“‘I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others the Son of Man will acknowledge before the angels of God.’”(Luke 12:8)In the name …
Bp. Mikovsky opened Convo as the host bishop by saying that Covno was the highlight of his year.Prime Bp. Nemkovich concluded Convo, his last one as our Prime Bishop, by saying that he was leaving there energized.Our bishop, Bp. Gnat, was seen crying a little bit in the Sanctuary during the last Mass of Convo because this will be his last Convo as an active bishop of our church.As we were leaving Convo I would usher one kid into the van and go get another one who just had to say one last good-bye.Then when I brought that one to the van, the previous one would be back outside talking again. It was like mercury on top of a table.None of them were ready to leave except for the driver who had the van packed and gassed-up at 7AM, six hours earlier.
And it all began this past Monday when we pulled out of the rectory driveway around 8AM.By 8:05 I’m the only one awake in the car.We arrive at an absolutely beautiful, manicured MonmouthUniversity around 12:30pm.The center of the campus is the gilded-age mansion of the owner of the Woolworth’s Department Store.As a matter of fact, it’s the mansion used during the filming of the movie Annie.It sure didn’t look like New Jersey to me.The next day all 196 of us got on school buses for the hour and a half drive to Ellis and LibertyIslands.That drive was not the highlight of the Convo for any of us.When we finally arrived at Ellis Island we held a Prayer Service at the spot where Bp. Hodur’s name is engraved on the Immigrant Wall of Honor.The only problem was that some alarm started almost as soon as we did, and then to add insult to injury, it ended only a couple of minutes after our Service.Even though everything didn’t work perfectly, I think it was important for these teenagers to know about the immigrant history of our church denomination.Our founders came over with nothing but their hopes and their faith.And it took an awful lot of work and struggle to transform these ideals into our church.Sometimes church comes across as easy, something to do when you feel like it, and that’s why it’s important that we remind our next generation of adults and leaders that church requires effort and commitment.
To compensate for the school bus transportation on Tuesday, that night we were treated to the comedy of the ventriloquist Taylor Mason.He was actually a finalist on the Last Comic Standing.One of my favourite jokes was when he asked his puppet-pig what kind of people he liked the most, and the pig answered, “The Jews.They don’t eat pigs.”The next morning we were able to hear Duffy Robbins speak to the Convo.He’s a college professor and published author on youth ministry.He was right on target when he presented our theme of the Commandments not as cold-legalese, but as guideposts for our relationship with God.It’s like Jesus in today’s Gospel.He emphasizes relationship:If you acknowledge me in your life, I will acknowledge you in the next life.If you acknowledge me before others, I will acknowledge you before God.It’s not commandments and law; it’s Jesus and relationship.Duffy Robbins got that message across with a lot of laughs so that the kids were learning without even realizing it, and that truly is a gift.
My friend Kathy McIlwee took good care of me at Convo, but I have to tell this story anyway because her presentation ran into a few more problems than did Duffy Robbins.Her presentation was a very serious one about some of the extremely important choices that teenagers simply have to make in their usual daily lives.One of those topics was sex.She was speaking about urges and goals, and that we should not be ruled by the momentary urge but instead by the long-term goal.Then she grew very serious and wanted to tell all of the teenagers that sex should be recognized as an urge.Instead, she told those young, impressionable people that sex should be their goal.That place erupted and her face turned beat red.It’s my job as her friend to make sure she never ever forgets that line.
That evening we played Are You Smarter Than …?I was a member of the clergy team that played against the teenagers.I don’t do very well in these things.Jamie Kotula is this very nice young man from Scranton, and a friend of Kristin’s.I whisper to Jamie just before we start, “If you let me win, I’ll put in a good word for you with Kristin.”He didn’t know how to respond.I hoped I had him flustered, but he still beat me anyway.
Our last night together was spent on the JerseyShore.Again, I couldn’t believe it was Jersey.Three local Convo alumni each chipped in $300 so that the Convo Committee could hire a DJ for music.If they ever post any of the videos I’ll share them with the parish.You have to see Fr. Carmen Bolock sing lead vocals to Bruce Springstein’s Old Time Rock and Roll while backed-up by among others, Bp. Anthony Mikovsky, who in his younger days played for ten years in a garage band.As the night wore on there must have been 170-180 kids, clergy and chaperones dancing and singing along with the music.People on the boardwalk above all of this stopped and even started to dance along too.
I was so proud of our church at that moment:Our bishops out there dancing and having a great time with the kids, the teenagers whooping it up, and all as church.In a lot of these kinds of situations you have to worry about what the kids may do, but I’m telling you as I tell you almost every year, we are blessed with really, really good kids in this church of ours.I am absolutely convinced that church makes a difference in a young person’s life.Church can transform a cold legalistic religion of commandments into a relationship with Jesus, and I truly believe that this makes a difference in the choices kids make, choices that they must confront every day as teenagers between urges and goals.
And lastly when they post it eventually on the web I’ll share with you about 20 bishops, priests and deacons singing an old Convo Sacred Vocations song, which is sung to the tune of The YMCA. (*) For our church to grow, for the good work we do with our young people, we need priests.We need parishioners who move from the pews to the sanctuary.We need the ones whom Jesus has called and who understand the goals and needs of our church to say “Yes” to His invitation.Two young men came up to me at Convo and said they were seriously thinking about the priesthood.They’re in their mid-teens.The hard part is getting them to seriously consider the priesthood in their late teens and early twenties.And for that to happen we all need to pray for them, we need to pray for Sacred Vocations.
I know I give these kids a hard time.I was in the middle of a group-hug forced upon me in the parking lot as we were trying to leave for home and I’m yelling out about teenage-cooties, but these are good kids, and we should do what we can to make sure that they feel comfortable here in worship and that they feel they are appreciated as a part of our church community.And in turn I hope and pray that they will give themselves to this church, so that they can continue to build this church of ours.For these things we pray in Jesus’ name.Amen.