“‘Strive to enter through the narrow gate …’”(Luke 13:24)In the name …
Last Sunday while many of you were still enjoying the parish’s chicken barbecue I was heading out into the woods of Goshen for our annual diocesan Youth Retreat.We had a good turnout of kids from our parish, a total of 14 participants from Holy Name, our best ever.So anyway I arrive at camp around 5PM.I’m literally not there more than two or three minutes and I get into trouble.Kristin and Amanda’s friends come charging toward the van as we drive in, doors fly open and it’s like a swarm of killer bees attacking their victim.I want to park the van so I begin to drive to the parking lot with kids hanging out of the open van doors.Then the camp director swoops out of nowhere and yells at me for breaking camp safety rules.That director is Heidi.So for the rest of the week the catch phrase was “rule breaker, rule breaker” and I haven’t even got out of my car yet.
It was Amber, Brandi and Alyssa’s first trip to our Retreat, and it was also a first for Braeden because he stayed in my cabin with the younger boys for the first time.He started coming last year when he was only six.The Retreat begins for kids at age eight, but if a parent is a chaperone then they can come when they’re younger.So this year he set out on his own and stayed with me in one of the boy’s cabins.His bunk was right above another boy’s who when he took his sneakers off yelled out proudly how really bad they smelled, and then proceeded to wave the sneaker throughout the cabin.That presence never completely went away.Braeden was coming and going from Retreat because of soccer camp, and he wasn’t able to stay with us on Wednesday night.A kid in the bunk next to his asked where he was, and the good person that I am, I told the kid Braeden was taken by a bear.Eyes opened wide, jaw dropped.No problem keeping that kid in the cabin after lights out on our last night!
On Monday we woke up to an overcast and showery day, but at least the kids had the bright spot of hearing my lecture that morning on our Retreat theme of “Living on a Prayer.”Of course it was the highlight of their week, even if Mary Tudryn did have to call me up last night when she was getting her Retreat scrapbook page together for the parish and ask me to remind her what my session was about.That evening, speaking of Mary, we held something called “Christian Olympics.”It’s a bunch of team-games that the kids compete in.While the younger group of those who are 8 to 12 years old are playing, I’m over to the side reading the Boston Globe.But while I’m worrying about world events, Mary is off playing games with the children, giving them instructions, supervising, corralling, herding, you know just having a good time.She comes over after the games and sarcastically thanks me for all the help, but I told her that I was sending good vibes her way through prayer.I was just trying to give a good example of the power of prayer since it was our week’s theme.
On Wednesday night we put on our cabin skits.We were the first cabin to go.Now mind you we were supposed to be planning for this since Sunday.We have nothing by Wednesday.Mary gives us the idea of having the kids spend some free time at Arts and Crafts that afternoon where they can make fancy letters spelling out the word “Prayer,” and then we can have them line up and do a little skit about our Retreat theme.Well instead, with about a half hour of free time left, my chaperone partner takes out notebook paper and a green marker and makes the letters for the word “prayer,” and writes a sentence tying each letter into the theme. [*] We don’t even practice.When it comes time for our skit, the boys are holding the letters backwards, turning themselves sideways, well, it just wasn’t pretty.Mary says to me afterwards that she’s never going to try helping us again.
In one of the girl’s skits, Brandi played me.And when some of the other girls came to Fr. Randy’s church to pray and Fr. Randy started to sing they all, including our own Bridget Lashway, start yelling out, “My ears are bleeding, my ears are bleeding.”The older girls who included Kristin, Emily, Amber and Amanda took the time to write their own song about prayer based on the song Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, which they proceeded to sing rather nicely to the rest of us.All of that was nice enough, but it’s only because they were challenged to do the best they could once our cabin had set the bar so very high.
That night at the bonn fire the 4-H Camp staff led us in camp skits and songs.Heidi asked me to be a part of one.I offered to be the trunk, but Heidi said I’d make a better engine. We played a car that kept getting flat tires so that the driver had to go into the trunk to get the pump to blow them back up.As the engine.I’m down on hands and knees.Then the car starts to have engine problems and I’m supposed to cough and make all kinds of noises.Then Heidi, of course Heidi, says, “Oh no the engine is on fire!”Then I begin to realize what’s coming next and I start yelling, “No engine fire, no engine fire!”, but it was too late.I got doused by a pitcher of cold water.
The next day is the long-awaited Thursday.On the first night we had a chaperones’ meeting and we were asked to watch the kids to see which one of them most exemplified Retreat Spirit.Then on our last day together we present them with the Jason Fairclough award, named after the friend of mine who was driving back to Scranton after our Retreat in 2003 when he died in a car accident.This year that award went to Kristin Calvo who was the first one in the seven years of the award who was voted on unanimously.I’m not even eligible, but I nominated myself.One of the chaperones voted for Kristin, he said, in spite of Fr. Calvo.
This morning’s Gospel shares with us Jesus’ words to “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.”Faith can be fun, healing and hope-filled.The practice of religion can be supportive and joyous.But for any of this to happen it has to first be chosen, and sadly in our day and age it is not chosen as often as it should be.It is truly the narrow gate.But prayerfully our Retreats can help our young people to feel closer to Christ and church.Prayerfully they can learn the blessings found in this community and also in their private prayer lives where God puts everything else aside to listen to us. Prayerfully these Retreats can build the connections among friends that support each other in life, and can bring us closer together as pastor, parishioner and parish so that church isn’t an obligation but a choice.We thank God for letting us share in our time together this past week. We pray that it made a difference for the good among our young people.And we pray that it may have helped them to choose the narrow gate, and for this we pray in Jesus’ name.Amen. (+)