I’ve been on a mountaintop for the last three days, and up here in the rare air with me have been over 23,000 other climbers. Most of my fellow climbers wore funny hats, didn’t need as much sleep as me, were loud and rowdy and go to high school. Here at NCYC (the National Catholic Youth Conference which just adjourned in Indianapolis), the teens travel in packs and have this sort of 0ff-the-hook spirit that made me feel at once both joyfully alive and profoundly old.
It’s been three days of lessons learned, three days that will forever change my perception of our young Church. To say that these kids rock is the understatement of the century. They fill my heart with hope. They inspire me. I want to be like them when I grow up.
Amidst all of the awesome Matt Maher concerts, Popple jams and Fr. Leo Patalinghug and Mark Hart keynotes, there are too many incredible takeaways to describe. But honestly, it’s one random ten minute encounter that I had last night which will most profoundly shape my NCYC memories.
I’d finished a full day of meetings, it was (literally) freezing outside, and Mass was going to be beginning soon. My feet hurt, my ears were ringing, and the Room Service menu and an very quiet Sunday morning Mass were beckoning. But some prompting of the Holy Spirit encouraged me to throw on my running shoes and an extra layer and to head to the stadium where the Colts play on Sundays to witness Mass with the teens.
As I descended the hotel elevator, I randomly asked if anyone knew a path to the stadium which would minimize my time outside in the elements. One very tall teen came to my rescue. “D” (as I’ll call him, to protect his true identity) was not only kind enough to tell me how to cut through the Convention Center. He actually suggested that we walk together–he would lead me there! The cynical side of me doubted that this totally cool kid would really want to spend ten minutes with me. All around him were adorable teens just waiting to be met and hung out with. When I tried to give D the easy out with an “I’m a slow walker, you can just tell me the way,” excuse, he reiterated his invitation. “We can talk,” he said kindly.
What followed was a moment of grace. In those few moments that it took us to get to Mass, D shared his college application progress. We chatted sports (he’s not an Irish fan, yet!) and siblings and parents and shared our mutual admiration for the Bible Geek. And then we arrived at the stadium. As we said our goodbyes and promised to pray for one another, I thought to myself “Now, that’s an awesome teenager.” And then D was gone.
Mass at NCYC last night was a profoundly spiritual encounter with Christ. The teens took off their hats, worshipped with great reverence and again confirmed what I’d already been learning–that our young Church is filled with bright lights and hearts who love our Lord. On the way back to my hotel, I wished in my heart that all of you could have been there with me. You were certainly in my prayers.
— Lisa Hendey (@LisaHendey) November 22, 2015
And then this morning, I received the “cherry on the top of the sundae”. A random email from D. I honestly don’t know how he found me, but I’m thrilled he did! I’ll share just a part of my response to him:
Oh D, I can’t tell you what joy I felt today when I opened my email and found this one from you! I’m preparing to leave the hotel soon to head home and have been reflecting back on these amazing few days. To be honest, our brief conversation was a highlight for me. It’s so easy at these types of events to get caught up in the “bigness” (is that a word?) of all of the numbers and music and hype and to lose a personal connection with what’s truly happening — these profoundly personal individual moments of grace.
That you would share in such a personal way with me makes my heart sing, because it confirms what I felt about you when we met: that God is using you (and will continue to do that!) in a very special way. I don’t say that in some creepy “I heard a message from God” way… I just had this sense of you in even those few moments that hung with me during Mass too. I imagined you, times 23,000, when I was watching all of the kids worship during Mass. For me, our little chat helped me to imagine so many of the teens like you who each come with this amazing, individual experience of their faith. Our Church needs you guys. Big time! And not in the future–we need you right now. To share your joy, your energy, and yes even your struggles. We “grown ups” have a lot to learn from you!
To D and your 20,000+ friends who rocked my NCYC experience this weekend, thank you! Thank you for being YOU–for loving Jesus, for trying to make our world a better place, for caring so passionately, and even for those goofy hats. Thank you for leading me closer to Christ. It was a true honor to pray with you this weekend!
Copyright 2015 Lisa M. Hendey