Our diocese sponsors a program (RISE - Rising In Service to Everyone) for high schoolers. For a week, they stay at a camp about 30 miles from here, work on service projects during the day, and have a retreat-like atmosphere in the evenings. My boys, with a bit of "encouragement", agreed to go. My pastor, with very little encouragement, agreed to pay the entire fee for them and two others to attend.
I was asked if I could work one day with a work group. I had other plans for the day, but I could not tell this lady "no". I wasn't really looking forward to a day working outside in the Louisiana heat and humidity, but you do what you gotta do.
I arrived at the camp shortly after 7 a.m. Mass was at 7:30. My boys' cabin arrived last, looking like they just rolled out of bed, but they came in quietly and found empty chairs. The Gospel was about the seed that fell on fertile ground, rocky soil, etc. The homily (given by the Vocations Director for the diocese) wove that Gospel, the fact that they were there (after someone planted a seed), and a call to pray about what their vocation might be all together in the homily.
After Mass, the kids lined up with their work groups for breakfast. (They work in groups of five). It took me a few minutes to realize that they weren't sitting down. No...they get their breakfast in a to-go plate, and they eat on the way. Literally "sent forth" from Mass "to love and serve the Lord". On the way to their van, each group picked up a couple of gallons of water and a small ice chest containing ham and turkey. A water cooler and a box containing bread, fruit, chips, paper towels, and zip-locs of condiments and cookies were already in the minivans. Lunch.
My group consisted of three boys and two girls...one freshman, three sophomores, and a senior. The other adult was in his early 20's....he'd been with the program since it started 8 or 9 years ago. Turns out he will be teaching Math at my sons' high school next year.
We traveled about a half hour to our worksite in relative quiet...Christian music on the radio...smatterings of conversation. Their project was to build a wheelchair ramp at a home. It had been partly completed, and they had hoped to finish by noon to start on another ramp a few miles away. When we arrived at the site, the senior asked who would like to lead a prayer before starting. They didn't seem terribly eager, but one of the girls agreed, "Lord help everything go right...but if it doesn't, help us deal with that, too.". Something like that.
One word...roots. There was some digging required for this, and every time they started, they were stopped by tree roots. They proudly showed me the one that they had taken out earlier in the week. It must have been six inches in diameter!
But the trees were both a blessing and a curse. Just as the roots provided obstacles below, the trees provided shelter from the sun overhead. It was hot and sticky, especially when digging holes or whatnot, but it wasn't unbearable.
Two things struck me about this group. The first was that they were relatively quiet...no loud, boisterous, silly behavior. The second was the absolute absence of whining, complaining, bickering, and bad language. They offered each other suggestions, they offered each other help, and whatever needed to be done, they did. In the bits of conversation, you could tell that they had listened to the nightly speakers. They visited with each other. They talked about looking for "Christ moments". When the day was nearly over (they did not finish by noon), the daughter of the lady they were building the ramp for showed up with donuts. They said that was a Christ moment. When there were raised voices at the house next door, one of the girls said, "Maybe we should pray for those people". It was really an awesome day with an awesome group of kids. So rarely do we see that type of behavior with the kids we teach, or even those in my home.
Both of my boys had seemed to be in a good place when I spoke with them in the breakfast line, and my younger had tales of putting in ceiling tiles in the house he was working on when I saw him at the end of the day.
I drove home feeling like I was the one who had been given the gift that day. My prayers for these young people (there are more than 100) go along with the Gospels this week. May the seeds that are being planted fall on fertile ground. May their eyes be opened to see, may their ears be open to hear, and may their hearts be open to receive.
My gratitude to the folks that organized this, to the many volunteers (22 work groups means 44 adults just for that!), to the seminarians and youth ministers who are spending the week, and to the priests..there were 2 for Mass in the morning and 7 for Reconciliation last night!
I have pictures...really. Hopefully by tomorrow, I'll have real internet and the ability to post them!