Monday, July 13, 2009

Catholic Youth Witness

Sometimes our kids surprise us in good ways.

Saturday when my younger daughter, Michelle, returned from Falls Creek she was so tired she could barely keep awake during Mass. However, after Mass, she hopped in my car, opting to ride home with me rather than her Dad. We arrive at our parish for Vigil Mass in different cars out of expediency, because I get off from work just before I need to be at church which is very close to my place of employment, and not because we don't like each other or particularly like traveling separately. Usually dear daughter (DD) chooses to go home with Dad so she can get in some extra practice driving time; she’s hoping to test for her license next month. I was just flattered she wanted to see me more than she wanted to drive! And after a week’s separation, I confess, my mother’s eyes and ears were hungry for her face and voice.

Last year when she went to Falls Creek, I awaited Michelle's return with trepidation. I hadn’t wanted her to go. She was only fifteen. It had been a difficult year followed by an even more stressful summer. Although I stayed home with and homeschooled our children since infancy, they began attending public school that year—for many reasons. Michelle was in 9th grade; she began wearing make-up, cut and started straightening her hair. She began to look very different … from the outside. But what I wondered – and constantly worried about – was, what was going on, on the inside?

She’d wanted to go to this camp and it threatened to be the big issue of the summer. I asked around. People assured me Falls Creek was lots of prayer, music, preaching, fun and fellowship, but not much sleep. The Baptist counselors would ensure her physical and moral safety. I still had doubts about the spiritual environment. How would she weather that? Was she strong enough to withstand the pressure from 7000 non-Catholic Christians, some of whom would be bent on convincing her that much—if not all—she’d been brought up to believe was wrong? And yet, when was I going to ‘let her go’? When was I going to begin to trust her? She was a good girl, smart, honest, polite (mostly) and worthy of the opportunity. And, she wanted to go so very much…

After much soul searching, prayer, discussion and yes, some anguish, we agreed.

I waited and prayed.

Before Michelle left, I would have described her as an average Catholic, not especially devout perhaps but I knew she received the Sacraments regularly and read her Bible every night before bed. Like many young teens, although she’d been baptized and raised in the Faith from the cradle, she sometimes seemed to take her Faith for granted—or at least that’s how it appeared on the outside. However, that’s also how I’d describe her outward attitude toward family … and yet everyone (including Michelle!) tells me I’m wrong. She cares very deeply; it’s just not “cool” to show such things.

In any event, she returned … not only Catholic, but almost militantly so! The pressure to ‘give her life to Jesus’ offended my DD who was thoroughly convinced she had already given her life over to Jesus Christ. She stood firm—or perhaps stubborn…? Who am I to say? I wasn’t there.

She loved the music, endured the non-stop praying, and spoke of being exhausted. She joked about some of the things she saw and heard there, but took umbrage at others. Her overall assessment, “I’m glad I’m Catholic!”

In April of this year she received the Sacrament of Confirmation.

A few weeks ago when Michelle expressed a desire to return to Falls Creek, I was a little surprised. “I thought you said they prayed too much? And didn’t they try really hard to get you to ‘give your life to Jesus’?” Yes, yes, all that, she agreed, but she still wanted to go. Her friends were going. It was fun. They had a great ropes course!

Also, I knew this could be the last summer before she’d have a regular job which would probably preclude youthful things like camps. So… she went back.

“You know what one of the counselors said to me?” she began recounting her experiences from this year. “We were all dancing to the music and it was so great and everyone was having a wonderful time. And he leans over and says, ‘I bet you don’t have this at St. Philip Neri, do you?’”

Michelle apparently didn’t answer, but she did get angry. The man’s attempt to make a point backfired on him. Instead, she was offended and put off. “You know, Mom, I went there and listened to all that they told me all week long – even though I didn’t agree with a lot of it – and I didn’t tell any of them they were wrong to believe like they do. Why did he have to say that?”

Later she did have a one-on-one with two of the more receptive adult counselors and she told them that although she appreciated her time there, she still couldn’t accept some of their ideas.

For example, Michelle asked, “You mean if I was to kill someone after I ‘accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior’, I’d still go to Heaven?” ‘Yes’ said the lady. “Well, I can’t believe that,” my daughter answered her. “I believe in sin and forgiveness and going to Confession. And I do believe there is Purgatory.” She told me that she went on to explain things to these adults such as Apostolic Succession, the Sacraments and the Real Presence.

“They didn’t have much to say except that I could always tell Jesus I was sorry anytime I wanted. I know that. But I explained why confessing your sins to a priest is the same as telling them to Jesus.” I wanted to stop the car, pull over to the side of the road and hug her. I kept on driving.

She told me she watched her peers – all of them but her – go up for the ‘altar call’ and still she didn’t go. Why? “When those other kids went up there this week, the adults asked them all these questions and they just kind of went along with whatever they said,” she told me. “But I accepted Jesus a long time ago. I just knew one day, I wanted to do what Jesus wants me to. I don’t remember exactly what day it was, but I know I came and told you.”

I’m sure she did too. I wish I had a better memory. I wish I could recall that wonderful day all those years ago. Sadly, I probably wasn’t paying attention. That’s why I’m writing all this down now … before I forget this incredible testimony. God bless you my dear daughter. I am so very proud of you!

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