They have gone the distance

During the closing ceremonies of Christian Leadership Institute I challenged the graduates to “now, go out and make a difference in the world.” As the director of this year’s CLI experience, I had the honor of participating in the closing ceremony for our 2015 graduates. Seated in the audience, as CLI grads conducted their own graduation ceremony, I reflected on the week that we had just spent together. On Saturday afternoon, these young people gathered as strangers, not knowing what to expect from each other or from the team. They bid farewell to their parents and began a process that would most likely foster their leadership potential and heighten their awareness of leadership and ministerial roles and responsibilities as Catholic Christian disciples. By Thursday, they had bonded such that I’ve not seen in 27 years of CLI closings. What an awesome group!

Every CLI begins with a reading from Paul’s Letter to Timothy. As we know from Scripture, Paul went from town to town sharing the message of Jesus with everyone. Before he left each town, however, he always left behind a new teacher, someone whom he had enabled as a minister, an elder who was respected as a leader in the community. But in one town, he could not find such an elder, so he called a young man named Timothy. This young Timothy became the first youth leader of the New Testament. As Paul continued his ministry in other towns, he supported Timothy through letters. Here is part of Paul’s message sent to Timothy, “Let no one look down upon you because you are young, but be an example to all in speech and behavior, in love, faithfulness and purity. Devote your attention to the public reading of the Scriptures, to teaching and to prayer. Do not neglect the Spiritual gifts you possess, which was given to you through the laying on of hands by the elders as a body. Make these matters the most important things in your life, so that your progress may be seen by all. Keep strong in them, with a close watch on yourself and your teaching, for by doing so you will further your own Salvation and that of the people who listen to you.” Before he left, Paul designated Timothy as leader and teacher by laying his hands on Timothy. This is a powerful message and the basis of what CLI is all about. 

With the message of Timothy in mind, the elders of the CLI community, the team, worked with the candidates throughout the week-long experience. Daily sessions focused on the art of leadership; communication skills, leadership styles, group dynamics and planning skills. Other sessions explored various aspects of Catholic Christian discipleship, and how that is embodied through prayer and Liturgy, moral decision-making, Sacramental living and service. CLI participants were challenged to use their skills and talents in planning sessions for specific portions of the daily program: morning wake-up, morning and night prayer, meal blessings, daily Liturgy and evening socials. Despite this full schedule, there was still time for relaxation and recreation, which provided the opportunity to build a strong, vibrant community. Candidates were encouraged to reflect each day and to consider what the materials presented and their own experiences tell them about themselves, their gifts, skills, and their faith and community identity. The graduates of this particular CLI were probably one of the most enthusiastic and caring groups we’ve encountered in the 27 years of the program. The Church and our world are in good hands with these young leaders.

Now as we return the graduates of CLI 2015 to their parents and parishes, we thank God for the gift of these young people in our diocese. We have prepared and challenged them to go out and make a difference in the world. We hope and pray that their schools, churches and communities will welcome them back with open arms and will support them in their continued development as leaders. They are a treasure that has been discovered. Let not the treasure be wasted nor squandered. Let us continue to invest in this treasure. May the elders of the communities, our parents, our priests, our teachers, reach out to these and all young people — not just with lip service but with action. They can and should be lectors, special ministers of Holy Communion, catechists, youth ministers, in the choir and on the parish council. They can and should be involved in every ministry of the parish — not just youth group or youth council. They should be an integral part of every parish and included in every aspect of parish life. They should be asked and consulted on all things that affect them. I have heard too often the statement, “Where are the young people? Why aren’t they in church? Why do they disappear after Confirmation?” The answer to these questions is our challenge as elders. They are the Church of today, not tomorrow. May we encourage them to develop their gifts and talents and to exercise their leadership potential now. Our world and our Church will be better for it. 

To paraphrase the CLI theme song, graduates — remember, “Don’t look back — stay on track — don’t accept defeat. It will be an uphill slope but don’t lose hope — till you go the distance, and your journey is complete!” Congratulations to the graduates of CLI 2015. 

Anchor columnist Deacon Frank Lucca is a permanent deacon in the Diocese of Fall River, a youth minister at St. Dominic’s Parish in Swansea, and a campus minister at UMass Dartmouth. He is married to his wife of 36 years, Kristine, and the father of two daughters and their husbands, and a 16-month-old grandson. Thanks to the incredible CLI team for all you did for our young candidates! Comments, ideas or suggestions? Email him at DeaconFrankLucca@comcast.net.

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