Teaching the faith can be a challenge. The Confirmation retreat was nearly over, so we settled back in the main hall after a few hours in the church to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation and spend time in Eucharistic Adoration. Though I’ve presented to teenagers for years, it never gets any easier. Corralling them for 8 hours, most against their own will, usually creates a less than friendly atmosphere. This particular group, despite my attempts to provide engaging activities and quick witted presentations, was very difficult to reach.
It was a huge relief to glance at the clock and realize there were fewer than two hours left. “You got this,” I murmured to myself, and grabbed the microphone to begin my last presentation. I barely completed the sign of the cross, when suddenly a young man dressed in a suit stood up.
“Excuse me,” I politely addressed him, “break is over and we are clearly about to pray. We are almost finished; we just have one more subject to cover.” What happened next, even as I type it, still astounds me. “Who,” he began, “do you expletive think you are. This has been complete bull-expletive you have been shoveling at us all day.” Perhaps he saw an opportunity to pounce, since the room had emptied of all adults except me. Before I could answer, he continued with more sentence enhancers and crazy accusations. He had clearly come with preconceived and very misguided notions of Catholicism. My presentations always focus on living the faith in our everyday life and I purposely steer clear of controversial subjects – because I am fully aware that Apologetics are my Achilles heel. This young man perhaps sensed that as well.
The part of my brain that was presently retrieving all of my training in youth ministry and facilitating retreats was screaming “halt, do not fall into this trap, cease all arguments now”! How I wish my brain had won. Instead, the “I’m 100% in the right here” and “I can win him over” foolish pride part took over and things went from really bad to absolutely horrible. The room buzzed, split between angry and uncomfortable teens. Some students stormed out (in tears). The young man continued screaming obscenities, and in fifteen short minutes, I had managed to lose complete control of the retreat, and destroy any good the first part of the day may have imparted. If nothing else, it would be one they’d never forget.
On the way home, still quite shaken, I called a friend. She wisely suggested I head to my parish where I would find either the church or adoration chapel open. I was grateful there was a function at the Parish Center, as that meant our small, private chapel would be available. I slunk into the last pew of the small chapel, put my head down on the back of the pew in front of me, and fell completely apart. “God, I am out doing your work,” I sobbed, “I just want to help these kids love you. How could you do this to me!” It was the single worst moment of teaching I’d ever experienced. The more I allowed the memories of the day wash over me, the more intense my cries became until I was just a puddle of tears, snot, and utter defeat.
Then in my heart, I felt this gentle stirring of the Holy Spirit. I raised my head and stared at the crucifix just beyond the Tabernacle. In my heart I heard – if you want to share in my glory then you must also be willing to share in the suffering. As these words were settling in and as the crucifix came more into focus through my tear-swollen eyes, I then heard – if I did not spare my Son from suffering, what makes you think you’d be any different? This profound moment of prayer concluded with my recalling the words from Luke’s Gospel, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”
In Chapter 3 of Walk in Her Sandals: Experiencing Christ’s Passion through the Eyes of Women, our reading and reflection focuses on Good Friday. While Christ challenges us to pick up our cross daily, if we want to follow Him, none of us will have to shoulder the one as heavy as the one he carried to Calvary. Yes, I had experienced a cross, but none comparable to the betrayal, the scourging, the crowning of thorns, and the jeering inflicted upon Jesus. Every human being will face difficulties – their own crosses and as Jesus reminds us in Luke’s Gospel, some will present themselves daily. The beautiful gift of sensitivity empowers us to embrace those crosses, use them for helping and healing which, as Pat Gohn reminds us, “breeds saints.”
Once I allowed those powerful messages received in the chapel to penetrate my wounded heart, I wiped my tears and rose from the pew. I left that day with a renewed sense of peace and encouragement in my call to share the Good News. I prayed for that young man who was polished on the outside but clearly at odds within. Through the eyes of Christ, possibly through the gift of sensitivity, I was able to recognize the boy’s reaction came from his own pain and woundedness. Good Friday is about sacrifice, forgiveness and redemption. As Dr. Carol Younger concludes, “when united with Jesus’ suffering, your suffering has tremendous meaning”. Let us pick up our crosses, daily, and choose to follow Him.
All rights reserved, Allison Gingras 2017