I'm embarrassed to say that I don't have a love of the poor like St. Francis. I suppose on one hand that is what Pope Francis is doing----challenging us and making us see our weakness and how we can improve our spiritual self. On the other hand---I just don't have a love for the poor. I wish I did because I feel bad that I don't. I wish I could be one of these people who want to move to Kenya and build schools and cisterns but I don't. Heck, I even wish I felt a desire to go to St. James Place or Catholic Worker House to help feed the poor. But I don't want to do that either. I don't desire it at all.
I feel a little better when I tell people that my passion and what I love to do is to be involved in Youth Ministry and they tell me, "Oh, there's no way I could do that." I enjoy being with teenagers and helping them learn about their faith and helping plant seeds that may not see fruition until many years later.
I found this calling in 1999. We were putting my oldest daughter into a catholic school that was tuition based--meaning as long as you were tithing parishioners the church would pay for your kids education and they could go there for free ("free" being a loose term--there were always fees of some sort or another.) Well, we couldn't afford to tithe a full 10% of our income so we tithed what we could and I decided to get involved in volunteer work of some sort or another at my parish. I volunteered to help out with the Senior High Youth Group at my local parish.
Since that time, I've helped catechize hundreds of teens. I've been on numerous trips, countless lock-ins and God only knows how much time I've spent ministering to teens. It has not always been pretty. I know there have been times I've left church just exhausted or frustrated.
But looking back---I love it. I love it so much. I don't think I would have explored my own faith if it weren't for youth ministry. I don't think I would have gone as far down the rabbit hole on my own spiritual journey if it was not for youth ministry. I love sitting with a group of kids and talking with them about God and Catholicism. I enjoy the outlet to be goofy and fun.
It's not always easy and it's the grace that God gives me in those difficult times that reinforces that I'm where He wants me. It's been a little more difficult this last several months. I changed parishes recently and this is my first year being involved in the youth program at my new parish. I don't feel like I've found my niche quite yet or know exactly what is expected of me as opposed to my last parish where I knew exactly what was expected and I knew what the Youth Minister needed even before she asked.
To make things even more difficult is the fact that LifeTeen ends the same time I'm supposed to be at work. Fortunately, my boss allows me to adjust my hours a little on Sunday nights and go in a little late and stay a little late in the morning. This has made my Sunday's very stressful. I don't have a lot of time to breathe. I get off work in the morning, sleep and by the time I wake up I have enough time to get something to eat, pack my uniform up, pack up my lunch and shower just in time for me to make it to mass. Right after mass is LifeTeen and then it's time to go to work and the next morning I'm getting off work late and getting home just in time to get the trash out, get my son to school and then back home to bed.
A couple of months ago I was feeling this stress--the combination of not quite feeling my groove along with being stressed because of the rush of the day left me at the beginning of mass wanting to be anyplace else. I didn't want to be at mass. I didn't want to go to LifeTeen. I was wondering if this might be the end for my participation in youth ministry.
Then a funny thing happened----mass. I was put as peace and rest. The music was fantastic (which is why I love Sunday evening mass. The musicians do a great job of remaining part of the background and they play a mix of traditional Catholic songs along with contemporary music---the Matt Maher type of contemporary not that 1980's Bread of Life-stab-me-in-the-eye-with-a dull-pencil contemporary music) The came the sign of peace. I turned around and there was one of my LifeTeen kids. She had the type of smile on her face that said "I'm so glad to see you!" and instantly I was a peace. This is why I'm here. Yes, I love youth ministry because of the fun and enjoyment I get out of it---but ultimately---it's the kids.
So another funny thing happened. This time was just yesterday. I felt the same way. I was very stressed out getting preparing and getting ready for mass. I even discussed with Abby that maybe we need to go to Saturday evening mass (which I don't really want to do because of the reasons discussed above.) So again, I go to mass stressed out. And again, at the sign of peace, I turn around and who is there---the same girl. It was like God whacking upside the head with a 2 x 4 and yelling at me, "Hey dummy--how many times do I have to tell you? This is where you are supposed to be!"
Maybe I shouldn't be embarrassed for not having that passion for the poor like Pope Francis does. But maybe my mission fields doesn't have to be huts or soup kitchens. Maybe my mission fields are class rooms and buses. I do know this. Teens are just as hungry as the poor. They are just in search of a different type of nourishment.