Life After a Youth Conference
Part 3 in a Register series on young Catholics and youth ministry.
If you’re like me, getting stuck in traffic can be a real source of frustration. It seems there are days I get stuck behind every slow driver in the area. The light inevitably turns red the moment I approach it, school buses come out of nowhere and stop to let thousands of kids out, and ambulances, cattle, avalanches and deer just show up out of nowhere to block my progress.
The days we get in our car and make it to our destination without any problems are few and far between. The same goes for our spiritual life.
The maturation of a spiritual life is not an easy way to live if problem-free paths are what we are seeking. We are often surprised by this fact, especially after moving so fast at a conference or retreat. At these wonderful youth gatherings we find ourselves so close to God, finally moving fast in a positive direction, and then when we get home, it is like we have slammed on the brakes and are trapped in traffic again. It isn’t easy anymore, and many excited conference attendees become very discouraged.
I don’t know why we thought following Christ would be like driving on the Autobahn, but moving forward in our walk with Christ can be like a bad day in traffic: We wonder if we’ll ever make it to our destination.
Here are a few basic reminders when it comes to spirituality. My guess is you don’t have a band or speaker at your house cheering you on to live for God, like you did at the retreat you attended. I am betting you don’t have a priest staying in the next room ready to pray Mass for you every morning and hear your confession every couple of days. You are in the flow of real life now, so what should you do? To answer this question, let’s look at three basics of spirituality: life, death and resurrection.
Christ has come that we might have life, and life more abundantly (John 10:10), but honestly, I didn’t think the abundant life was something that I exemplified or felt. It took a long time, but somewhere along the way, I realized that Jesus was not a feeling. My relationship with God was not dependent upon me having an emotional response at a worship service or a heightened understanding about theology from hearing a powerful sermon. Jesus was committed to me even when I struggled in my commitment to him.
The Christian band the Kry sings, “I know everything about you; I know what you say and do, but I still love you. I know everything about you; I know what you’re thinking through, but I still love you.”
Jesus’ love for me gave me life, quite literally. In Catholicism we understand that the reception of life begins at baptism. Over time, we give in to the world, the flesh and the devil, and that life is hurt or even destroyed with venial or mortal sin. The grace we receive in baptism is life, but our willingness to submit to temptation changes our life.
The enemy has come to steal, kill and destroy your life (John 10:10). When we give in to the sinful temptations we have seen or believed in, our life in Christ can be destroyed. Spiritual death is a serious matter, and without a miracle, we would be hopeless.
There are many spiritual zombies walking about: people who have a body but whose soul is decaying because of sin. The death is real, even if those all around them find these people to be the life of the party. New life must be breathed into these spiritual zombies.
If the Resurrection is not true, we are a people to be pitied, and our faith is of no real significance (1 Corinthians 15:17). Because of Christ Jesus we are able to remedy the terminal tendencies humanity explores. Jesus’ gift of resurrection is not only his physical body rising from the dead, but it is also a life preserver extended to all of humanity to remedy original sin and heal the hurting traveler along the way.
Now, let’s rearrange these three points and look at them again from a different perspective.
We must embrace death in a positive fashion in order to grow spiritually. We are certainly in the world, but not of it, and, therefore, we must learn that there are some things we need to be detached from so that we can thrive. Put to death what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry (Colossians 3:5). St. Paul tells the Romans to be a living sacrifice, not conformed to this world, but rather transformed by the renewing of the mind (Romans 12:1,2). A living sacrifice is one who is dying as an oblation or gift to the Father. Really, when it comes down to it, we must die in order to live.
The world would have us believe that true living is doing whatever we feel like, fulfilling every desire or want. It is all about self-gratification, and to suggest that true meaning or living comes about by self-sacrifice would be unimaginable to most. Life is found in laying down our own for another (John 15:13). We will finally live when we die to the world around us.
In dying to the world and living for Christ, we will rise in a way that appeals to the world. It is a paradox, because if they persecuted Christ, they will absolutely do the same to us. But deep within each person is a longing to find meaning, goodness, truth and beauty. When we no longer submit to the enslavement of the world and its standards and live in a manner that is Christ-like, then we are raised in Christ — living from above down here below. We are to be in the world, but not of it.
These basic spiritual truths are pretty simple, when you think about it. We just forget the simple facts at times; therefore, it can do us well to review.
Returning to our traffic scenario, the basic truth is that if we are patient we will end up at our destination, even if we get frustrated along the way. When we get off track in our driving and in our spiritual journey, we can hurt ourselves and others, so we must be careful.
We can even lose our life with horrible driving practices, as we can our spiritual life with poor decisions. Being aware while in a vehicle can save countless lives, including our own; being aware in the spiritual journey can make all the difference for us in following Christ, even after the conference lights are no longer visible in our rearview mirrors.
Youth conference speaker, author and musician Chris Padgett lives with his wife and eight children in Steubenville, Ohio. His website is chris-padgett.com/