Life Teen Camp
Week 4 | June 23rd - 28th
Host: Jimmy Mitchell
A native of Atlanta, Jimmy has served the Church in various ministries across the country. In 2010, he started Mysterium Records in Nashville with the vision of building a community of artists dedicated to the restoration of Christian culture, particularly through the production of quality music, books, and live events inspired by a deeply Catholic understanding of the human person. He also travels throughout the year hosting retreats and conferences for youth and young adults all over the country. His work with Life Teen camps began in 2007 as a summer missionary, and he has been involved as a camp host every summer since 2010. There is nothing that brings him more joy than helping young people fall in love with Jesus, especially through Life Teen Camps!
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.
At the end of your life, what kind of story do you hope will be told? Do you want to leave a legacy, to be known as someone who pursued greatness and inspired others to live life to its full potential? I think all of us have this innate longing to make a difference, to inspire people around us with the greatness of our lives. That’s what this week at camp is all about – being inspired by God’s call to holiness and then becoming an inspiration to others.
Growing up, my parents used to read bedtime stories to me and my brother and sister. The ones that kept us up late into the night dealt with the thrills of victory and the agony of defeat. Stories like The Hobbit and The Chronicles of Narnia filled my heart with wonder and joy at the mere thought of adventure. As a young boy, my sweetest memories were the ones I spent wandering around backyard forests with friends building dams and staging mud wars and attempting to reenact scenes from these great fairytales. As a young man, my sweetest memories were the ones spent traveling the world in pursuit of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful and spending time in places once frequented by the great minds of Tolkien, Lewis, and Chesterton. For me now, the sweetest moments in life are helping young people develop this same wonder and awe before God’s goodness and faithfulness, in the hope that their hearts would be filled with the joy that comes in being loved by so great a Father.
When I was in high school, the journey and pursuit of greatness was often rooted in my pride. I wanted to be the smartest in my class, start on all the sports teams, and develop my gifts as a musician both inside and outside of school. In the end, it was all about me. Pursuing greatness was about building a résumé, graduating from high school with a full-ride scholarship to the university of my choice, and eventually going on to becoming a successful businessman with a happy marriage and a few kids. If my life inspired those around me, it would; but I certainly wasn’t going to be inconvenienced along the way.
Things began to change around the age of 15 after a mission trip to Honduras. I realized more than ever that I wanted my life to be about others, that I wanted to be a man who brought glory to God and love to His people. I’ll never forget the way that those orphaned Honduran children used to look at me with sheer delight, with the love of God pouring forth from their hearts. I’ll also never forget watching young people from America fall in love with Jesus after spending a week or two on mission. I have now been out of high school for exactly a decade and realize more than ever what I want my life to be all about, how I want to be remembered at the end of my days. If your life were to be written down and put into a museum or children’s book, what message would it speak? What events would stand out? How would you be remembered?
This week, we will be entering into God’s story, which is so much more than a simple children’s fairytale. It is an epic adventure filled with war and suffering, sacrificial love, promises spoken and promises broken. It is filled with traitors, kings, prophets, and courageous men and women who fight for the Truth. An innocent man eventually is condemned to die and then destroys death by death itself. It is a story of restoration and redemption, of innocence and communion lost and regained by the power of Love.
When God created the universe, His spirit moved across the waters and breathed life into creation. When He created man and woman in His image, He breathed life into us and even now continues to sustain our very existence with that same breath of love. Indeed, from the very beginning of Creation, God brings light and order out of the dark abyss of total chaos. This week, we all have the opportunity to be a part of each other’s story and inspire one another. We get to be on this adventure together. As it begins, let’s open our minds and hearts to what our Father in Heaven has in store for us.
Last night, we talked about the universal desire in man’s heart to leave behind a legacy, to have the story of one’s life be an inspiration to others. As we know, the greatest of stories have elements of adventure, uncertainty, romance, suffering, death, and redemption. Look at the story of Creation. From the beginning, mankind was in perfect harmony with God. Adam and Eve were in perfect communion with themselves, one another, and all of creation. But it didn’t take much for our first parents to disobey. God gave them the simple command to eat from any of the trees of the Garden of Eden except for the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Yet they listened to the voice of Satan (as we all do every time we sin) telling them that they could be like God without God – that in the end, they didn’t need God or that God wasn’t enough.
When Adam and Eve realize that they’re naked, shame comes; they feel that they now must provide for themselves and realize they are unable to do so. Every time we sin and feel that same shame, it is because we have run away from the Fulfillment of all desire. We have turned our backs on the very One that can actually satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts. And we realize the emptiness of sin and pain of disobedience. Every time we go to a party and get drunk, it is because we do not believe that God’s acceptance is enough and we are trying to escape our misery. Every time we fall into sexual sin, it is because we do not believe that God’s love is enough. The ultimate temptation is to believe that if we just have this one thing (sex, money, power, influence) then we’ll have all we need. But I can tell you from my own life experience that none of those things ever satisfies.
Soon after Adam and Eve’s original sin, Cain murders his brother Abel. A few generations later, humanity has become so wicked that God destroys most of it with a flood. With Noah, there is a new beginning, but by the time Moses is leading the Israelites away from captivity in Egypt, God’s people are living in disobedience all over again. Even the greatest king, David, committed adultery and centuries upon centuries of prophets warned against the sins of humanity. It becomes increasingly clear that God’s people need something more. The cycles of temptation and sin creates nothing but chaos and emptiness within the human heart. We needed a Savior, One who could give His life in atonement for our sins, reconcile us to the Father, and empower us to be His very Presence in the world. This is the story of God and His people.
All through high school, I struggled with serious habitual sins. It took me a long time to realize that sin can only be conquered when we are faithful to the struggle, when we consistently approach Jesus in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and allow His grace to free us from our sins and give us the grace to overcome our sins (YouCat 226). Even though we are beloved sons and daughters of God from our Baptism, we often go astray and get lost. Yet our Father in Heaven waits for us with great longing. He never tires of forgiving us, of offering us His love and mercy.
Many months ago, a photograph of Pope Francis embracing a boy with cerebral palsy went viral. I have been captivated by this image ever since, so much so that I recently commissioned a friend to recreate the image as a painting on 3’x5′ canvas. I found out recently that that boy’s name is Dominic, and up until that moment in his life, he never wanted to be touched by anyone. He would even refuse the touch and affection of his parents. Yet in this moment with the Holy Father, we see the walls of his heart come crashing down, and Dominic allows himself to be lovingly embraced.
The whole of the Christian enterprise can be summed up in this – to begin and begin again. Tonight, we have an opportunity to begin again, to come humbly to Jesus in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and be forgiven and set free. Let us allow ourselves to be embraced by His mercy and love!
All of us are a part of God’s story, this epic adventure called salvation history. On this journey that began with God (at our conception) and ends with God (with our eternal reward), we all struggle to live our humanity well, to bring glory to our Father in Heaven and to seek to please Him at every moment of our lives. In the end, we our selfish, prideful, and impure, and our sins separate us from the Father. We are ultimately deserving of death. But thanks to the cross, Jesus Christ has stepped into this gap between us and the Father and brought forgiveness and atonement. And we know that healing and restoration are always only a moment away in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The last two nights brought these truths to the surface. How can we now be strengthened along the way? Where do we turn amidst darkness and uncertainty?
If you’re anything like me, you have felt alone, left out, forgotten, or unloved at different moments in your life. Because we are made in the image of a God who is a Communion of Love, it makes sense that the deepest desire of our hearts would be to rest in that communion – both with God and others. In fact, that’s what Heaven is all about – plunging into the depths of perfect joy found in the passionate love affair that is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Nearly three years ago, when my older brother passed away suddenly in his sleep, everyone in my family felt a tremendous grief and confusion. It took many of us months to sort through all the emotions and find God in the midst of the suffering. Yet I have seen Him go on to work one miracle after another in the lives of family members and within my own heart as well.
The reality is that God is always with us. We anticipate this truth every year in the season of Advent and celebrate it every Christmas. The staggering doctrine of the Incarnation pierces our hearts even now. God has become man and dwelt among us. He has taken on human flesh and promised to be with us now and into eternity. There are few times of the year that I enjoy more than the days leading up to Christmas, and while, for me, that was once a more secular celebration of gifts, snowmen, and candy canes, it has increasingly become a sacred celebration. I’ve reached the point in my life where I need the reminder every year that God is with me, that in the thick of life’s darkness and sufferings, the light of Christ is always penetrating through.
One of the most powerful ways to experience Emmanuel, the reality of God-with-us, here and now is in the Most Blessed Sacrament. Jesus is very much still with us, particularly in the Eucharist. Our hearts burn at the breaking of bread just like the apostles’ hearts burned on the road to Emmaus. Every time we receive Holy Communion, our relationship with Christ is strengthened, the graces we received at Baptism are deepened, we are cleansed of venial sin, and we are further united with the community of the Church.
Could there be any better way to be strengthened and fortified than in worthily receiving our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament? Could there be any greater encounter with God’s love than the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? Every time we are at Mass, Heaven touches down and we are at the foot of the cross being consumed by the redeeming death and Resurrection of Christ. Tonight, as we receive Jesus in Holy Communion, let’s ask for the Blessed Mother’s help in saying, “YES,” to Christ and accepting Him into the depths of our hearts. If we have the eyes to see it and the faith to believe it, every Mass has the potential to change our lives. Say, “YES,” tonight.
We all have a story, and the sooner we get wrapped up in God’s salvation history, the sooner our stories will become an epic adventure towards Heaven. When we stray, we can get back on track through God’s mercy in Reconciliation, and along the way, God is with us. He is constantly holding out grace sufficient for our salvation. He nourishes us and strengthens us through His True Presence in the Holy Eucharist. In the end, we have everything we need to be the saints God is calling us to be.
We are talking about the great secret to true happiness and joy, a secret that if shared can change the lives of millions of people. Yesterday we heard the good news, that Jesus Christ died for our sins and continually offers Himself to us in the Eucharist. We are known and loved by Almighty God Himself. Shouldn’t we shout this from the rooftops? Shouldn’t our lives have a ripple effect into the lives of everyone around us and inspire them to a radical life of discipleship with Jesus Christ?
When we encounter the love of Christ, it is not enough to hold on to it for ourselves. The Holy Spirit empowers and sends us out to proclaim Christ to the nations. You’ll notice that the apostles did not form an elite club and keep the Good News of Jesus Christ to themselves. It was quite the opposite; they risked their lives to bring Jesus to the ends of the earth, and they felt compelled not only to tell everyone about Who they had come to know, but also toserve them and show them the depths of His love.
Throughout our lives, there will be many opportunities to serve. Some of us will go on life-changing mission trips to Honduras or Haiti. Some of us will become Life Teen missionaries, diocesan priests, or religious brothers and sisters solely dedicated to the salvation and sanctification of souls. Regardless, all of us, if we are serious about finding true joy in this life, must discover how God is calling us to serve. He has a unique and unrepeatable mission for each of us, and only we can fulfill it.
Ever since I was in college, my mission has been simple – forming and supporting artists in their vocation as servants of beauty and discipling young people in high school and college. But I’ll never forget the first time I encountered Jesus in Adoration. That was where Jesus first invited me on His Mission as our Redeemer. I was no more than 14-years-old on retreat with my high school youth group. As I knelt on the cold cement floor of a retreat center in the North Georgia Mountains, I realized for the first time that God was God and I was not. It was a game changer. The words, “Be still and know that I am God,” continue to ring in my memory (Psalm 46:10). From that moment forward, I never doubted God’s presence in my life or His personal love for me.
Tonight, as we prepare to encounter Jesus in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, let us be still and know that He is God. Let us rest in His Presence and speak to Him as a friend, pouring out our hearts and allowing Him to pour His love into the depths of our hearts. Jesus is calling all of us to do something extraordinary with our lives, something that will change the world. Tonight, let us ask Jesus to give us generous hearts and make it clear where He is calling us to be His very Presence in the world!
We are not far from having to say goodbyes and transition from the mountaintop of camp back into everyday life. How will we stay the course and allow God to continue writing our stories? Are we willing to make sacrifices to continually commit to this epic adventure towards Heaven?
All of us at a certain point have to take personal ownership of our faith and decide whether or not we are going to follow Jesus Christ. It is easy to fall into the trap of trying to live the faith alone, of thinking that we can make it to Heaven apart from Jesus Christ and His Church. I have seen many, many friends try this, and all of them are miserable. Sin always makes us miserable! Straying from the straight and narrow path that Jesus has laid out for us as believers always leads to unhappiness. I’ve seen it happen time and time again with some of my closest friends, and I also know that falling off the course myself has only caused pain and grief in my life and in the lives of those that love me most.
In Jesus, God reveals man to himself and shows us what it means to be human. His last gesture on earth was His hands outstretched in blessing as He ascended into Heaven. Those hands are blessing us even now and are like a roof over us that protects us. Ten days after the Ascension, God sent the promised gift of the Holy Spirit who is with us now. In fact, that same Spirit is constantly invading our hearts – convicting us of our sins and prompting us to be the saints God has called us to be. Throughout our lives, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are constantly giving us the strength, direction, and nourishment we need to stay the course and complete our journey to Heaven.
It is not going to be easy. This adventure towards Heaven will come with all kinds of unexpected suffering and pain. The tragedy of my brother’s passing several years ago rocked my entire family and our friends around us for months. I kept looking for the goodness and grace that God wanted to bring out of my brother’s passing and our family’s suffering. Eventually, I started to see miracles unfold. I watched as my own parents reconciled years after their divorce. I watched family members grow in faith and begin to see God at work in the midst of their pain. I saw my own life unfold with glimpses of God’s glory as He taught me more than ever the value and importance of brotherhood and mentorship. The deepest wound in recent history for my family became a fountain of life for many, just like Christ’s death on the cross became the source of life for us all.
Wherever life leads us, the Holy Spirit is guiding us and moving us forward. Where will we place our hope? Where will we turn when confronted with temptation, suffering, and persecution? Will we have the faith of the martyrs to stand tall when death knocks at our door and joyfully embrace our journey into Heaven? Will people around us ask why we are so joyful along the way? Will we allow our lives to remain an untold story or will we allow Christ to reign in our hearts and lead us forward on mission?
If we choose to, we can cast aside the old man, deny ourselves, and take up our crosses. We can put on Christ and journey towards Heaven with an army of souls behind us. All of us have unique and unrepeatable gifts that the Church needs in order to continue being the “sacrament of salvation” for the whole world (Lumen Gentium). Let us be not be afraid to say, “YES!” With Mary, the Mother of God, as our guide, let us generously say, “YES” to God’s invitation to a life of holiness and mission. If the last 8 to 10 years of my own life are any indication of God’s generosity, you will not be disappointed. Open wide the doors to Christ. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain (St. John Paul II)!