I have been a youth minister in the Catholic Church for many, many years. I've experienced the blood, sweat and tears that it takes to build a program from the bottom up and to watch it grow and change into the place where the God can do His best work. There are some very hard days when you work in ministry and there are a good many successes; but at times you work so hard that it's easy to lose track and simply "check the boxes" of what needs to get done: Confirmation retreats and interviews, sacramental documentation, parish service, permission forms, service projects, food drives, catechist training, workshops, e-mails and Facebook notices, flyers and advertisements, invitations and social event planning. On and on it goes, without end and without relief. It's OK though, because the reward is always bigger than any struggle and it is always exciting co-creating with the God of the universe. He is so full of surprises.
Then there are those rare glimpses of profound grace through all the work.
Each Lent, the teens in the parish perform the stations of the cross in shadow format for the parish. What I mean by 'shadow format' is that each station is acted out from behind a large screen (basically a king size bed sheet) which is illuminated from behind. The kids stand behind the sheet, completely still, and create a shadow. It's a relatively easy project to produce as long as you have all the necessary props and volunteers.
This year was no exception. I had 20 eager enough teens...some participating simply to meet their parish volunteers hours, others were there because they had been part of the stations in the past and it had become something of a tradition for them. At practice, we casually rehearsed the poses of each station and made sure our speakers knew their parts with the proper inflection and dramatic pause. The musicians ran through their songs, various verses of "Were you there..." and learned where they were to come in.
On the night of the performance, everything went off without any major issues. The youth stepped up and performed their best. The final product you can see here. Haunting, beautiful, full of emotion and drama.
The moment of grace for me is actually viewing the pictures of each station. I have never been on the shadow side of this event...only on the back side of the sheet, directing the actors and speakers. This was also the first year that we had taken professional pictures of each station, and essentially it was the first time I had ever seen the final product from a true audience perspective. It was awesome.
The images struck me and made me take pause...from all the work and the necessary pieces of youth ministry...to simply enjoy the beauty of what our young people are capable of, and to be reminded of just how privileged I am to be some small part of God's great work at STM.
May the remainder of our Lenten days be ones of new awakening and a deeper love for the God who suffered so much pain for our sake.