Monday, July 17, 2006
God's Unchanging Love
I just got in from a Youth Conference at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, where I helped chaperone teens from the Parish in Rochester, NY, where I play guitar in the band each week for Life Teen services. Life Teen is exactly what the name implies; church services geared specificity for our younger next generation. Life Teen is a Catholic nationwide movement, and Church of Annunciation has been sponsoring almost two years now.
This year the Youth Conference's theme was titled "Unchanging" a very well described theme describing God's unchanging and unconditional love for us. The exact attendance figures, I am not sure of, but my estimate is at least 2500 people; anotherwords---Big!!
Our busload from Rochester totaled 54 teens and adult chaperones. We left Rochester, Friday morning, arriving in Stuebinville, checking into a local school nearby serving as a dorm , bedding us down that weekend. We all dropped our gear off, and boarded our bus to the Franciscan University, and joined the endless appearing crowds gathering there. Bus after countless bus pulled up and unloaded teens (and chaperones) from all over the country and Canada.
The first Friday night event was an eye opener to say the least, but I was informed it was merely a prelude to the Saturday event culminating in the evening. Between the early start for me, the long bus ride, and hitting the ground at a run in Steubenville, by the time we got bussed back to out dorm, late Friday night, my eyes snapped shut at the instant my head hit the pillow. My other two chaperones with me kidded me all the next day about how fast I fell asleep! Our accommodations were a hard gym floor, a sleeping bag, and my flannel shirt, my pillow. There must have been over 200 kids sharing the gym with me! The morning brought a nice shower, and thank God for Starbucks coffee to pump me up for the upcoming schedule that first full day on campus.
The morning sessions included praise and worship, followed by mass, then a men's (as well as women's) seperate workshop sessions for us, lunch, then our choice of various workshops offered to us. Later that afternoon, there was a chaperone's workshop to "prepare" us for what would take place later that evening. We were nicely informed about the night events, and how the young people were vulnerable to emotional break-downs from the excitement they would experience. We were made aware of things like hyper-ventilating, hysteria, uncontrollable laughter, etc. which may occur in some when things got under way.
I must admit a tiny bit of selfishness on my part as to my chaperone role. You see, already, I was becoming overloaded with the holy spirit myself, even before the "Main Event". After that workshop, I stayed there in the chapel to pray. A guy was playing guitar and some were singing with him, while Father "J" offered prayer. I moved up to the front pew, and started singing with everyone, but soon, choked up, and tears started pouring out in spite of me in the midst of all these strangers. Time stopped for me, as I prayed, sobbed, sang, prayed........ I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder. It was one of other chaperones sent to drag me out of the chapel, for dinner was underway, and scheduling was tight.I almost did not go; I was in the spirit totally. I left the chapel, and tried to eat, but couldn't. I guess I was full from the prayer and worship that seemed more natural than physically eating food. Than, it was time to get to the Main Event of the weekend. Even though I had just attended the chaperone's workshop and knew we all were in for an emotional evening, I still was not prepared for what came next.
The Finnigan's Fieldhouse was packed to the seams, the electricity was just about visible in the thick air, the teens were revved as if they were at a major rock concert. The event, titled "The unchanging power of the Holy Spirit" got into full swing, the band was rocking the house, and by the time they rolled into Eucharistic Adoration, sure enough, as predicted, kids started to freak out in all the ways they described earlier. I found myself on my knees, my arms reaching for the sky, the tears streaming down my face, moved like never before. Physically, I must not have been there to feel my knee-caps becoming one with the hard floor, or my arms sky-high for time out of reckoning. A friend had slipped a soft kneeling cushion under my knees, but I still couldn't feel the fatigue from my raised arms so long. Nothing mattered except worship and adoration. Slowly, I realized that my hysteria was quelched, and the adoration was more intense than ever. To exactly recall what took place inside me would be impossible to describe, but I felt a calmness amist the loud surroundings, no more uncontrollable emotions; but the most definitive awareness where everything became so crystal clear in my brain, as if gazing through a high powered telescope image but with my naked eyes. I knew then that I would make some life-altering changes in my life, starting then. I knew then, that my hunger for the Lord's presence had magnified to the power of 10 if not, 100. I stumbled out of there knowing changes had taken place; boy had they! We gathered up our group, and talked about our experiences that night. I was startled at how a couple of the teens who seemed disconnected before, were now talking with amazing clarity and relevance. Later that night when we got back to our rock hard "beds" I think I konked out even before my head hit my flannel shirt pillow!
At mass the next morning, I found myself moving to the front of the alter when asked if anyone was considering giving their life to the Lord. Like Father Stan said, it was not yet the exact time to get measured for my frock, but I knew a change had come, decisions made, and a conviction to give the future up to the will of Jesus. I know not what doors will be opened for me, or when, but I stand at the brink of a proverbial cliff, toes on the edge, waiting to plunge. I may back up a bit, and re-approached the cliff, many times before I jump, but when I am clearer on what God's will is, it will be done.