Life Teen Camp
Week 01 | June 2nd - 7th, 2014
Host: Joel Stepanek
With a passion for theology and teens, Joel Stepanek is making a big impact in the Church. Joel is the Life Support Coordinator for Life Teen and he creates and writes many of the resources Life Teen sends out to parishes. Joel wants you to know his first love is Jesus, his second love is his wife Colleen, and his third is Green Bay Packers football.
What is Covecrest?
Camp Covecrest is a Catholic summer camp set in the mountains of North Georgia. It’s a place where parish youth groups from all over the country come together to experience summer camp at its best. Teens are given the opportunity to dive deeply into their Catholic faith and strengthen their relationship with Christ while having unforgettable experiences.
“Once Upon a Time”
When I was a child, my mom and dad told me bedtime stories. Sometimes they read from books; other times they told stories from memory. Every fable began the same way, “Once upon a time…” As soon as I heard those words, I knew something epic was about to happen; I was about to enter into an adventure.
Perhaps you have shared similar experiences in your own life or with your children. Stories are an important part of who we are, and every really great story has some key elements. It has a protagonist, a conflict, sacrifice, love, and a triumphant ending. The stories we tell children also include important moral messages about right and wrong, love and virtue, and family.
Many of those stories may be familiar to us from the Bible: stories about Adam and Eve, Noah and the Ark, Moses, and Jesus and the disciples. You can even buy illustrated children’s Bibles to really help the story come alive. As we grow older, though, something happens.
Outgrowing Picture Books
We begin to recognize that stories we heard as children, those tales that begin with “once upon a time…” are not real. As we mature into teenagers and adults this transition is natural, but something else can happen as well: we begin to see those stories from our children’s Bible as mere fiction. We may feel that, since we have matured beyond Peter Rabbit, we have also matured past Sacred Scripture.
Perhaps part of the challenge is that when we hear stories from Sacred Scripture we automatically think of the pictures in a children’s Bible, but the reality is far more intense. God’s story doesn’t begin with “Once upon a time,” it starts with “In the Beginning…”
“In the Beginning…”
The universe is chaos. Some translations of scripture use the word “abyss.” It is a formless wasteland. Nothingness. God begins to bring order to the chaos, though. This order is far beyond the simplicity of a children’s story; it is something that science is continuing to discover and help us understand. The universe is mind-numbingly complex and it points back to the reality of a God that creates order out of chaos.
God then does something incredible – God creates humans. God makes people in His image and likeness – He makes them male and female. Then, He gives them a part in the story. Adam and Eve are not passive characters in the Garden of Eden, but are the main characters. They share in the story.
I graduated from high school with another student named Josh who had a number of special learning needs. As a result, he was often teased and bullied. His yearbook quote struck me and impacts me to this day: “Every one has a story.”
God gives each of us a unique story and a place in the great story that He is telling. Not only that, but God wants to have a main role in our story and make it an epic adventure. God wants to be the inspiration that drives our story and gives us a full, abundant life (John 10:10). This week at camp we are going to dive into the story God is telling and the adventure that Jesus Christ is inviting us into.
The Holy Spirit is moving in great ways and is going to do incredible things this week; please continue to pray for us as we pray for you!
Today's Top Shots:
Imagine this: you are sitting at home, and you decide that you are going to watch a movie. After running to Redbox or browsing through Netflix you find something that seems interesting. You begin the feature, but start to notice that something is strange. Nothing is going wrong in the movie. Time passes and you become more and more disinterested, until you finally shut it off – disappointed.
You will notice that in every movie you watch a conflict presents itself within the first fifteen minutes. A story without a conflict to be resolved isn’t interesting; no one wants to listen to a story where everything goes right for the main character. It’s boring.
In the Bible, we encounter a serious conflict in the first couple of chapters. God creates man and woman in His image and likeness and gives them dominion over the earth. Two people, Adam and Eve, live in the Garden of Eden and have a special relationship with God. They live in perfect harmony with creation, God, and each other. This harmony is based on a simple rule: Adam and Eve cannot consume the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
We all know how the story continues: Adam and Eve disobey this one rule and are thrown out of the garden. The harmony that they lived in is now destroyed because of their disobedience to that rule.
God isn’t satisfied to let that be the end of the story, though. God tells the man and the woman that one day He will send a redeemer, someone that will save humanity from the fall that just occurred. God says,
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel. (Genesis 3:15)
Since the time of Christ, the Church has understood this passage as referring to Christ and Mary, His Mother. Jesus overcomes sin and death – it is the “happy fault” of Adam and Eve that gains humanity Christ, our great savior.
Original Sin, Same Old Story
It can be easy to dismiss the narrative of Adam and Eve as a simple children’s story or a myth, but when we do so we miss something important: We live this story every time we sin. The story happens.
It is the same narrative that is played out every time we face temptation and sin. It is the framework of all sin; we are tempted and convinced that something that is bad for us is actually good; we commit sin and suddenly our lives descend into chaos.
You can see this process in the face of a young child contemplating breaking her parents’ rules. A dialogue goes on in her mind– just like the dialogue between the serpent and Eve in the Garden – convincing her that sin isn’t going to hurt her. In fact, it is going to make her a happier and better person.
How many times do we have the same dialogue?
We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Sin doesn’t have to be the final answer for us; Christ saves us from our sin. We know the conflict of the story – but we also know the ending.
God’s mercy is bigger than our sin, and we find that mercy in the cross and receive it through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Christ makes all things new and restores our hearts to harmony, even at our very worst. Today at camp, teenagers had an opportunity to accept that mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation; please pray for their journey and the ways that God’s mercy is working in their hearts as we continue this incredible week!
Today's Top Shots:
A Better Disciple
Sometimes I think that if I had been at the crucifixion of Christ and present for the resurrection I would be a much better disciple. I feel like I would be far more bold in sharing my faith, I would engage in prayer and worship more frequently (and joyfully), and I would believe beyond any doubt.
What if that reality has been staring me in the face the entire time? What if I have been present at Christ’s crucifixion, death, and resurrection more times than I can actually count? Is that even possible? It isn’t just possible – it is reality.
The Last and the First
The night before his death, Jesus gathers his disciples to celebrate the Passover meal. This Passover meal, however, is much different than all the other Passover meals that had come before it and that would follow it. Though we refer to this event as the “Last Supper,” it is actually a big first – it is the institution of the Sacrament of the Eucharist and the priesthood of the new covenant. Jesus is giving his disciples the foundation for worship that focuses on Christ, salvation, and Heaven – Jesus gives the disciples the Mass.
Not only does Jesus do that, but He also connects the Mass to what is about to happen on Calvary the very next day. Jesus tells the disciples that the Eucharist is more than a mere memorial or remembrance—it is the literal representation of His sacrifice.
Let that sink in.
If what the Catholic Church teaches to be true is true, and we trust the words of Christ in Sacred Scripture that the Eucharist is His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity (John 6), then when we attend Mass and receive the Eucharist we are walking up to the foot of the Cross and receiving Christ himself. We relive the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Christ every time we attend Mass.
The Love of Christ
If we really lived this reality, how would our lives be changed? The death and resurrection of Christ is the high point of human history; it is the moment of our redemption. We celebrate and are present at this very moment at every Mass.
Why would Jesus give us such a great gift? Simply because He loves us. At the end of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus makes a promise to the disciples. Jesus promises to be with us always, even until the end of human history (Matthew 28:20). This promise is fulfilled at Mass through the Eucharist.
It can be easy to feel like God is distant or uncaring; sometimes we look at suffering in our lives and believe that God has forgotten about us or does not understand. The Mass is a reminder that Christ knows our suffering because He also suffered, that Christ loves us and is with us always, and that even in death we have hope in our resurrection, through Christ, in Heaven.
How would your life change if you were present at the Passion, death, and resurrection of Christ? Today teenagers found out as we prayed the Mass as if we would never pray it again. The result was incredible – keep praying for us as we lift you up in our prayers as well! The week is at the halfway point, but it is far from over!
Today's Top Shots:
In Greek, the word, “Gospel,” translates to “good news.” It’s a term that finds its roots in wartime; when an important victory was won, an “evangelist” was sent to declare the victory to the ruler. He often ran quickly, as the news could have a tremendous impact on the plans of those that preparing for battle.
The early Christian community found this term to be tremendously appropriate when talking about Christ’s victory over sin and death. The writers of the New Testament became known as “evangelists” and their work “Gospels,” because this was the greatest news of victory humanity had ever received.
This news radically transformed hearts in the early Christian community; they could not help but speak the name of Christ – even under threat of punishment (Acts 5:28-29). What was it about this message that drove the early Christians to proclaim it without ceasing, even to the point of death?
They didn’t believe that this was just “good news,” they believed it was a life-altering, salvation-giving message that was a matter of life or death.
Just OK News
Looking around our parishes today, it may seem to many of us that people are not as passionate about the Gospel as they once were. It is thought impolite to talk “religion or politics,” and we often prefer to keep our faith a private matter.
Imagine if you suddenly discovered a cure for cancer. This cure is all inclusive – everyone can receive it. It not only cures the disease, but it prevents contracting cancer in the future. What would you do? You would probably immediately call a doctor to discuss the cure, let various news organizations know about it, and you would certainly tell your loved ones who may need to receive this cure. There would be nothing private about it.
That is how the disciples viewed the Gospel. In our modern Church, though, this sense of urgency seems to have been lost in some of our brothers and sisters. It doesn’t have to be this way; the disciples weren’t always bold evangelists. By looking at what transformed them, we can learn how we can be transformed in the same way.
Playing With Fire
The disciples were afraid after Jesus’ death and even after his resurrection. At the end of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus appears to the disciples and they “worshipped, but doubted (28:17)” Even after all they had seen Jesus do, even seeing Him raised from the dead, the disciples still lived in doubt and fear.
At Pentecost something happened. Jesus promised the disciples on several occasions that He would send an “Advocate.” The disciples probably wondered what this meant. On Pentecost they found out. The disciples received the Holy Spirit in a very powerful way and suddenly the doors burst open and they began to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.
The Holy Spirit is the key to a bold life in Christ. Oftentimes, we forget how powerful the Holy Spirit is. We received the Holy Spirit at our Baptism and Confirmation. It is the Holy Spirit that makes us bold witnesses for Christ. It is also the Holy Spirit that helps us to grow in our faith.
Maybe you aren’t ready to run out of your house and start telling all of your friends about Christ yet. There might be another step between where you are now and becoming a full-out evangelist—perhaps even two or three steps. Challenge yourself to grow that extra step with the help of the Holy Spirit. That may mean attending Sunday Mass weekly, praying more often, starting a new devotional or routine of prayer, or joining a small group of Catholics that you can discuss your faith with.
For many of us, it means being more open about our faith right now with our friends and families. Teenagers spent the night in silence reflecting on what this call means to each of them and where Christ is leading their hearts after this week. Pray for their discernment; these teenagers are ready to set the world on fire for Christ.
Today's Top Shots:
The Great Hope
When I was young I really hoped for a Nintendo 64 for Christmas. I realize how lame that sounds now with the incredible technology we have at our disposal, but at the time, it was cutting edge stuff. I knew that all of my friends in school would get one for Christmas, and I also knew that my family did not have the money to be able to afford that video game console.
Still, I held on to hope.
Christmas day came, and we tore through our gifts. We finally got down to our last gift, which traditionally was the biggest and most expensive. I excitedly opened up the wrapping paper and much to my dismay, found a board game. I was crushed and disappointed. I ran to my room, upset and crying.
I still feel terrible about that Christmas. As I await the birth of my first son this July, I have been thinking about all of the Christmases ahead on a ministry budget. I have a new appreciation for my parents, as my wife and I balance our bank accounts weekly and ask, “How are we going to afford all of this stuff for the baby?” My parents probably saved for months for those gifts and made very real sacrifices for them. I could not see beyond my own desire, and as a fourth grader I’m not sure I could’ve even if I tried. My hope was in something that ultimately disappointed.
Even if my parents had bought me that N64, it would’ve gotten old. It might have broken or stopped working. In a year or two, a new video game console would have come on the market and suddenly that Nintendo 64 wouldn’t have seemed as cool anymore. It is a cycle that we see repeat every year; advertisements promise the “cure all” and the “next big thing” that will make our lives easier and streamlined, that will make us more money, help us lose weight, allow us to find true love, etc. Yet, they keep making these things year after year – and year after year people put their hope in them.
Hope That Won’t Disappoint
Where do you place your hope? Is it in financial success? A better body? More influence or power at work? Perhaps it is in the next tech gadget or new car. To millions of people these are the most important things. Anytime we say to ourselves, “if I just had…if I just made…if only I were promoted…” we are putting our hope in something that ultimately will disappoint us – even if we get it.
St. Paul offers us another option for our hope and where we can place it:
[W]e have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access (by faith) to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in the hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2)
Christ is the one hope we have that does not disappoint. He doesn’t leave us empty-handed; the gift of eternal life that He offers us does not break, rust, or change. When we put our hope in Christ we find fulfillment, true joy, and peace.
Teenagers were challenged today to place all of their hope in Christ and trust in Him completely. They took time to write down the reason for their hope in Christ in the form of a short testimony that they were challenged to share with others. If you were to write down your reason for hope, what would you write? Would it be about success, or money, or power? Or would it be about the one hope that matters – our hope in Jesus Christ?