Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

Canada vs. USA…Youth Ministry Style

January 3, 2011

As I eagerly anticipate yet another hockey battle between Canada and the United States (this time it’s the semi-finals of the World Junior Hockey Championships in a rematch of last year’s final when the USA won 6-5) I began reflecting on the relationship between the two nations.  There are some similarities (pop culture, relative geography, and at least one language), many differences (currency, measurement, and health care to name a few), and a lot of cross-over.

One of these “cross-over” areas is the field of youth ministry.  Admittedly, it’s mostly us Canadians (at least in our archdiocese) bringing in (or “importing”) resources and talent from down south, whether it’s keynote speakers, worship leaders, or program resources and ideas.  Once in a while, we will bless our American neighbours with our presence at a conference or gathering, such as the recent NCCYM in New Orleans.  In fact, our American friends even invited us to participate in the relatively (in)famous youth ministry flash mob

It seems like we’ve always been welcomed with open arms and hearts, sometimes receiving shout-outs from the stage, even if we’re referred to as America’s hat (thanks Popple). 

So it’s only natural that this good-natured ribbing would spill over into sports.

Now, a couple of disclaimers here:

  1.  It really is only hockey, as the United States would likely hammer a Canadian team in any other of the big 4 sports (football, basketball, and baseball) as well as some others:  golf, tennis, and NASCAR.
  2. Having said that, Canadians take their hockey much more seriously than Americans.  If Canada had lost the gold medal match back in February, it would have crushed the country (as opposed to the Americans who moved on to the next thing).  It’s just the way we roll up here.

But, since I’m a Canadian living in Vancouver, it’s only natural that I get excited about these Canada-USA showdowns on the ice.  Here are 3 examples:

World Youth Day 2002.  As our parish jostled for position (in a good Catholic way) with pilgrims from the States near the front of the stage for one of the gatherings, the Americans patriotically chanted “USA!  USA!”  Our in-your-face response was to shout back “5-2!  5-2!” which was the final score of the 2002 Winter Olympics gold medal hockey game (a win for Canada over the USA).  We found it quite funny.  They were quite confused.

2009 NHL Playoffs.  What started off as a friend-wager with Orin and Shannon of Oddwalk Ministries turned into a month-long saga of trash-talking, creative videos, and me nearly choking on a piece of steak.  I won the original wager when the Canucks disposed of the Blues in round 1, but then we went double or nothing for round 2.  As the Blackhawks ended the Canucks play-off hopes in round 2, they also ended our wager.  You can trace the whole thing here.  Thankfully, we didn’t do anything for 2010!  I would have gone crazy!

2010 Winter Olympics.   We all know the final result:  Canada over the United States by a score of 3-2 in overtime, thanks to Sidney Crosby.  This moment has topped many Top 10 Sport Moments of the Year lists.  What many people don’t remember is that the Americans handily beat the Canadians in the preliminary round, prompting my good friends Anne Marie Cribbin and Gene Monterastelli to send me flowers and card expressing their condolences

And of course, I re-kindled my fun rivalry with Orin and Shannon in a wager that encompassed both the women’s and men’s hockey tournaments.  You can see their creative end result at the end of this video blog (my last one of the Winter Olympics).

What will happen in today’s hockey game?  It’s hard to tell.  But one thing’s for certain:  I’ll be watching the entire game…and thinking of American youth ministry friends in the process.

Kayla Singing Jesus Loves Me

June 25, 2010

First it was Jacob singing this song as a 4 year–old (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=saQfKXNlavc), and now it’s Kayla doing her rendition as a 2 and a half-year old.

Gotta love child-like faith! “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” Mark 10:15

http://www.claytonimoo.com

http://www.twitter.com/claytonimoo

Finding Freedom in the Sacrament of Reconciliation

October 27, 2009

Here’s an article I wrote for Celebrate!, the “Pastoral Magazine with a Liturgical Heart” published six times a year by Novalis. Hopefully, they will publish it in their next issue. Enjoy!

The Sacrament of Reconciliation.

For many teens, it’s an answer to the question “What about the Catholic faith do you appreciate?”

It’s also an answer for many teens to the question “What part of our faith do you not understand or practice?”

Therein lies the beauty and complexity of the Sacrament of Reconciliation; teens can easily name it as one of the seven, yet many of them don’t frequent it regularly for various reasons: i.e. they find it intimidating, they’re not sure what to confess, or they don’t understand why they need to go to a priest instead of directly to God for forgiveness.

In Vancouver, BC, the archdiocesan Youth Ministry Office (YMO) has been holding youth reconciliation events for the past ten years in order to make the sacrament more accessible and less intimidating for youth. The event, called FREEDOM, began in 1999 and has since grown into one of the YMO’s biggest and most powerful events. Since its infancy, FREEDOM has seen close to 5,000 youth and young adult participants gather to experience the healing power of Christ.

Msgr. Mark Hagemoen, Episcopal Vicar for Pastoral Services, created the vision for the inaugural FREEDOM event in 1999 as the then-Director of the YMO. “FREEDOM was inspired by the Year of Forgiveness for the universal Catholic Church as we were preparing for the Jubilee Year. And because it was held on the Friday of Thanksgiving weekend, it was a perfect opportunity for the young people of the archdiocese to gather together and give thanks to God for His love and forgiveness.” (The YMO has since moved FREEDOM to the spring so it falls within the season of Lent.)

At the event, teens are prepared for confession through a dynamic program including skits, music, prayer, testimonies, teachings, and examination of conscience. The Archbishop of Vancouver is almost always present, along with over two dozen priests.

FREEDOM encourages youth to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and not to be afraid of it. Raymond, a youth from St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Richmond, says: “FREEDOM is a really significant event for me. The leaders and program set the perfect mood to prepare me for reconciliation and make me comfortable to confess my sins.”

FREEDOM’s popularity has spread throughout North America, with a few dioceses modeling their reconciliation services after the event.

FREEDOM incorporates many elements into its seamless four-hour long program. Like any reconciliation event for youth, its aim is to create an environment where youth are encouraged to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Irrespective of the scope and size of the event (diocesan, school, parish, or retreat), here are seven principles in planning an effective reconciliation event for youth:

1. Make the Sacrament non-intimidating (without watering it down). Confession scares many teens (and adults too!). Thus, it’s vital to create a loving and affirming atmosphere and make it a place of trust. For some young people, it’s an issue of ignorance…they simply don’t understand the theology behind the sacrament. Ensure that there is some catechesis for them, and don’t be afraid to have some fun with it. This can be accomplished through light-hearted skits and presentations.

2. Create a prayerful environment. To provide a safe and comfortable atmosphere, you can do many things with the environment that will help set the proper tone. Simple decorations, plants, candles, and music (more on music below) will help foster a warm setting, one that will hopefully encourage the youth to receive the sacrament.

3. Pay attention to how the confession stations are set up. Explain to the participants that they will have the option of going to confession anonymously or sitting face-to-face with the priest. Each confession station could have three chairs: one for the priest, one facing the priest, and one at a right-angle to the priest (off one of his shoulders). While the priest will obviously remain stationary, teens will have the choice of two chairs to sit in, depending on their comfort level.

4. Music is key. Pick appropriate songs and pick a worship leader who understands the flow of what you are trying to accomplish. We begin FREEDOM with 30 minutes of worship music, and then have the worship team provide “background music” throughout the confession time. We have them lead another 20-30 minutes of music at the end of the event before the participants leave.

5. Give options for after confession. Plan a few things for teens to do once they’ve gone to confession and completed their penance. We’ve invited prayer teams to pray with participants throughout the evening. As well, we provide light refreshments in another part of the church for some quiet social time. These provide some nice alternatives to those who don’t choose to stay to pray with the music ministry. It’s important to recognize that some teens may not even receive the sacrament, so there needs to be activities for them.

6. End in celebration. The send-off is just as important as the gathering time. Once the majority of participants have gone to confession, consider having a youth or young adult share a testimony about the freedom they experienced from receiving the Sacrament. Then, have the music ministry end with a few songs of praise and celebration so the youth go home happy!

7. Invite plenty of priests. From a practical standpoint, the more priests that are present, the less time it will take for all participants to go to confession. It is a tremendous witness to the young people to see so many priests coming and supporting them by administering the Sacrament. Do your best to secure RSVPs from the priests, so you know how many confession stations to prepare, give or take a few.

FREEDOM’s impact is not limited to teens and young adults: it affects the participating priests as well. Father James Hughes of St. Ann’s Parish in Abbotsford is a FREEDOM mainstay, and cites the event’s importance and relevance as a main reason for being involved: “It is such an inspirational event. It truly brings joy and fulfillment in my priesthood to be part of such a gathering.”

The bottom line is that youth reconciliation events are an excellent way for youth to reconcile themselves with God, with themselves, and with each other.

3 Truths and No Lie!

September 23, 2009

I had the pleasure of speaking at my home parish of St. Paul’s this past Friday night as the SPIRIT Pre-Teen Youth Ministry held its kick-off event for the year. It was also the start of SPIRIT’s 10th year of ministry, so in recognition of the impressive milestone the night featured a few special presentations among the prayer, games, and of course, good food.

Knowing I only had 3 or 4 minutes to speak (the short time-frame was intentional given both the students’ short attention span and my penchant for liking the sound of my own voice…haha), I wanted to come up with something that was easy to remember and could be referred to throughout the year.

So after a quick introduction, I shared with them these 3 truths:

1. God LOVES you. This is the one constant you can count on amidst all the chaos and changes that will happen in your life. God’s love is unconditional and is ever-lasting. As believers, you are called to love as He loves. No matter how bad things may seem, you can take solace knowing that you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing: God is love. He loves you, and He always will. After all, He made you in His image and likeness.

2. The Church NEEDS you. Anytime I hear someone say that the youth are the future of the church or the church of tomorrow, I politely suggest a slight revision to that statement: youth are important RIGHT NOW and you are the church of TODAY. You are just as important as the adults, the seniors, and the children. We need your voice, your energy, your gifts, and your child-like (not childish) faith. The more that our parish engages the young people, the stronger it will be. Us “older folk” can learn a lot from you!

3. The Leaders will PRAY for you. Believe that when a leader asks you what he or she can pray for, that they will! You may not fully understand right now what it means when someone says that he or she will pray for you, but it’s the most powerful and genuine thing someone can do. That’s what unites us as Christians: our belief in Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, and the fact that we can go to Him whenever we want to. In times of joy or in times of pain. In happiness or in sadness. In times of need or in times of thanksgiving. Never underestimate the power of prayer.

I had the young people repeat these 3 truths back to me a few times to ensure they got it. As I returned to my seat, I reflected upon these truths and realized that they apply not only to 11 and 12 year-olds, but to Catholics of all ages.

But for those few minutes, the focus was on those beautiful and precious pre-teens. All of us involved in youth ministry need to continue to share with them the truth without any lies.

Jesus is the Way, the TRUTH and the Life.

And once we all know the TRUTH, the TRUTH will set us free.

Holy Communion: 5 People, 4 Spots, 3 Options

August 24, 2009

As we congregated in the gathering space at my home parish of St. Paul’s just a few minutes before the 6:30pm Mass, we realized that we had 3 Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (Nicole, Kris and me), Deacon Edwin and Father Luterbach…all prepared to distribute the Body of Christ at Mass.

With Father Luterbach and Deacon Edwin rightfully being the untouchables, it was up to the other 3 of us to decide which 2 people would serve at Mass. I went to talk to Gail, who along with the kids (and Tia, Nina, and Krissy’s mom…haha) was sitting in our usual pew (immediately behind the music ministry). Seeing that there wasn’t any more room in the pew, and following a hunch that our kids would be well-behaved at Mass, I told my lovely wife that I would like to still minister (we sit on the altar). She agreed and I made my way back to the entrance to let Nicole and Kris know.

The two of them immediately engaged in a polite game of “I’m happy to do whatever.” After about 10 seconds of back-and-forth, I suggested that they needed to decide relatively quickly.

“How about a game of Rock, Scissors, Paper?” asked Nicole (hence the 3 options).

“Sure,” Kris answered.

“Wait a sec,” I interjected, “Does the winner minister or not minister?”

“The winner won’t minister” Nicole replied. “Can we use fire as an option? It beats out everything, right?”

“Nope…that would skew the probabilities” I retorted.

With the music ministry providing some nice background music (as they finished rehearsing), Round 1 ended in a draw as they both picked rock. Round 2 saw Kris win, as his scissors cut up Nicole’s paper.

“Shouldn’t Kris get to decide what he wants to do?” I asked. “After all, he won!”

“No, it’s ok” Kris said. “Besides, we said that the winner wouldn’t minister.”

I’m fairly confident that this was one of the first times in history that serving at Mass came down to a game of rock, scissors, paper. I caught Father Luterbach and Deacon Edwin observing the festivities in slight amusement.

“I have a suggestion, Father” I offered. “Maybe we should determine the whole ministering schedule via rock, scissors, paper. Winner gets whatever weeks he or she wants!”

Father Luterbach gave me one of his patented “roll his eyes into the back of his head” faces before signaling the music ministry to start its gathering song. He didn’t have to answer my question…his reaction said it all.

Now, I’m eagerly awaiting the next schedule (due out in November).

I guess arm-wrestling for my choice of Christmas Masses is out of the question.

Me and Mr. Mike

July 12, 2009

This week I was blessed to attend the University of Notre Dame in Indiana as part of the Diocesan Leadership Observation Track (DLOT) of ND Vision (for teens) and ND Vision CYM (for youth ministers and campus ministers). As a Diocesan Director, I had the ability and permission to in essence “bounce” back and forth between the teen and adult conferences. This unique perspective allowed me to better evaluate the entire program and also provide feedback to conference organizers.

I first heard of the ND Vision DLOT (dontcha just love how we use acronyms in youth ministry?) back in 2007 when Mike Patin was in Vancouver to serve as our keynote speaker for Youth Day. Mike was awesome with our youth and youth leaders (as expected) and also awesome with my family. We spent a wonderful five days together and became close friends (and have remained so ever since…praise God).

I learned so much from Mike just by being in his presence, and since then he’s continued to affirm me, challenge me, and encourage me…and not just because that’s what his website says!

Thus, I was looking forward to seeing Mike ever since I confirmed my attendance at Notre Dame earlier in the year. We exchanged a couple of emails and texts the week prior, wishing each other “Happy Country Days” on July 1st and 4th respectively. I also asked him to bring me a bit of merchandise as my “godisnowhere” t-shirt is getting a little faded (considering I wear it every time I give a talk). I figured that I would see him once or twice throughout the week. Little did I know that I would end up seeing him and enjoying a memorable moment with him each day.

Over the 4 days I was reminded why I (and so many others) respect Mike so much. His humour, his pastoral presence. His talent. And his vulnerability and humility.

On Tuesday morning, we first spotted each other outside of the Basilica. As I held the door open for conference participants to enter (trying to make myself useful), I saw out of the corner of my eye I relatively slender man with a moustache mimicking me, waving his arms in the air ala Vanna White. Now, usually I speak about imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, but this was barely imitation and it certainly wasn’t flattery.

“Hello Mr. Mike” I said.

“What is this…a beauty pageant?” was his response.

We caught up for a few minutes (while hundreds of teens filed into the church) and then Mike handed me a package with my goods.

“I threw a little something in there just for you…check it out.”

Like a toddler on Christmas morning, I quickly unwrapped the package to discover an additional t-shirt. I laughed as I opened it up…it had a picture of Mike’s face on it with the slogan “Not Pretty, but LOUD.”

I didn’t even bother asking him why he was giving it to me…I already knew.

“Thanks a lot brother!”

“You’re welcome man…that’s a limited print t-shirt…I only made 36 of them.”

Wow…that made me feel pretty good. Not that I’m one of Mike’s 36 best friends. Just one of his 36 loudest. Or unprettiest.

He continued, “And 18 of them had to pay for it!”

I laughed as I entered the Basilica, quickly switching from play-mode to pray-mode. After Mass and lunch, Mike and I were among 50 or so people who prayed the rosary at the grotto. It was a very peaceful and reverent experience. I also finally met Megan, Mike’s beautiful daughter, who was attending ND Vision for the teens.

On Wednesday morning, both Mike and I sat in on the keynote talk for the teens. The speaker challenged the participants with a powerful talk about self-acceptance and self-love. After the talk, Mike noticed his daughter talking with the speaker. In the meantime, Mike and I chatted about the irony in having your own child learn things from another speaker instead of from you…even if you have spoken to your child about these things before. Mike was very honest and very vulnerable as he warned me that it will happen to me too.

He analogized it to God the Father trying to teach us as His children, yet we can be so slow to come around or to “get it”…sometimes even needing to hear it from someone else. But all along, He loves us unconditionally, faithfully trying to show us the way. That’s why I admire Mr. Mike so much…he readily and easily finds connections and teaching moments like this!

I was humbled as I saw Megan and Mike talk for just a few short seconds before embracing in a warm hug. I had seen Mike connect with thousands of youth at a national conference, and now I had just seen him connect with his very own daughter with barely anyone else around. It was a few minutes that I’ll never forget.

On Thursday night, I few of us gathered in a lounge to wind up the day and Mike apparently had to don a Chicago White Sox t-shirt after losing a friendly wager to another youth minister.

(As an aside, why do why do youth ministry people like to make friendly wagers on sports? Anyway…I digress).

So Mike put on his t-shirt, we all laughed, and thought that would be the end of it. Until I noticed the shorts Mike was wearing. Picture a pattern you might see on a tablecloth from the 80s. Then picture two skinny white legs coming out the bottom.

Making sure everyone else was listening, I asked Mike “So what bet did you lose to make you wear those shorts?”

The group broke into laughter (no exaggeration), with some people even giving my hi-fives and fist pounds. Mike slapped me across my back in what was slightly more than a love tap (no exaggeration) and proclaimed: “You’ll never work in this country again!”

I wasn’t sure how to react…nor could I come up with a good come-back, so I just grinned and continued sipping my Pepsi.

Friday morning, Mike gave his long-awaited and much-anticipated session for the adults…thankfully he was wearing khaki pants instead of the tablecloth-shorts. At one point of the session, Mike had us break up into pairs and discuss a couple of questions, one of them being “Where do you experience the presence of God?”

As we reconvened, Mike asked the participants to share some of the answers. My partner Tom offered “My partner is Clay and he experiences God in spending time with his wife and children.”

Mike replied “I’ve met his children.”

Cool…I thought…a shout-out from Mike Patin!

Mike continued, “They’re cool kids.”

Even better…a compliment from Mike Patin to follow the shout-out!

Mike went on, “And they’re FREAKS!”

As the participants erupted into laughter, I shot back, “No wonder they like you so much!”

More laughter.

Then, without skipping a beat, Mike answered “Yeah…they come down to my level really easily.”

As the participants continued to giggle and chuckle, I couldn’t help but marvel at Mike’s comedic genius and timing. To no one’s surprise, he delivered an absolutely stellar session, full of affirmation, challenge, and encouragement.

My daily encounters with Mr. Mike ranked highly among the many blessings I received from my week at the University of Notre Dame. He once again proved why he is the best among keynote presenters, and more importantly, why he is such a great friend and mentor.

I’m just surprised he didn’t call me Kneejerk.

Putting my Foot in my Big Mouth (Happy Pallium to You!)

July 3, 2009

Archbishop Miller was one of 34 bishops from 20 countries who received a wool pallium from Pope Benedict XVI earlier this week, underlining his unique ties to the Vicar of Christ in Rome and to all the faithful in our archdiocese.

I just hope that I’ll still have a job when Archbishop Miller returns from Rome later this month. Allow me to explain.

Last Thursday (the 25th), we had our monthly building Mass and Luncheon for the entire building staff (close to 100 people), just a few hours before Archbishop Miller was to leave for Rome. I was asked by Faye and the Social Committee to serve as “emcee” for the luncheon, in essence my job was to make sure the program moved along efficiently. Having never met a chance to talk that I didn’t like, I humbly said yes.

After lunch was served, the first part of the program was for the Directors and Department Heads to make announcements regarding staff members. I went first, as it was Sharon’s last day with the YMO after serving for 8-months as our Administrative Assistant while Faye was on maternity leave. It started off well-enough as I noted that Sharon started at an extremely busy time: 2 weeks before Spirit Day, followed immediately by the centennial celebration at GM Place. I mentioned how well she did overall, and how appreciative we were of her great work. Then, I actually said this:

“Thanks for bringing your flair and a touch of class to the YMO.”

Have you ever said something that you wanted to take back, even as you were still saying it? Well, that’s exactly how I felt when I realized how my comment sounded…in fact I recall literally reaching out with my arms, trying to pull the invisible words back in. As my fellow employees laughed, jeered and shook their heads, I looked at Faye and whispered “That came out completely wrong.”

Thankfully, beautiful and intelligent Faye understood that I wasn’t trying to insult her, rather compliment Sharon despite how it sounded. She gave me a reassuring nod and mouthed “Don’t worry about it”, giving me much comfort. While in the midst of removing my foot from my mouth, I blurted out “Faye is classy too!” to no one in particular.

Believe it or not, I was just getting started.

We then honoured Msgr. Lopez-Gallo on his 82nd birthday. After some nice words from Archbishop Miller, some staff members presented Msgr. Lopez-Gallo with a cake (sans the 82 candles) and we erupted into a hearty rendition of Happy Birthday, complete with harmony.

Then it was time to wish Archbishop Miller well.

“As many of you know, Archbishop Miller is off to Rome later this afternoon to receive the pallium from Pope Benedict. By doing so, it will be a sign of his communion with the Pope, along with his communion with our archdiocese.”

Phew, so far so good. Then came my CLM: Career-Limiting Move.

“At first, I thought that Archbishop Miller was going to receive a PODIUM, because he talks so much!”

Remember up above when I was talking about taking back something even before you finish saying it? I didn’t even bother trying to explain that this too was supposed to be a compliment on his wonderful public speaking skills, as my other foot was lodged too far down my throat. Thankfully, most of the attendees broke into laughter and even applause (although I could swear I saw our HR Manager prepping my termination papers).

For what seemed like an eternity (though was likely 2 or 3 seconds), I watched Archbishop Miller to see his reaction. He gave me a big grin, patted me on the back, and calmly yet directly said: “Ok Clay, that’s enough now.”

I took that as my cue to move on and to skip the rest of my pallium jokes. Then, I said a quick prayer of thanksgiving that he didn’t fire me. At least not yet.

As some staff members brought out yet another cake, I offered “I’m not sure if there’s such thing as a “Happy Pallium” song” in an obvious reference to Msgr. Lopez-Gallo’s celebration just a few minutes earlier. Well, that’s all the prompting people like Makani, Jen, and Anthea needed as they soon had the whole building singing “Happy Pallium to you, Happy Pallium to you, Happy Pallium Archbishop Miller, Happy Pallium to you!”

What was already comical became ludicrous as I couldn’t believe what I was hearing (and seeing). Neither could Archbishop Miller, as he hid his head in the giant card we had just presented to him with the cake.

Looking back at it a week later, I think this Luncheon will be one of my most-cherished memories of my tenure at 150 Robson. To see the joy in people’s faces as they sang the song and laughed along in wishing Archbishop Miller was something to behold.

I just hope that my tenure will last a little bit longer!

Joyfully Reflecting on Blessed Encounters in Edmonton

June 21, 2009

I’m leaving the “City of Champions” feeling like a champ. And it has nothing to do with how well (or not well) the retreat went, rather because of the number of blessed encounters I had on my trip.

Despite arriving to the airport relatively early, I was one of the last ones on to the plane. I was not-so-gently reminded by the Westjet employee at the gate that I was supposed to be there much earlier, especially because I had an exit row seat. As I boarded the plane, I hustled to my row 10 window seat and I recognized the good-looking guy seated in the aisle seat.

“Mr. Wayne Thompson!” I exclaimed.

“Skippy!” he replied.

And thus we commenced a non-stop, hour-long conversation that I’m sure everyone sitting around us appreciated. We had last worked together at PwC in 2002, and we have seen each other maybe once since then. Needless to say, we had a lot to catch up on, but it felt like we hadn’t missed a beat. I even got an explanation for Wayne’s nickname for me.

“It’s because of how you run” Wayne said, mimicking me with his arms.

“Uh, thanks I think. I thought it had something to do with peanut butter or something.”

I’m not used to having long conversations when flying, as I’m usually asleep even before the plane takes off. I have it down to a routine: listen to safety instructions, pray, fall asleep. Except when I’m seated in an emergency exit row. Then, it’s listen to safety instructions, pray, stay awake while plane takes off, fall asleep.

During Wayne’s restroom break, I looked across the aisle and spotted an attractive young lady reading a bible (making her even more attractive). Trying not to have it come across as a cheesy pick-up line (and a religious one at that), I asked her “Is that a Bible you’re reading?”

“Yes it is,” she replied. I was relieved she actually answered me and didn’t pretend her headphones were too loud.

“I presume you’re a Christian?” I asked.

“Yes, I am. I’m guessing you are too…I noticed your APeX Ministries shirt and your cross.”

Angie and I had a quick and pleasant chat, swapping as many faith and family stories as we could before Wayne returned. After the plane had landed and I had said good-bye to Wayne, Angie and I continued our conversation and promised to find each other on Facebook.

I then spent a wonderful afternoon catching up with Andrew and his wife Colleen at their beautiful home. I knew they would be wonderful hosts when Andrew opened up his fridge and showed me a dozen Pepsis on the lower shelf. We reminisced about my family’s road trip to Edmonton and visit to them back in the summer of 2006. We also talked about ministry, sports, and put the final touches on the next day’s retreat. All while demolishing a package of pepperoni sausage, crackers and cheese. He then took me to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, where I ran a training session for Sharon, their youth ministry coordinator (and formerly a youth ministry coordinator in Abbotsford).

The session went well, and it was great to catch up with Sharon. In particular, I was moved by Gerry, one of their volunteer youth leaders. Gerry was wearing a button with a picture of a young man’s face on it. When I asked about it, Gerry told me that the boy is his son…tragically killed 3 years-ago by a teenager. As Gerry teared up while telling me about his late son, I found myself getting emotional as well. To make matters worse, it would have been his son’s birthday in the next couple of months, and the young man charged with the murder will be released from prison later this summer, after only 3 years in prison.

I barely had the right words to say, so I didn’t really say much. Instead, I put my arms around Gerry and give him a hug and thanked him for sharing with me so honestly. He didn’t have to say it, but I knew that his son (and what happened to him) is his motivation for being involved in youth ministry. My conversation with Gerry really helped me put things into perspective, and was a perfect final motivation for Saturday.

Saturday’s retreat day for youth ministry leaders was abundantly blessed. The theme for the day was “Joyfully Reflecting the Image in which we are Created,” based on their Evangelization program called Nothing More Beautiful. We started off with Mass with Archbishop Smith and then launched into the retreat day, exploring the theme through 3 primary sessions, on image and imitation, prayer, and trust in God. After each session, participants had the chance to pray and reflect for 45 minutes or so. It made for a nicely-paced day and provided wonderful opportunities for prayer.

Sean’s First Communion

May 10, 2009

Today Sean received Jesus Christ in the Eucharist for the first-time. Needless to say, it was a very momentous occasion for our family, one that we have been looking forward to for a long time.

It was extra-special because Gail has been teaching Sean in his grade 2 class at St. Paul School since January, when Gail went back to teaching after taking maternity leave for
Kayla. As well, Gail has been running parent meetings throughout the spring in order to help prepare the families for this special day.

The First Communion program at St. Paul is quite interesting actually, as Father Luterbach likes to hold “two First Communion celebrations” for the kids. At today’s Mass, the kids were to sit with their families so they could truly focus on the Sacrament. Then, at next week’s Mass, the kids will dress up in their white robes and sit together as a class to the delight of invited family and friends.

Thus, today’s Mass was indeed less distracting for Sean, despite Kayla’s best efforts to entertain him and everyone in our surrounding pews. I was very excited for Sean and I was gushing with anticipation as Mass ensued. To his credit, Sean played it calm and cool and seemed really focused on the Sacrament.

As we made our way down the aisle towards the altar, I followed Sean while carrying a sleeping Jake on my shoulder and chest. Sean and I both received from Father Luterbach and then made our way back to the pew. As I knelt next to Sean, I held his hand and prayed with him, all while holding the 40-pound sack of son on my other side. I was overcome with emotion and pride, and my eyes started to water with tears of joy.

“How do you feel Sean?” I asked.

“Really good,” Sean replied as he rubbed his tummy, “I feel like I’m full. And I was hungry before Mass.”

Sean’s answer caught me off-guard, and the skeptic in me wondered if he was just saying something to make his youth minister-Daddy happy. So I asked him what he meant.

“I feel fulfilled. Like I don’t need anything else right now.”

Sean’s answer went beyond satisfying-to-me. I kissed him on the forehead and told him how proud I was of him. We continued to pray together, and I thanked God for Sean’s child-like faith that humbles me, affirms me, and inspires me.

Vancouver Youth: O Canada and Go Canucks Go!

May 2, 2009

In the spirit of Christian brotherhood, I called on over 500 of my closest friends to inspire my friends Shannon and Orin in the likely event they lose our wager on the Canucks-Blackhawks playoff series.

Footage is taken from the opening session at Youth Day, our annual rally for high school teens put on by the Youth Ministry Office of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver.