I recently spent three days at a ‘Youth Ministry Boot Camp’ provided by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. The pace left time for processing and conversation without lulling us to sleep. The topics were familiar enough for us to approach them with confidence, but with a fresh spin from which we could grow. All-in-all it was the rejuvenating, refreshing reboot many of us needed. As I sit down to write today’s reflection I realize that a little of St. Monica was present throughout the three days.
She first showed up as we were reminded to not blame our way to a clear conscience. What do I mean by this? I mean, everyone involved in forming teen disciples is tempted to believe “I’m doing everything I can, if only the parent/coaches/teachers/catechist/youth ministers would get on board then we could really make a difference.” This is a lie and an accusation, it is from the Accuser. It also runs counter to the spirit of St. Monica. She could have written Augustine off. She could have said, “I did what I could, if only my pagan husband had done better, Augustine would be a believer.” Instead, she constantly pursued her son. She met him on his level by enlisting the aid of St. Ambrose. And she prayed for him, diligently.
It was in our emphasis on prayer that you could see St. Monica being modeled again. Particularly, as we talked about prayer as a legitimate action step. See the temptation is for a parish to desire youth ministry and to look at someone and say, “Do something.” What we normally don’t mean is pray for, pray over, pray about it. Instead, we commonly mean have an event. As St. Monica sought the best for St. Augustine for all those years through her unceasing prayer, she reminds us that prayer is ‘doing something.’ It might be the most important action step we take. Sometimes we skip it though because we are impatient.
Working against our impatience was the reminder that youth ministry is a marathon, not a sprint. Once again this is modeled by St. Monica. For 17 years she tried to draw her son back into the Faith. This was not a sprint. This was not St. Paul running into a city with his hair on fire converting people and founding churches. This was the long, arduous, slow road of accompaniment. But in the end, grace prevailed.
Before you write this all off because you’re not a ‘youth minister’ remember that all three of these are relevant for any disciple. We can often blame every issue in the world and church on someone else without ever looking in the mirror. Prayer can become the thing we get to if we have time instead of the foundation of all our endeavors. And fast results in 5 easy steps can be so tantalizing. However, Monica reminds us to take responsibility, start on our knees, and stick in it for the long haul. She reminds us to be disciples.