A Summer of Great Opportunity
April 15, 2016
Whether Catholic or not, most people will probably tell you that youth won’t come to summer ministry opportunities like they will during the school year because they have other things to do. People go to their cabins for the weekend, students often have summer jobs, they want to spend the time they would usually spend in school with their friends, on the beach, or on vacation. However, while that may be true in some cases, the summer months hold a wealth of opportunity for churches and their youth. I think summer ministry provides the greatest opportunities that most of our youth have to really encounter Jesus Christ in a new and authentic way. Here’s why:
- Time: Most people know that today’s youth are busier than ever before, between school, extra-curricular activities, jobs, friends, and homework, there is barely enough time to fit in the essentials, like sleep. While students are often still busy during the summer, they are almost always LESS busy. Without the obligatory 7 hours in school, and 2 or more hours of homework each day, youth have more time to focus on some of the essentials, like sleep and their spiritual lives. Even if youth use a small fraction of that additional time to focus on their relationship with Jesus, their life will be transformed. It may not happen right away, but if they continue to grow in understanding of God, become a part of the parish community in a new way, and expose themselves to new opportunities to encounter Christ, there is no way God will allow that to go to waste. God will do great things in our lives, if we just give Him the opportunity.
- Pilgrimage: With the additional time our youth have to focus on their spiritual lives, incredible opportunities are made possible. Experience continues to prove that one of the most impactful things a Christian of any age can take part in is a retreat or pilgrimage. Of course retreats are possible during the school year, but, especially for students, they typically take the form of a weekend getaway, in which the moment things are really starting to have an impact, it’s already time to go home. However, during the summer we are able to get away from our day to day lives longer, away from all the distractions, which opens us up more fully to the actions of the Holy Spirit in our lives and really gives us an opportunity to hear what God is trying to say to us. Jesus Himself was a great example of this. Before Jesus began His public ministry he went into the desert for 40 days! If Jesus went away to focus on His relationship with the Father and prepare Himself for His mission, we should be doing the same!
- Attentiveness: As I alluded to in the last point, one of the greatest difficulties that faces our youth today is the many distractions of the world. Distractions also happen to be one of the most difficult things to overcome in ministry. While youth may be physically present at church activities, they are often anything but mentally present, they are distracted by the homework they still need to finish, the game that weekend, the new cute guy on the football team, the pretty girl that finally talked to them, or one of any number of other distractions. As a result, most of what happens that night, no matter what it might be, goes in one ear and out the other. During the summer though, there often fewer distractions, and greater opportunities to overcome them. By spending more time together, and especially by getting away from day to day life for a while, even if it is just for a few hours, youth are more likely to enter in to what is going on around them, and, as a result, get more out of the experience.
- Community: Most youth will tell you that the hardest part of the summer months is not getting to see their friends as often as they do in school. Summer ministry can play a part in changing that. Along with being able to spend more time focusing on God, comes the opportunity to spend plenty of time surrounded by other Catholic youth, having fun, sharing experiences, and growing closer to God together. Few things have a greater impact on a young person’s faith than having good people surrounding them and supporting them. That is of course one of the great reasons Jesus established the Church here on earth, we are created for community life, we are not intended to wander through life alone. We are supposed to be an active part of a community of believers that helps each other along the way. Nothing builds community like spending time together with people of similar interest, and the summer months are perfect for doing exactly that.
- Priority: If a person claims that dental hygiene is important to them, they don’t take three months off from brushing their teeth. They also don’t just do the bare minimum, instead they brush twice a day, floss, use mouthwash, and go to regular checkups and cleanings. Well, if we are going to claim that Jesus plays an important part in our lives, we can’t take three months off, and we should be doing more than the bare minimum. The church doesn’t close for the summer; the Christian life is a daily walk with Christ, even when its warm outside. This often requires that we prioritize our faith over other aspects of our lives, and if we do it effectively during the summer, it will transform us. Studies show that students lose a significant part of the previous year’s learning during the summer, so much so that many schools and educational organizations are advocating for continued learning during the summer in order to combat this loss. If students are losing math and reading skills during the summer, they are certainly losing what they learned and experienced at church during the school year. If we want to develop a generation of well-formed Catholic youth, a generation of Catholics that have answers to people’s questions and doubts, Catholics that have gained the tools to evangelize their friends, and Catholics that know that God is there even when times are hard, then we should be seeking opportunities for them to continue to grow during the summer.
The summer months provide a wealth of opportunity for our youth, and you can be sure that St Patrick’s will always use those opportunities to help our youth encounter God in a way that will change their lives. We just want our youth to be here to experience it.