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Teenagers need and want the sacraments

Sometimes there’s a fine line between youth ministry and being a cruise director.

We had a fall retreat lock-in at my church recently and I found myself making spreadsheets to coordinate meal deliveries, musicians, entertainment, clean-up and security. As kids arrived with their bags, I held my clipboard and ushered them to their seats. I wasn’t on a boat, but I was preoccupied with the logistics of the evening, wanting to be sure that everything went smoothly and we didn’t break anything in the new parish multi-purpose building.

One of the kids asked me if there’d be the sacrament of reconciliation at the lock-in. I had scheduled Mass and adoration but confession was an afterthought. I asked Father John Paul Pentareddy, parochial vicar of St. Francis by the Sea Church, if he’d mind hanging out for a few minutes after Mass to see if any of the kids wanted the sacrament.

We had a tranquil 9 p.m. Mass and local retreat leaders 5thousand,, segued seamlessly into praise and worship for eucharistic adoration.

Clipboard in hand, eye on the schedule, I mentioned, “We’re having adoration and father’s in the back if anyone wants to go to confession,” and then went to check on the incense.

I was shocked when over 20 teens eagerly lined up. We weren’t making them go. I hadn’t even been inspiring in my invitation, just checking off one more announcement as the night progressed. No hysterics, no kicking and screaming, just Catholic teens doing their thing.

One of my security guards who wasn’t Catholic — but background checked and VIRTUS trained for all you safe environment coordinators out there — asked what they were doing.

“Confession,” I answered. “We tell our sins to the priest who’s standing in for Christ and, well, to paraphrase the Catechism of the Catholic Church #1422, we receive God’s mercy and are reconciled to Him and the church.”

“Gee,” he replied sincerely, “that sounds really great.”

When you put it that way, of course it does. What was I thinking, making confession an afterthought? Kids aren’t dumb. Despite the high levels of self-esteem pumping through their adolescent brains, they know they sin. In fact, they spend a lot of time each day confessing to anonymous sites on the Internet, to their friends and to their therapists.

Team Catholic has something better than a place for them to simply get something off their chest. We have a way for them to experience the love and forgiveness of their creator.

The next morning as they groggily shook peanut butter cup wrappers out of their hair and packed up their bags, one teen said to me, “ … this was fun. The talks were funny and the music was good, but I’m really glad that I got to go to confession.”

Her comment made me realize that as much as I had put into planning meal times and supervision, the most important things to plan were opportunities for the kids to experience Christ in the church, especially in the sacrament of reconciliation.

Parents, catechists, teachers and youth ministers — all of us who schedule the days of teenagers — the sacraments, especially confession and the Eucharist, cannot be an afterthought.

Alison Griswold is the youth director at St. Francis by the Sea Church on Hilton Head Island, and writes “Team Catholic” for The Miscellany.

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