Let no one look down on you because you are young

Ten years ago I wrote a reflection paper on Christian Leadership Institute. In that reflection I covered a play-by-play of the days I spent at Cathedral Camp and focused heavily on the relationships I built during my time there. 

For those of you who are unfamiliar with CLI, it’s a week-long leadership experience for high school youth around the diocese, and one I returned to pretty much every summer after “graduating” from my own. Last summer, when I interned at Brown, was the first summer I hadn’t returned in some capacity — to help with a workshop, to intern, or as a member of support team. I missed it, but truthfully, I was so busy at Brown that it took returning this summer to remind me fully of the feeling that comes with being at CLI. 

I guess you could call it the “CLI effect.” It’s a feeling of true Christian community, one where you’re entirely surrounded by the love and support of adults in the Church who live out the very principles CLI teaches. I felt this as a participant, and again this year as I was a team member for the first time. I was challenged to step back and let my group make decisions, plan events, stumble and fall — but also rise up again, better informed for the next time. 

As a participant, I always got so attached to my team leaders, and this summer I learned what it felt like to get attached to my group members. And this year, I was part of a new community. As support team, I flitted about making copies, cleaning up rooms, preparing the next activity or breaking down the one before. I darted in and out of team events, without truly experiencing the full responsibility of team. 

This year, it hit me during the closing service, as I looked around at the rest of the team I had been praying with and playing with for the past week. CLI is not only for the high school students who attend. In a very special way, it is for the team — the adults who are DREs, religious, youth and campus ministers, lay people — who so firmly believe in their Church and the youth as its future. As I looked around the darkened space we quietly sat in, listening as reflections were shared on youth in Church history and their impact on the Church today, I looked at each team member and realized that without them our youth would have no example of how to lead, of how to make that impact. It was and is a reminder to stay vigilant on our path to living a good, holy life. It was and is a reminder that we are the hands and feet of Christ. 

We are called to do His work — the making of the copies for prayer placemats, the digging around for extra songbooks so everyone can sing at Mass, the hard conversations about morality — because it was His will for us, it was His desire to see us draw one another closer to Him and to shepherd those who will come after us. 

After CLI, I returned to the Office of Faith Formation to work while I look for permanent employment in my field. Part of my tasks laid out for me upon my return is to organize the materials that had made their return to the office at the close of CLI and finalize some Marriage ministry materials. This, friends, has transformed from two projects into about 20. One of those projects has been purging the office of all old receipts and invoices, permission slips from retreats long past, and anything that looks more yellow than the folder that it’s kept in. 

How does this relate to my story about CLI? Well, over the past few weeks I’ve discovered more than just receipts and invoices, but files upon files of old Confirmation retreat materials, youth ministry programs from years ago, and activities meant to build community in a variety of settings with youth and young adults. The collector in me pauses each time, reading through, seeing if it’s anything of interest or if it’s outdated. After sorting files and files of paper, I have put aside (the polite way of saying hoarded) a small stack that I can’t quite part with. Different colored pages, all with ideas for icebreakers, team builders, and retreats for our youth. Why do I keep these? Because as a young adult, I see a gap in resources. Here I am holding countless ideas in my hand, for a community that sometimes feels nonexistent. I’m missing a community of other Catholic 25-year-olds to gather with, to believe with, to share my faith with and if this is the case then how can we expect our youth to leave CLI and feel supported and encouraged to continue their faith journey?

So this month, my request to you is twofold. First, please heed Jesus’ message to Timothy. At CLI we tell our teens to let no one look down on them because they are young. You are half of that equation. Just as much as our teens have a responsibility to stand up for themselves and to make themselves heard, you too have a responsibility to value their opinions and recognize their gifts. Give them credit, give them opportunity, and guide them. They will shine, I promise you that. 

Second, create that space for them to do that growing and to be a light for Christ. Whatever that means to you — asking them to lector at Mass (even if they’re shy and even if they’re nervous), encouraging them to take the lead on the community service project your youth group is leading, or taking some of your students aside to start a youth group if one doesn’t yet exist. Inform them, give them information about retreats, ask them to write a talk for a Confirmation retreat you’re running, put the call out for volunteers. 

If CLI was any indication of our youth’s desire to live out a Christian life of leadership, then they will show up … sometimes you just have to give them the opportunity.

Anchor columnist Renee Bernier graduated from Stonehill College and is a graduate student in the College Student Personnel Program at James Madison University in Harrison, Va.

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