel Toilet Paper - Charmin To Go is one brand and camping stores will have their own. This is something that if you need it, you need it. We really made use of it in Germany and didn't touch it in Australia - all depends on how well organized that aspect of WYD is.

  • Dollar Store Poncho(s) - it doesn't seem like we will need them, but these are great because they are $1 for 2. That way you can toss them out instead of having to dry it off and then attempt to fold it back up in your backpack or luggage.

  • Plastic Bags of Various Sizes and Types - quart and gallon sized Ziploc bags are great for containing small items in your bags and keeping wet items from making your entire luggage or backpack contents damp. I always have at least one large garbage bag that can contain my backpack, sleeping bag, and shoes at the vigil. If it starts to rain, I toss it all in there, tie it up and make use of my poncho. Thereby keeping my backpack dry for the hike home and my sleeping bag dry for my attempts at rest.

  • Duct Tape - your best friend. I have used this to keep a tray table on the airplane from constantly falling, repair a friend's sandal, seal a garbage bag before we were drenched in Toronto, and countless other small tasks. They sell smaller, slimmer rolls that are made expressly for travel. This goes everywhere with me.

  • Lip Balm with SPF 15 or Higher - lip gloss is useless, and you want SPF 15 or higher because sunburned lips are simply a cruel experience.

  • Watch - most teens and young adults rely on their cell phones to know the time. However, most US pilgrims will not have their cell phones (due to roaming costs) so make sure your pilgrims have wrist watches. I swear by fabric bands due to the heat.

  • Hundreds of Band-Aids - this is one for you group leaders. I took 200 band-aids to Cologne and came home with 7. Seriously. Between blisters, small cuts, tripping leading to scrapes and so forth, bandages get used quite a bit. Due to the heat, sweat, and dirt, they need to be changed frequently. Make sure to have antibacterial cream too.

  • One clean outfit packed separately (in a Ziploc or vacuum bag) that is your outfit for flying home. After the sweat and dirt of the overnight vigil and the general state of disarray all your other clothing will be in, having one clean outfit to fly home in will be appreciated by your seatmates.

For those in the U.S., don't forget that basilicas and churches in Europe frequently have dress codes. We are heading to Rome first, so we need to be prepared for the no shorts and no bare shoulders rules. Do you homework on that front.

These are just a few of the packing list items, but the rest are fairly obvious. Let me know if you'd like the complete list.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Planning for Post-WYD

Here's something - what's your plan for the first few days to two weeks after WYD?

I have been to 4 WYDs. I have come home sick from each. Ranging from a head cold to the condition I fondly referred to as the deadly, oozing plague of death, each WYD holds a special set of germs just for me.

Now that I know to anticipate the aftereffects of low levels of sleep, high levels of chaos (read stress), huge crowds with their variety of germs, and the reality of not always having the cleanest hands when you sit down to eat your picnic lunch/dinner.

First off, there's the preparations for the trip. First: hydrate. In general, hydration is good no matter what. Second, I pack antibacterial hand wipes and hand sanitizer gel. The wipes get rid of the dirt and will sanitize while you can use the gel if your hands are free of dirt. Third, I pack a few cold and allergy remedies. After once causing my high school English teacher to fear she would have to find the hospital nearest to Heathrow as my sinus headache turned into a near explosion during landing, I now make sure to have sinus medications for myself and the group if needed. I pack some Day-Quill like cold remedy, non-drowsy allergy medicine, and Pepto Bismal. These will general do well for a stop gap measure until you get home.

Second, there's the post trip planning. I know that the phrase "Death Warmed Over" is a generous description for my state of being for the first 48 hours after returning home. I tend to be somewhere closer to "Death Warmed Over twice in the microwave and then left on the counter for two days" state of being. Thus, I plan accordingly.

I make sure that all big projects, small projects, routine tasks, anything at all that might be due in the first two work weeks after I return is completed. Yes, this is a huge headache, but then if I do get horribly ill, I don't have to think about the bulletin articles, email newsletters, or website updates I need to do. I know they are done, pre-scheduled, or delegated out to others. I cannot recommend this highly enough. And should the Heavens smile on you and you maintain perfect health and bounce back from the chaos and jet lag after just a day or two, you are a head of the game and can spend all that extra time telling people how fantastic WYD is.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Of State Agencies

Never is one consoled by back to back emails containing information from two state agencies/departments.

First there was the notice that a world travel advisory was put out by the U.S. State Department. Fabulous.

Second was the CDC's warning about measles in Europe. Fantastic.

More chocolate please! Another coffee!

Seriously, this brings up my advice on prep today. As much as it can annoy some in your group, I am sending nearly daily emails to the group. They contain everything from reminders to begin increasing water intake (best way to prevent dehydration and jet lag is to drink water before hand - even a week or two) to the medical and security updates.

The CDC's notice is a good reminder to make sure you have the medical information for your group. Even the adults traveling, myself included, complete the health history form that we use for teens. It is just a reference point so that we know about vaccinations, major medical conditions (asthma, diabetes, migraines, etc.), and can offer it to medical professionals if needed.

I also highly recommend that you have two emergency contact issues in place.

The first is that you have on one sheet of paper, the emergency contact person for each of your pilgrims with all that contact person's information (work, home and cell phone numbers). This applies to all in your group, including yourself. Give this list to all chaperones, your parish office, and keep one in your hotel room too.

The other is to establish a phone tree. This is useful when you have to communicate everything from something nearly unimaginable to the simple realities of canceled flights. Have the one person at the top that you call with the information. They then call the #2 person. #2 calls #3 and so on. If #2 can't reach #3, then #2 calls #4. Once #4 is reached, they continue to call #3.

I have never had to use either of these contact lists. I don't plan on ever having to use them. But unexpected things happen and it is best to be prepared.

P.S. Here's the CDC's general WYD announcement.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Final WYD Prep

Here we are, 15 days to departure for our group. I know everyone has their own prep work, but here's a few highlights from mine:

  • Double checked my first aid kits - plenty of band-aids, ibuprofen, instant ice packs (good for sore ankles and headaches), etc.

  • Double checked health forms for all adults and youth on your trip. Know what conditions you are dealing with - from migraines to diabetes to clumsiness. Having at least a surface level knowledge in the various conditions will help you know if you need to make certain things a higher priority at particular times (meals, rests, etc.)

  • Finished the book for each pilgrim with reflections, daily itinerary, emergency contact info, etc.

  • Gather all the items I'm giving to each pilgrim - exchange items, fan, water bottle, bandannas, book, etc.

  • Get all currency needed - I need to have currency for our two days of guided tours in Italy so that was taken care of and separated from the rest of the currency. Separate your personal currency from any that is given to cover professional expenses.

  • Put together final meeting information - emergency contact information, final itinerary & flight info, airport carpool lists, extra copies of packing information, etc.

I also am realizing that I need to take care of myself this week. I am enjoying good coffee, making myself eat the fabulous meals I made over the weekend and froze, longer walks with my dog, and some fun things this weekend (taking a friend's daughter to tea at Greenfield Village, amongst other things).

I'll post more as the week goes on. My goal is to be basically set by August 1 as my brother arrives the next day. Then I can just do the few last minute things and get my own things together.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

It's Here

That time has started. Where my brain cracks from the pre-WYD stress and creates unusual dreams while I get my 32 minutes of sleep each night.

A coworker said the same thing a friend did, that WYD is like giving birth. You have to forget the stress, chaos, agony, worry to allow yourself the absolute joy of going yet again somewhere to the ends of the earth with young people in tow.

All kidding aside, things are heating up. With less than a month until our group departs for our pre-WYD pilgrimage to Rome & Assisi, I'm scrambling to finish all of August's work, September kick-off preparations, and the many publications (bulletin submissions, parish newsletter articles, youth newsletter, parent emails, etc.).

Ultimately, I know all the late night (and bizarre dreams) are more than worth it. WYD is a life changing experience. The previous four I have attended each profoundly affected me and it is an absolute joy to see it affecting those youth and young adults who attend.

One added headache is the 'opus' (as I've dubbed it) that I am working on for the group. I am giving each pilgrim a booklet - so far 100 pages (50 double sided). In it contains the itinerary, emergency information, details on some of the major basilicas in Rome, scripture related to the patrons of those basilicas, quotes from popes and saints, quotes and reflection questions, prayers, daily morning and evening reflections, a chart with all the nations (including South Sudan!) so that they can check off what countries people they meet are from, pages for recording quotes from the trip (always a favorite, often embarrassing as my exhaustion leads me to say odd things), and a few other items. I hope to finish the last three days of reflections tomorrow so that next week I can print, copy, and then take them to be spiral bound.

For now, I get a break from WYD - tonight is our youth group's Sundae Party. Or as I fondly call it the "How did they get every surface in the youth room sticky party."

Friday, July 8, 2011


I love the Sister Act movies. Yes, even the second one. I don't just mean I appreciated them when they came out (the first one was way back in middle school for me). I mean I excitedly change the channel from a favorite TV show if they are on. There's something about the combination of Whoopi and Maggie Smith that is so so delightfully odd that I love it.

In the second film, Whoopi's Sister Mary Clarence has the dubious challenge of teaching the music class. The line she uses on the exuberant youth (much like our teens), is that "If you want to be somebody, you've got to wake up and pay attention."

Conversations are floating on the web about making sure our youth and Church are awake and paying attention. But are we?

Since WYD is going to pull me out of the office for two weeks in August and I'm then taking time off to recover, I'm trying to do all of August's work this month. My to-do list is a pad of paper. I've used more Post-Its to remind me of things than I thought possible. The teen leaders have worked together and set our calendar for this year. There are all the usual programs and a few new things to prepare for those first weeks of September.

With all the busyness to deal with, am I awake? Am I paying attention? Yes, I am well caffeinated and checking off things on that list. But am I awake to the movement of God in my life and the lives of others? Am I paying attention to the people, not just the programming?

It is far too easy to let ourselves become inundated with the work and to lose sight of the people. It is even easier to lose sight of God.

So tomorrow, instead of working on NCYAMA at home all day and adding to the pilgrim booklet I'm making for our group for WYD, I'm going to the zoo and Chick Fil A with a friend and her girls. When I get home, I'm sure I'll settle in at my laptop for a bit, but first, I will remind myself of the joys of friendship and the wonders of God's creation - especially the one month old elephant who apparently is quite the class clown at the Toledo Zoo.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

And then there were 68

68 Days that is...

We have just 68 days until the start of our World Youth Day pilgrimage. Last night was the marathon meeting where I torture participants and parents (for the minors and a few of the college age kids) with a full display of my Type-A personality and love of Presentation (Apple's version of Power Point).

All the legal forms for the minors are now out. Everyone has their packing lists, suggested spending money, itinerary, air and hotel schedule, final week suggestions, phone tree form, and behavioral covenant. And yes, for those that know me, they are color coded.

Now I just wait to get all those forms back and go through them - passport copies, emergency phone tree, checking signatures, all that fun stuff. I get a bit of a breather on the paperwork side until July 1 when all that is due back to me.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

All Gave Some

At my brother's wedding, the quote was used, "All gave some, some gave all." This was in reference to the three friends of his who had died in service of our country. As a graduate of our nation's military academy, that might not be such an incredible percentage. But when you consider he had graduated just four years before and that those three young men left family and friends behind, you cannot trivialize. Nor can you ignore that the numbers of our service men and women who have sacrificed themselves for what they believed, for their country, for us has had approximately 6,000 added to their number over the past ten years.

Lest we forget, for all those souls lost to war, there are many more suffering the physical, psychological and emotional trauma.

Lest we forget, there are thousands of families who struggle with the grief of their loss. They grieve over the deaths and wounds. They grieve for the time spent apart. Yet, there is a sense of pride, fulfilling duty, and that increasingly illusive sense of honor.

As we leave Memorial Day behind, do not forget about the military families, current and past in your community. Make sure you are responsive to their needs as they can be so very different from the 'normal' family. Make sure your youth of parents that are serving abroad are being particularly ministered to in their unique struggles. Look to your young adults that are service members, siblings or spouses of service members. Ensure their pastoral cares are being met.

I know what I speak of. Nearly every major military conflict going back to the Civil War has had a family member serving. My father is retired military. My brother finished his service to our nation just yesterday. I rejoice knowing he will not be sent to war any more. I also have a little of my heart break every time I read a story of a military family or a service member's death.

Do not let Memorial Day observances be the end of your ministry to those who daily serve you.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Wrong Words

Did you ever consider we might be using the wrong words?

I just got an email from a group that began by citing statistics on how people are leaving the Church and the need to respond. Yes, this is an issue. I would be the organization has great ideas and wonderful resources.

But I think our fundamental issue may lie in how we talk about the issue.

We get so concerned over empty pews, low collections, and poor engagement. We play the numbers game. However, might it be our very concern over these numbers indicate part of what drives people away.

Now I know that the reasons people leave the Church or never give it a chance are complex and varied. But might we be missing the boat when we don't look at the relational issues?

Instead of concerning ourselves with those who are or are not coming to Church, those who aren't donating, or those who aren't engaged, what if we addressed things differently. What if we instead concerned ourselves with the fact that all these numbers indicate that there is a large group of people without a relationship with God, without spiritual food, without a community of faith and support? Perhaps if we started to talk about the problem, not as it affects us in the institution, but as it affects people, we may find ourselves on the right track.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Shadow of a Man

Most people at some point in their lives wonder what impact they have had on others. Sometimes this comes when a parent is sending their child off to college or as one lies close to death.

At the ripe old age of 30 I have come to a conclusion. We will never know the full impact of our lives and it is probably for the best that it is so.

With the world looking either to London or Rome, depending on your particular interests this weekend, I was thinking about the impact of Pope John Paul II. He never knew the impact he had on me.

It is because of Pope John Paul II, his creation of WYD, and the words he spoke in Rome 2000 that I am here. By here I mean not only in ministry instead of law, but I wonder if I would be as active in my faith if it wasn't for that WYD experience.

Nonetheless, this is one of those things I realize - in all our ministries we will touch the lives of others in large and small ways. We will rarely see these moments of grace, but that will not negate their power.

In truth, I would rather not know all these moments of grace. If I did, I fear I would believe myself responsible for them instead of the Spirit.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Every year for the Living Way of the Cross, we have to rehearse one part over and over. And it is an easy part - The point in the Way of the Cross when the crowds yell, "Crucify Him!"

Every year the kids are too quiet. These are the same kids who just five minutes ago I had to shush for talking too much while 'back stage' in the sacristy. It is one thing for them to talk about the latest app they put on their phone or whose stole looks better (the girls, the guys usually couldn't care less about their costumes). It is another thing for them to shout at the top of their lungs to crucify Jesus.

Why is that?

I know a big part of it is that they are shouting in church and they, as teens, really don't want to stand out that much. But I wonder if it isn't something more.

Is that moment a moment when they enter a bit more fully into the story? Do they start to realize the actuality of what the crowd cried for and what in turn Jesus allowed to happen? Maybe they are, through their timidity, showing how afraid we all are to admit that it is our sins that put Jesus on that cross.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Such an Odd Day

Today is a day of questions.

"Are you the King of the Jews?"

"Which one do you want me to release to you, Barabbas or Jesus called Christ?"

"Then what shall I do with Jesus called Christ?"

"Why? What evil has he done?"

"My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?"

These questions that appear in today's Gospel are so powerful. They have the ability to challenge the state, topple religious authority, condemn to death, and express absolute despair.

Tonight's youth group is going to focus on these questions. We will ask a few more, too.

Ultimately, we are going to look for an honest answer. An answer to the question asked at the Vigil on Saturday - Do you believe?

Saturday, April 16, 2011


Oh the difference of a liturgical year!

Last year this time I was debating with a lovely young woman from Wisconsin the relative merits of the two pairs of shoes I had in my luggage. This was a highly unusual conversation for me as I have little interest in shoes beyond looking appropriate. However, that was the crucial issue. Comfort and appropriateness.

Last year on the Saturday before Palm Sunday I was in a retreat center near Rome staying up far too late with new friend from around the globe. Eventually I had to tear myself away from the celebrations and head to bed. I had to leave before the sun would even rise.

I had to catch my ride to the Vatican.

Those of us from the conference who were to be involved in the Palm Sunday Mass had to arrive at St. Peter's in time for our various roles. I went in the first car with several young women from Africa who were ill prepared for the chilly 40-something degree weather we had at 6:00 am. Thankfully it did warm up by Mass, but I felt so sorry for them. While I was chilled, this Midwesterner could hardly complain.

Looking back I remember most strongly a few odd things.

  1. My feet hurt terribly. My legs were turning to jelly. When wearing heels and standing, walking, and standing in St. Peter's Square, you have no hope. Especially when the entire Palm Sunday Gospel is sung while standing in said heels.

  2. The security guy standing right by me. As we who were reading were in the second row, the security was right by us to stop anyone from rushing up to the Pope. The security person by me was a pleasant gentleman in his 30s or 40s. He cracked a smirk when I switched shoes during Mass (the jelly feeling left me questioning my ability to walk to receive the Eucharist). He smiled and pointed to his own comfortable shoes.

  3. Looking out and seeing thousands of people. To be in front of the crowd when you've been in the crowd so many times is a surreal experience. To look out and see where I was at WYD 2000, where I sat taking photos in 2003, and to be awed by the honor.

  4. Making sure I didn't trip because my youth group kids were having a sleepover to watch me at the Mass!

It was only after that I processed things like the Pope was there and listened to me proclaim the first reading. It was only after that I realized that the size of the crowd was likely in the tens of thousands. It was only after that it truly dawned on me that this was a once in a lifetime experience.

And it is only now that I can truly appreciate the exceptionally comfortable shoes I will be wearing to Mass this weekend.

Thursday, March 31, 2011


Awhile ago now, I stumbled upon a great prayer resource: I encourage you to explore it. Here is one that spoke to me today -

O great and powerful ocean,

I fear and respect your beauty.

I wish not to take away

nor leave anything behind.

I only wish to dance

with you a short while.

~A surfer's prayer

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Mountain Tops

This past Sunday we heard the story of the Transfiguration at Mass. We're all (hopefully) well acquainted with it. Often this story brings up conversations about the mountain tops - the high points - in our lives and spiritual journeys. Homilists, catechists, and even us youth and young adult ministers quickly bring up that we cannot live on the mountain top. We speak of how there are usually only a few such highs in our lives. The rest of the time is spent somewhere in the average terrain.

Our hope is that we help people understand that faith is also made up of the ordinary, and even those low points in the valley (Psalm 23 anyone?). And that is good.

However, when we consider the high points - any high point - in our spiritual journeys and lives, we often forget one thing. The hike.

Peter, James, and John had to hike up the mountain with Jesus. They put work into it.

Even when a high point is a miracle or seemingly so far beyond anything we could have created or even asked for, there was work we did to lay the grounding for that high point. We had to make the day to day spiritual journey, we had to make the preparations for that big event, we had to study hard to pass our college finals. High points don't just happen. Work happens.

Before getting discouraged that we haven't been on the mountain, that the light hasn't shone down from heaven, let's make sure that we're laying the groundwork.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Reality Check

Today we could not use our computers in our office until about 11:00 am. For most of the morning, we were hamstrung. Everything on my "to do" list and all the things I could possibly think of to do required my computer. I ended up sorting through the piles on the credenza behind me. No more looming piles of paperwork or magazines.

But it was quite the reality check. Once upon a time, not so very long ago, youth ministry and young adult ministry happend with out computers. It happend without the Internet. Wow.

Okay, all kidding aside. It was a good reminder that work still goes on even if your computer doesn't. It got me to thinking about what we can do when we unplug.

In a couple of weeks at youth group, we're doing a special night on prayer that will focus on very low-key, no technology reflections and prayer techniques. We will actually have the kids silently reflect for a period of time. And you know what, last time we did this, every single teen loved it. They adored the chance for silence.

And isn't that telling?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Young Church

On Saturday I have the task of somehow expressing in approximately 50 minutes the experience of the young adult Church around the world....


Now it can be safely assumed that there is no possible way to completely present that topic in that time allotted. So, I find myself whittling things down to a few ideas:

1. My experiences of Church. I've traveled to some different places under different circumstances. As an outsider in the country, what are my observations?

2. With those travels, and especially the Pontifical Council for the Laity's Youth Forum last year, I have friends from around the world. What are their thoughts on the Church, young adult Catholics, and the particular experiences of those young adults?

So over the course of the week, I'm going to pull together my notes, emails and Facebook messages sent to me from friends, and any other tidbits I can think of. Should you have thoughts to share, please do. I would love to hear them.

If you're in the great state of Michigan, why not come to the Michigan Catholic Young Adult Conference this Friday & Saturday? You could hear this blogger speak or go to one of the other (much better) workshops.