Eleven years ago, I got on an airplane for the first time that I can remember and flew to Atlanta, Georgia. I was accompanied by three of my classmates from high school and a nun, and we were headed to the National Catholic Youth Conference, otherwise known as NCYC. I was a junior in high school, and I was absolutely thrilled to be on that plane. But it probably wasn’t for the reasons you might think.
I was thrilled to be flying on an airplane. I was thrilled to be missing two days of school. I was thrilled to be able to traipse around Atlanta, Georgia for four days. I really couldn’t have cared less that I was at a Catholic youth conference.
I probably would identify myself as a “bad” Catholic at that point in my life, though I most likely looked like a very good one. I went to Mass every Sunday, aced every Religion test I was given, and even altar served at my church. At fourteen, I had been selected to prepare two children to be received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil. But I didn’t do any of those things because I loved Christ or was passionate about my faith. I went to Mass because I had to. I aced every Religion test because I aced every test that I took. I altar served because my friends did it and because we were rewarded with a trip to Six Flags every summer that we served. I wasn’t in love with Christ, and I was indifferent to the teachings of my faith. I learned them the same way that I learned algebra and the ins and outs of English grammar. I learned them because I was a good student, and that was what was expected of me and what I expected of myself.
I went to my first NCYC because my friends were going, because I was excited to fly, and because I liked the idea of having two days off from school. I was not at all prepared for how that weekend would change my life.
I honestly don’t remember much about my experience at NCYC. I have vague memories of a conference center with a long hallway and huge windows. I remember an outdoor park where I ate pizza from a tiny cardboard box on my lap. I remember taking a tour of Atlanta before hopping on our plane back to New Jersey.
There is one experience, though, that stands out vividly in my memory. It is walking towards a sign identifying the location of XLT. My classmates wanted to attend, and I knew enough to know that it was some sort of Eucharistic adoration. I remember walking into a large room where hundreds of teenagers gathered to worship Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. I remember sitting in my own chair and just feeling overwhelmed. By emotions. By the pain of all my past poor choices. But more than anything, by the love of Jesus Christ. I felt his love for me that day, and it changed my life.
As I sat in that plastic chair, I took my first step on my faith journey, the journey that led me to choose Theology as my college major, DRE and Youth Minister as my chosen profession, wife and mother as my vocation. It was the first step that brought me to the present, where eleven years later, I found myself sitting in a different city, in a different conference center, in a different (but equally uncomfortable) plastic chair, worshiping the same Lord Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament during XLT at the National Catholic Youth Conference. This time around, I am a youth minister, and not a youth myself. Instead, I had the opportunity to accompany five incredible young women during this experience, and as I sat with them in Eucharistic adoration, I could not help but hope that they too felt that overwhelming sense of love. It is just incredible to look back and glimpse the journey on which Christ has led and will continue to lead each of us.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!