23 Aug 2009
“As for me and my household, we [choose to] serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)
Fr. Randy Calvo
Our 36th annual Diocesan Youth Retreat is now history. I was feeling a sense of accomplish-ment on Thursday. I survived another excursion out in the woods, my 25th actually. Then someone comes over to me and says, “Only 51 more weeks until we come back Father.” These kids really like the Retreats. They really like each other. I’m sad on Sunday; they’re sad on Thursday. And their enthusiasm is contagious. It was one of our larger gatherings with some 110 full and part time participants. I say “some” because some of these kids are small. I was in charge of one cabin of 8 to 10 year old boys along with Carl Sittard from Westfield, but Carl had to take his son from the Retreat to band camp every morning and then he would return in the early afternoon. I’m trying to get all my boys up and out for Mass on Monday. I shoo them out of the cabin to start walking to the Rec Hall. They’re telling me there’s one more inside. I go back, take a look around, see no one, and tell them we have to get going. They insist there’s one more kid inside. I go back a second time and sure enough this tiny little kid, Fr. Rogalski’s young son, is scrunched up in an even tinier little ball beneath his blanket. It’s the first morning and I had already lost one kid. That can’t be good I thought to myself.
But there were extenuating circumstances. I could have been delirious from the heat. The one word I kept using to explain how hot and humid it was, was “brutal.” Plus, the kids started telling ghost stories to each other that first night. Everything is fine until lights-out when ghosts can become real in a creaky old cabin in the middle of the woods. So one kid decides he needs to sleep with a night light on. The next morning I told his mother who was a chaperone for the girls that it was like a spot-light. It’s hot. I’m sweating in my bunk and now I have this light shining in my eyes all night. Then towards morning but before all the young ones get up, I went to take my shower. I pass my baby blue mini-van and what I thought were early morning shadows turned out to be hundreds of post-it notes pasted all over my car, from top to bottom and from front to back. The notes had Bible verses written on them which the perpetrators came up with to tie in with our Retreat theme of “Spread the Word.” So I had to clean up all of them before I could even take my shower. It’s no wonder when Mass time finally arrived that I accidently lost one of my kids. I was exhausted and it was only Monday.
On Monday evening the United Youth Association delegates to our Youth Commission had come up with the idea of a “Preach-Off.” They assigned kids to write sermons and to deliver them, then they asked Fr. Soltysiak, Fr. Nemkovich, Kristin and myself to serve as judges a la American Idol. Fr. Joe did a great job as the mean-spirited Simon, I guess I came across as a bit gentler to the kids, and pretty soon they were calling me Paula as in Paula Abdul. Monday finally came to an end with our 11 o clock lights-out. Or at least I thought it had come to an end. On Tuesday morning we came to discover that over night, somewhere around 3AM, energetic Retreat participants decided to decorate the cafeteria with hundreds of balloons and streamers. Again, their rational was that if the balloons were covered with Scripture quotes it would all become a part of our Retreat theme. Where in the world did they find the energy to get up in the middle of the night, blow up all these balloons and hang all these streamers? Plus, once they were caught they had to wash all of our lunch dishes. They did them while singing out church hymns at the top of their voices.
There were no post-it notes or balloons on Tuesday night and maybe that’s why the kids had so much energy when it came to their cabin skits on Wednesday evening. There was a lot of music and action involved in these little productions. The parable of the sower was depicted by throwing little kids down on pillows and sleeping bags to represent the seed that fell along the path, among the thorns, etc. One group of older boys sang a song, but when they found out that they couldn’t write any more lyrics they decided to have a huge chipmunk run across the stage. Why in the world anyone would have a huge chipmunk outfit with them anyway I cannot even begin to imagine. Another set of girls sang and danced out “I want you to hear God’s Word” to the Cheap Trick song “I want you to love me.” That one was pretty cool. But I give credit to all the kids. Sometimes it’s like pulling teeth when you want them to participate in a Christmas play or something, but when they write it out themselves, direct themselves and present it to other kids, they come right out of their shells. I’ve said it before, and I guess I have to say it again, that these are really good kids. They have friendships that have lasted over the years and the distances among them, and I think our churches are the better for it.
Retreats can also put things in perspective. There are no mirrors on the boys’ side of the camp, for example. I did not see my face from Sunday through Thursday. You kind of just comb your hair by memory without a mirror. You don’t know how you look, and you know, it’s O.K. You survive. Appearance becomes much less important. Fr. Joe and I turned the water sprinkler on some kids while they were doing a team-building exercise. Their pants and shirts got pretty gunky once the lawn got wet. But as one of the camp staff said: “It’s O.K. It’s camp.” I always look forward to meeting up with Heidi at the Camp. She’s the number two person up there. She knows I hate the woods and more than a few times she’ll end up saying, “Oh Fr. Calvo.” Her tee-shirt the first day read “Enlightenment begins where the pavement ends.” There is a certain truth to that even for a guy who is not a big fan of nature. When we worry less about the things that our world thinks are so important, we can focus on the things we think are important. And maybe that is the beginning of enlightenment.
One of the reasons I think our Youth Retreats are so important is because I think they help our kids to count church as important. Church has more of a chance to become not just a place but a community. These kids enjoy one another, and those feelings are tied together with church. That’s well worth a few hot and dirty days out in the woods. And that idea of choosing our priorities also ties in with this parish’s 80th anniversary. Eight decades ago some 400 people had to count church as a priority in their lives or else this community of Holy Name of Jesus would never have come to life. They couldn’t only come to Mass and count that as enough. They had to make real sacrifices for us to be here today. As we celebrate our 80th anniversary as church, let us pray that we may also count church as a priority. We don’t have to build a new church, but each generation has to renew its church. That has to be a choice not a command. It has to be something we see as important. Let us pray not for numbers but for spirit, because if we are passionate about our church the numbers will follow. So may we count church, this church, as a priority in our lives. May we choose to follow Christ through this community because there is a difference between going to church and believing in church, and that we may come to feel this difference, for these things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)