It would be a lie to call this past week of camp easy. It would also be a lie to call this past week of camp a "good week". This week, to be completely honest was a battle. The struggle with running a youth camp with primarily high school age volunteers is that our volunteers need camp almost more than our campers do.
Most of the staff do not attend Mass regularly, willingly. Many of them only go to Confession or Adoration at camp. They come to camp each summer seeking the Lord's presence because it is one of the few places that they actually feel connected to God. They don't know how to connect to God away from camp.
And this breaks my heart.
Each Sunday at training, I have to inform the staff they are no longer the priority. That they are essentially responsible for their own spiritual well-being this week and that camp is no longer for them, but for their campers. As much as I would love to make camp into a teen retreat as well as a children's retreat, it is impossible to do so without losing sight of what camp is for; our campers. Making it a teen retreat would mean that the staff would become those being ministered to instead of being the ministers. Our teens, particularly in this diocese, are hurting for more youth ministers, more volunteers, more retreats, more opportunities to grow in their faith. Camp is volunteer opportunity for teens but our teens need people to volunteer for them.
And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Each week, I return for camp to a world that is tearing itself apart, refusing to see past the end of its own nose. We only see our needs, our wants, our desires. How do I teach fifteen through twenty year-olds to do that when their world does not? Their youth ministers are hit and miss, their priests are at times, unreliable, their opportunities to grow closer to God are few and few in between. How can they be good and faithful servants when those around them, that they should be learning this from, are not?
The positive that came from this week was a hot and righteous indignation at what we are teaching our teens and children. I can do better at showing our youth how to volunteer and work outside of my comfort zone. More adults can volunteer at camps, PSRs, and RCIAs. More priests can volunteer for confessions at camp, Teens Encounter Christ (TEC), and the Diocesan Youth Conference (DYC). We need volunteers, we need the Body of Christ to do what we were called to do. To be His Hands, His Lips, His Heart. We need to create the positivity in our world. Those just, pure, honorable, lovely, gracious things won't happen unless we do them.
Each summer, I give the camp staff a goal. Two years ago, they were challenged to make camp all about the campers. Last summer, the goal was to keep God at the center of the camp. And this summer, I extended our goal to the campers as well. Our goal? A heartfelt Mass.
The Mass is a beautifully unique prayer, our perfect offering to God each week. But the Mass can be difficult to appreciate, something we take for granted because (ideally) we celebrate it every Sunday. To make the Mass truly heartfelt, we have a difficult challenge. The Mass should simultaneously be a type of meditative prayer (similar to the Rosary) that we do allowing us to pray without an intensely high level of focus as well as being a prayer that we are incredibly focused on. We should be actively thinking about each word we say as a congregation, each motion we make, and truly participate consciously while still allowing our hearts to simply pray in the peace of our own souls.
As the campers learn about the Mass in their religious formation classes, they are also getting to take their deeper understanding of the Mass and apply it. Their Creed they have memorized since they were old enough is explained with Scripture, they make their own Eucharistic bread, helping them to better understand that the hosts they receive are truly food, made of flour and water. Our young Catholic campers are learning to see their Mass as more than a requirement each Sunday, but as a beautiful celebration that combines Scripture and Communion into a community meal that honors the ultimate sacrifice. A heartfelt celebration of their salvation.