Every year the Archdiocese of Ottawa holds the “St. Don Bosco Gala”, in which awards are given to people for the efforts in youth ministry. This year I received the “Don Bosco: Heart of Youth Ministry” award, which considering that it’s named after the Gala itself is quite the honor.
In lieu of giving a speech, I wrote some thoughts and placed them on the Facebook event, which are as follows:
It’s around 10:50pm as I’ve started writing this, sitting comfortably at home (showing my age, perhaps!) The Gala is wrapping now probably, and when those of you attended look back I hope you’ll have fond memories of the evening.
Leading up to tonight allowed me some moments of introspection. I took time to look back at the last thirteen years being involved in youth ministry. Thinking of the faces I’ve seen, the people who came and went. Thinking of the kids I knew from a young age growing up, thinking of those who came and walked away.
The latter is particularly jarring. No one warns you about this when you start getting involved in youth ministry. You hear about fun retreats, dances, exciting music, fun evenings and events. You hear about being a mentor, about teaching and showing others what the love of Christ can do for them. All of these are amazing, and are things which kids need today. What they don’t tell you is about the times when people don’t listen, when despite seeing and feeling the love of Christ, they still move without thought. You see the trappings of society take their grip and not let go. Sometimes it starts small and grow, other times it’s a wholesale crash. It’s especially aggravating when you speak of some things with personal experience, and it’s disregarded; when you desperately want others to avoid the same mistakes you have made.
I’d like to say that it gets easier, but it doesn’t. The day that seeing people fall away becomes “easier” is the day I will stop volunteering. Because that’s when you know you haven’t invested enough into the relationships, it’s when you haven’t sought out others and you have hardened your heart to numb yourself.
Like St. Don Bosco, we’re called to have a heart for youth, with the key word being “called”. Not everyone is called to do this work, to live through the ups and downs. And there are some who are called, but they don’t listen to said call. To be honest, this is almost as frustrating as those who walk away; just *listen* to God, listen to what He places on your heart. As busy as you may be with school, your vocation, and yes – even children, be open to what God is asking you to do in your life. It’s all I ask of others, it’s all He asks of us.
None of the above changes why one does this. It hasn’t changed why I do it. Why it’s what I consider to be the most important ministry in the Church today. People say “youth are the future”, but to see the future in action puts an exclamation point on things. I’ve seen kids literally grow up during my time volunteering, seeing many start families, become missionaries, become priests or join the consecrated religious. Some even came back and volunteered at our youth program, giving back to their community what they received themselves. Seeing these kids growing up, seeing the kids present now, it reminds me that it will be the youth that provide for me when I get older, it will be the youth who instruct my son, it will be them who passes on the world to his generation. There is a need to serve those kids, a need to reach out to them. Some come from broken homes, some have received poor catechesis. Some are outcasts, maligned, with no friends. No family. We can be friends to them, we can act as brothers. Sisters. Maternal and paternal, even. Teachers, guiders. We can do all those things for them, we can stand with them. We can lead them to Christ this day, on all days. They need it, the world needs it, needs all of you to say “yes”.
So to those who have won awards, thank you for your “yes”. Your “yes” to ministry, you “yes” to Christ. I ask that you all continue to say “yes”, and to those who haven’t given it thought, consider asking God if He wants to give some of your time and heart into youth ministry.
Until next time, I leave with a quote I’ve known for years. And every time I think about it, it exemplifies to me what my answer is when people ask “do you ever think you’ll stop being active in youth ministry?”
“People think it’s an obsession, a compulsion. An irresistible impulse to act. But it’s not. I know what I’m doing, I chose this life. And on any given day I could stop doing this. Today, however, is not going to be that day. And tomorrow isn’t going to be that day either”.
God bless you all, and again, thank you for your “yes”.