When I was asked to chaperone this year’s Steubenville conference, the first question I asked myself was, “what will my role be and how will I most effectively fulfill that role?” Having never been in this position, it was a bit unclear to me as to how I was going to do so. But despite that uncertainty, the end goal seemed very clear to me; I was to serve in a manner that allowed our students to experience this conference to its fullest potential.
It was at this point that I started to affiliate being an effective chaperone with being an effective coach. I believed that to fulfill my role as a chaperone, I had to speak to these kids; I had to give them instruction. And so, I began to pray to God, asking that he provide me the necessary knowledge and wisdom to speak to these kids in a way that inspired and encouraged them to open up and simply make themselves available to Him. I asked, “What do you want me to say?” In the months, weeks, and days preceding, I continued to ask this question, “What do you want me to say, God?”
After we had arrived on Friday and attended the day’s activities, I did not feel right. I did not feel as if I was fulfilling my role as chaperone, as I had not yet spoken to any of the kids. I started to question why God wanted me there. I knew He wanted me there, but I was not sure why.
Saturday morning after mass, one of the other chaperones suggested we go to the Portiuncula Chapel, which is set aside for private prayer and adoration. After we arrived, I began to ask God again, “What do you want me to say?” Only this time I explained to Him that I did not feel as if I was adding value or fulfilling my role as chaperone. He said to me, “Nothing. I do not want you to say anything.”
A few months back I was meeting my Grandma for breakfast after 8:00am mass at Charlie’s in Westphalia. For convenience, I decided to attend mass at St. Mary’s in Westphalia and walk down to Charlie’s afterwards for breakfast at nine. During that mass, Fr. Eric Weber said something very simple, yet profound that I will never forget. He said, “One cannot pass along something he or she does not possess themselves.”
That Saturday morning when God said to me, “I do not want you to say anything,” it was this very message Fr. Eric shared that Sunday morning in his homily that came to mind. It was at this point that I realized I had overestimated the power of words and underestimated the power of action. If I wanted these kids to open up and make themselves available to God, I too, had to open up and make myself available to Him. If I wanted them to step outside their comfort zone and embrace the uncomfortable, I too, had to step outside my comfort zone and embrace the uncomfortable. From that point forward, I was able to stop worrying about what to say and really just focus on living in the moment. In doing so, I was able to see more clearly the various ways God was present throughout the weekend.
This retreat was an amazing experience. As people ask me, “How was it?” and “What was it like?” there is one word that comes to mind, “transformation.” Among the many amazing things I witnessed through the duration of the weekend, the most apparent and powerful was the transformations I saw in so many individuals. I experienced students who perhaps were not comfortable speaking face-to-face with each other on the bus ride down, praying over and with one another throughout the weekend. I saw students who maybe were not comfortable reading in front of the class at school, get up in front of a busload of people and lead a rosary. I witnessed students who have little to no experience speaking in crowds get up in front of 3,000 people and share their story. I witnessed, firsthand, the great things and transformations that can take place when we make ourselves available to God and it was an experience I will never forget.
Going into this weekend, there was a lot of uncertainty. I was not sure what my role would be, how or to what extent God would work, and really what the whole experience would entail. I knew very little detail. However, I knew great things would take place. And, knowing that, I developed this natural desire to prematurely distinguish what those great things would be and what I would do to influence what took place and how it would impact the people involved. Just as I believed, or wanted to believe, I knew what my role was as chaperone, I also wanted to determine the details involving the weekend before they took place. Yet, it was not until I stopped worrying and thinking about these things that I was able to fully see God at work. And I believe that is the most important detail to understand when speaking in regard to transformation: to see it and experience it, we first must set aside our own thoughts and desires and place our trust in God. This weekend, I saw just that when 82 students from our parish made the trip to Steubenville. Thankfully, because of their faith and commitment, I was able to witness the amazing transformations that derive from such decisions.