Life Teen Camp

Week 5 | July 6th - 11th

Host: Joe Chernowski

Joe is blessed to have the most amazing wife who is also mother to his six kiddoes. The family is from Buffalo, New York, but are now honored to call Atlanta home as Joe serves as the Eastern Region Director for Life Teen. As a family, they enjoy singing random songs and swimming, while Joe has delusions of himself as a running man. 

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…” So many stories and legends begin with those words. We know that those words are a portal to a dimension of heroes, conflict, despair, triumph, good guys, bad guys, and love stories. And that brings up the question: what makes a good story?  We all love to read a good book, watch a good movie, or hear someone tell a good story.  These stories inspire us, challenge us, make us laugh, make us cry – maybe even all four.

It’s easy to think that the stories we read in books or watch in movies – or even hear about from our grandparents – are better than ours.  But really, our stories are just being formed now.  And they are becoming exciting stories with funny characters, foils, twists and turns, and events that will inspire and challenge us.  There are characters who play a main role, and others who play a smaller role but may have a larger influence.  Who are those people in your story?  What are those events?

Sacred Scripture is the written account of God’s story active in our world, and I think we oversimplify it.  It may begin with, “In the beginning,” rather than, “Once upon a time,” but I think that we don’t recognize the chaos and darkness that God stepped into.  It wasn’t cute or fluffy or full of warm fuzzies.  Darkness and chaos is how our world and our reality began – and God stepped into that and created order. The specific how of God bringing order is less important to us today than the why and the who.  And as Catholics, we believe the who behind the world’s creation and our being here is God, and the why is love. That’s right – the why is love.  God formed us in his own image and likeness because he loves us – and because we have a part to play in his story.  And God wants to be a part of your story.  God is still creating and still writing the story – will you be a part of it?  Will God be a main character, a bit character, or left out of your story?

St. Ignatius of Loyola is an incredible saint who was trying to write his story without God.  He was hung up on vanity, being viewed as a brave leader of men, and romancing the ladies. After he was injured by a cannonball in battle, though, things began to change.  As he was lying in a hospital recuperating from surgery, he read about Christ and the saints, and it led to an incredible twist in his story. He changed from being a knight fighting for his own glory, to one fighting for the glory of God.  He brought his armor and sword to a church and laid them at the altar, pledging himself to fight God’s fight.  He started a religious order, the Jesuits – the biggest in the world now and the same order that Pope Francis belongs to, whose motto is, “For the greater glory of God.”  This was a huge plot twist from the vain, glory-seeking days of his earlier life.

What about your story?  Where has the darkness and chaos been?  Where did God step in and triumph?  How has God been a part of your story so far?  Or will it take a plot twist for you to allow God to have a larger role in your life – much like what happened to St. Ignatius of Loyola?

This week, we are diving into God’s story.  We’re going to look at some stories in scripture, hear about a few more saints, and learn about how God has been actively seeking to love you and the entire world, even when we keep walking away.  All of this is in the hope of us walking away from this week saying, “Yes,” to God’s invitation to a deeper relationship with Him.  That deeper relationship will lead to us having less control of our lives but it will also lead to us having more incredible adventures that we can imagine.  Say, “Yes,” to that trust in God and to the adventure he has planned for you.

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We’ve been talking about stories – the stories we read or watch often involve some sort of villain or tragedy that has to be overcome.  In fact, as superhero movies have shown us, a hero needs a villain.  Salvation is similar.

There was darkness and chaos, and God overcame that to create order, but it didn’t last.  Since love cannot be forced, it must be chosen. God gave us the choice to love him or to reject him.  The story in scripture tells us that oftentimes we choose not to love.  And if we get annoyed and think, “Well, that wasn’t me who ate the apple in the garden! Why am I being punished?” think about those times in our own lives that we have chosen not to love.  Think about those times we were selfish or impatient—or wanted to be more in control.  It’s the same choice that Adam and Eve made.

Scripture tells us the story of God giving the entire Garden of Eden to our first parents – all except for one tree. Adam and Eve made the wrong choice there – and we often make that wrong choice also. The serpent used sly language to trick Eve and he uses the same thing to tempt us.  We aren’t often tempted to be mass murderers – but we are often tempted to betray people we claim to love through gossip or selfishness.  We are often tempted to not trust in God’s plan by engaging in sexual activity before marriage.

And that’s what sin really is – it’s not trusting in God’s plan.  It’s saying, through our actions, that God is not enough.  We try to be gods – we try to be in control – we try to fit in – we try to find happiness our way – we don’t trust – we fail.  When we drink or take drugs to escape or to feel accepted, aren’t we really saying that God’s acceptance and love isn’t enough? When we engage in sexual activity outside of marriage, aren’t we really telling God that his love isn’t enough?  That his plan isn’t worth the wait and that we know better? When we engage in self-harm or self-hate, aren’t we flat out telling God that He isn’t enough?

When we try to take over God’s story in our lives – when we try to provide for ourselves instead of trusting, we hide, and we fail.  And we end up hurt, broken, feeling alone, and feeling desperate.  Our life can sometimes be looked at as a series of choices – some of them more defining than others – that can lead us closer to or further away from God’s love playing a major role in our story. Rather than trusting in God’s love and choosing to obey him, Adam and Eve reached out thinking that they needed more. They wanted one thing – to be like gods…

What’s that one thing for you?  What do you think would complete this statement, “If I just had _____, I’d be happy.” ?  It could be a boyfriend or girlfriend, it could be the fancy, cool new phone, it could be a varsity sports letter, it could be a perfect report card, it could be a new best friend – whatever it is, if your one thing isn’t God, it will leave you unhappy.  It will leave you wanting the next one thing, and then another.

Sin separates and cuts us off from God.  It is us choosing our own path, or the path other people want for us—people, by the way, who don’t always want what’s best for us. The whole storyline of the Old Testament, from Adam and Eve, to the Israelites in Egypt, to David, to the people of Jesus’ time tells us one important thing – we need a savior.  We needed one then, and we need one now. Christ gave his life to be our savior.  He laid it all down to pay for our sins.  St. Paul tells us that, “The wages of sin is death” – and as sinners, that’s our due punishment (Romans 6:23).  But Christ laid down his life so that once and for all, that price wouldn’t have to be paid by us. All we have to do is say, “Yes,” to that mercy extended to us.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation is us telling God that we are sorry for those times when we wouldn’t let him be enough for us—when we wanted to be in control, when we wanted to escape, when we hated ourselves, when we tried to make our own plans.  It is God’s mercy, pouring over us, washing us clean, and reuniting us with him.  It is us telling God that he is what we most desire, that he is our one thing, and that we don’t want to be cut off from him.  Mercy is offered here – a white sheet and clean soul are offered in the sacrament; don’t let this opportunity slip by.


Yesterday, we talked about how the wage of sin is death (Romans 6:23).  We talked about how so often we fall back on our humanity rather than trust in God’s divinity, and we sin.  We separate and cut ourselves off from God.  Salvation History has countless stories – in scripture, no less – of adultery, murder, war, hatred, poor decisions – the list goes on.  It’s in scripture because it reminds us how human we are, and how we fail when we try to be like God.

How about this?  “In those days there was no king […] and everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”  Sounds a lot like modern culture, right?  Sounds a lot like relativism, the idea of “whatever floats your boat.”  A lot like: you do what’s right for you; I’ll do what’s right for me.  Well, that’s from the book of Judges, chapter 21, verse 25.  The idea back then was that since there was no recognized king in Israel, people could choose their own morality—which was wrong.  And it is still wrong now. The lie then is the same as the lie now – that we have the power to be like gods… that I can do what’s right for me when it’s right for me.  We do know that the people of Israel were waiting for their King – for their savior.  This King would have the power to decide right and wrong.

The people of Israel had been waiting hundreds of years for the Savior.  Prophets had been talking about His coming for centuries. The savior was their one hope – their one thing.

The Incarnation happened – Mary said yes in a profound and deep way, even though she didn’t totally understanding God’s plan – and then… nothing really happened.  She was a human in a human situation of family, engagement, and complication with the Jewish law.  She didn’t put a sign out telling people that the Savior was coming, and she was chosen as Mom of all time.  This is the same savior that John tells us was there at the time of creation; he was there when chaos was brought to order.

All the buildup, all the sin, all the hurt, all the prophets, all of God’s promises, and then we get this strange birth story – a cave with animals.  Some smelly shepherds.  Some strange astronomers from far away.  And that’s it.  Sure, we hear a story about Jesus when he was 12 – because missing children is a big deal – but that was it until he was about 30.  Huh?  Centuries, sins, promises, prophets, hope – and we don’t get to hear that?

God was working in that time – forming Jesus for his mission. These 30 years were Jesus’ formation for the defining mission.  Even the public ministry of Christ was part of the preparation and buildup to the real moment of decision – it all led up to the crucifixion.

That’s the moment – the death of the Savior on the Cross.  Seems strange for all that hope and buildup.

BUT – death doesn’t win.

Think about it – put yourself in these situations.   How strong would your faith be if you had witnessed Christ heal someone on the side of the road.  How much would you really believe if you had been present at the last supper?  How much would you hide your faith if you witnessed Christ, your savior, give his life on the Cross?  How passionate would you be about living for Christ if you had stood at the empty tomb?

What if I told you that we do this every week at mass!  Every single Mass is a remembrance – a making present – of the Pascal Mystery.  That’s just a fancy way of saying the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  We are there; we are present; we are witnesses!

The Mass has been focused around the breaking of the bread – the Eucharist – since the very beginning.  Because it is there, at the table of the Lord, that we encounter Christ!  Christ is present, and we witness those key moments of the last supper, the crucifixion, and the resurrection.

When we say, “Amen,” as we receive the Eucharist, we are really saying, “Yes, I believe, Christ is present and alive.”  We say, “Yes, I believe that I am present at the last supper and at the cross, and at the empty tomb all at once.”  We say, “Yes, I want Christ in me.”  We say, yes, as Mary did, that we want Christ fully alive in and through us – that we are willing to live for this – to let this decision define us – that we want in on God’s adventure and story.

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Everyday, we are surrounded by things that have the potential to inspire us – but the question is – how open are we to that inspiration?  St. Ignatius of Loyola taught that we should strive to see Christ in all things – and living in that way, with an open heart and mind, would allow us to be truly inspired on a daily basis.

I want you to imagine that you have found the cure for cancer.  You have discovered it – you know without a shadow of a doubt that it will to cure all forms of cancer immediately.  Would you hide that?  Would you keep it to yourself?  Or would you share it? Wouldn’t you try to get it in everyone’s hands as quickly as possible so you could end the suffering of countless families around the world?

The Gospel is a life-changing message.  It is something that can alter our view on things around us, how we react to difficulties.  It gives us hope when there appears to be none.  It gives us courage to live for more than ourselves.  It is the truth that opens the gates to eternal life for us. Yet, too often we act as if it is a personal possession.  We see it as one compartment of our lives.  We’re students, we’re athletes, we’re sports fans, we like to cook, and oh, we like to go to Church things also.

For the early Apostles, just the opposite was true.  Their relationship with Christ was how they defined themselves.  It was everything to them.  This was their reason for living, it was their mission to share; it was their hope to spend eternity with Christ in heaven.  If Peter and Paul had decided that this was strictly a personal thing, there wouldn’t be a Gospel, or a Church.

What if?  What if we all truly believed that Christ is present at mass?  What if we truly believed that we were loved and redeemed?  We would most certainly shout it from the mountaintops!  There would be nothing that could make us hold it in – not even death – because we know that Christ has overcome death! Well, if that’s the case, let’s hold off on the mountaintops for a minute.  How about our families?  How about our schools?  Our teams and clubs?

Scripture tells us that we are sent out – that we are on a mission – to go, and make disciples (Matthew 28: 19-20). Go!  Don’t just sit there and keep quiet.  Don’t just belong to the cool Catholic club. So, what’s your next step? The problem is, we let so much hold us back: Fear, resentment, not being accepted, being labeled, and the list could go on and on.

The Holy Spirit drives out fear!  You are empowered when you surrender to Christ, let Him work through you, and say yes fully. Tonight, we’re praying that the Holy Spirit falls in this room – that we are empowered – that we are inspired – and that fear is driven away.  Tonight, we want you to listen to hear what Christ is calling you to. Everyone here has a unique mission and call.  You can have your past healed.  You can place your trust in God to plan out your future – and say yes to living out however He is calling you! Your call will look different than the person next to you.  But the truth remains – we are all called – each and every one of us to a mission to bring glory to God, to lead others to Christ, to live for more than ourselves, and to be with Christ forever in Heaven. Tonight, ask Christ face to face in the Eucharist – where you are called.  Then, listen.  Just listen for the stirring of Christ in your heart.

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I remember when I asked my wife to marry me; I was a ball of nerves.  Sure, I was pretty certain she would say yes.  Ok, I figured she would.  Fine, I hoped against all hope that this incredible woman of Christ would agree to spend her life with me. I had so much hope built up for that one moment when I would pop the question.

Where do you place your hope?  The Christians of the early Church placed their hope in Christ.  Sure, they were being persecuted, but the Church grew.  Yes, saying you were a Christian would bring about certain death, yet Christianity thrived. Why? Because the hope of the early Christians was fully centered on Christ.  The early Church was saying yes – and it was guided by the Holy Spirit, built on the firm foundation of Christ.  We still have that same foundation in the Church today.

One of the most well known books in scripture is the Book of Revelation. This is a book full of hope.  It may seem dark and mysterious, but the Book of Revelation makes clear the fact that Christ is the victor, no matter the challenge. Our one big hope should be eternal life with Christ.  Think about it.  Think about the goals you have in life – the strategies you’ve taken to reach some, and the work still ahead to reach others.  I’m not saying to let any of these hopes go – I’m saying make this one hope in Christ your biggest priority.  Because when you trust in Christ – when you say yes to Christ, when you live into that call in your life – Christ will take you beyond your wildest dreams.  This hope in Christ for Heaven isn’t just something worth dying for – it is something worth living for.

In the early days of the Church, wherever martyrdom took place was considered holy and sacred ground.  We believe now that the blood of the martyrs was literally the seed of the Church (Tertullian).  Are you willing to make where you walk holy ground because you’re laying down your life for Christ?  Not because you’re being asked to die for Christ – but because you’re being asked to live for Christ. If you’re living the life Christ is calling you to live, people will ask you about it.  They’ll ask about your joy.  They’ll marvel at your authenticity.  They’ll want the deep contentment that comes from fully trusting in Christ.  Because of that, when you are asked, you need to be ready to give a reason for that joy, that hope, that authenticity, that true peace.  The first letter of St. Peter tells us as much, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (3:15). Are you ready?

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