Editor’s Note: This blog was written by both Brian and Courtney Kissinger.
Summer must be the perfect time for love, right?
From the beginning of time (or at least the past few decades), it's a commonly known fact that summer is the ideal time for finding love. From that guy and girl duet song from Grease about 'summer lovin'' to Katy Perry and Snoop-WhateverHisNewAnimalNameIs extolling the virtues of California Gurls (the misspelling is Katy's fault, not ours), summer always seems to offer more exciting possibilities than the daily routine of the school year.
Could you even imagine an upbeat song about looking forward to anything in November?
Let's face it, summer 'flings' are popular. For some reason, the concept of meeting someone, rapidly falling in like, and then ending it after a month or two sounds like a great idea. By definition, a 'fling' implies something is going to move forward with great force and then come to a quick, dramatic end. In the case of summer flings, that end is a heartbreak.
But heartbreak is the last thing we want to set up as a goal for the summer. Whether it's your own heart breaking or the possibility of breaking someone else's heart, a fling is settling for so much less than we deserve.
We're made for long lasting, committed love, not a fling that leaves you burned at the end of a season. Even more than you need to protect you skin from the sun, Scripture calls us to guard our hearts:
With closest custody, guard your heart, for in it are the sources of life (Proverbs 4:23).
We don't need to go looking for love, we don't need to rush into romance, and we don't need to worry about finding a crush before the school year starts. The truth is that love can surprise us at anytime.
On the most routine and expectedly boring of days, we can find ourselves encountering great love. God is love (1 John 4:16), and you can be sure that He wants you to be happy even more than you do.
The two of us met on a miserably cold day in February, and God's perfect love showed up in a broken world on a quiet night in December. Enjoy this summer, and trust that God's got a perfect plan for your life, even if you have to wait until after August to figure it out.
When I returned to my hometown on the beach after my first year of college, I took a summer job waitressing at a restaurant that was popular with the folks on vacation. I was in a different world. Instead of classes and meetings my time was ruled by the breakfast, lunch and dinner shift and my mood could rise and fall depending on how well my table understood the principle of tipping on 15% of the total check.
While I knew I was lucky that my town had so many summer job opportunities, it was a bit of a culture shock. I worked with all sorts of people, from all walks of life. After or before work, they engaged in a variety of activities including summer school, tanning, a day job, or growing marijuana.
Some of the customers were so kind ‘Ìâ‰âÂÌâ‰Ûù asking me how my day was going and what I was studying in school. Some were entertaining, like the cute life guard from North Dakota whose friends told him to try grits while he was in the South. And some were obnoxious ‘Ìâ‰âÂÌâ‰Ûù sending me back and forth to the kitchen a dozen times and then walking out on the bill.
This will never end
After an especially trying day with my co-workers and customers, I flopped on the floor of my bedroom feeling defeated. It felt like August and my sophomore year of college would never arrive. I'd be serving chicken fingers, biscuits and sweet tea forever and my hair would never stop smelling like bacon (which I've come to learn is actually not a bad thing).
Flicking on my CD player (which is how we listened to music before the internet) the song lyrics cited Hebrews 13:2:
'Do not neglect to show hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels.'
Scripture and the lives of the saints have many examples of people who rose above uncomfortable situations to recognize Christ in those around them. Even though I felt surrounded by strangers, I was inspired by the stories of those in Scripture who were challenged to serve those around them even when it wasn't easy (check out the books of Esther, Judges and Tobit for some cool examples).
God had aided them with help from both humans and angels. I could be confidant that even though I felt like I was in an unfamiliar place, He would help me too.
A New Resolve
I pasted this verse to the inside of the notepad I took orders on and resolved to not see this summer job as simply a means to an end, but as a mission.
For these few months, I was in a group of people that I would most likely have never met otherwise. And, a group of people who might not frequently’Ìâ‰âÂÌâ‰Ûùif ever’Ìâ‰âÂÌâ‰Ûùencounter a Catholic.
While I didn't always succeed, for the rest of the summer I resolved to try to be a reflection of Christ to my co-workers and customers’Ìâ‰âÂÌâ‰Ûùto remember that I was not only 'entertaining angels' but serving Christ in those I worked with. I was honest, didn't skip out on work that we all had to help with and was patient when others needed my help.
Summer jobs can pose some challenges to your faith, integrity, and sanity but they are also a chance to fearlessly live the Gospel.
Don't miss this unique opportunity.
A few practical tips:
Be clear about your beliefs and values from the beginning. This doesn't mean throwing a bible at your co-workers, but consider any possible conflicts with your values’Ìâ‰âÂÌâ‰Ûùfor example, working on Sunday mornings or a questionable dress code’Ìâ‰âÂÌâ‰Ûùand talk about them with your superiors before accepting the position.
Keep in mind that while it may seem like an eternity, you're only going to be at this job for a few months and lifeguarding at the local pool or serving up waffle fries at the drive through probably won't be your life-long career. However, the consequences of your decisions could remain with you long after you turn in your apron and fry hat’Ìâ‰âÂÌâ‰Ûùbe sure they are consequences you can live with.
Workplace crushes are a reality, and there's nothing that says you won't find your soulmate folding t-shirts at Old Navy. However, before you dive into a summer romance with a co-worker, consider what you have in common besides your job. Do you share a bond besides the 13 hours a day you spend under the same roof?
Your summer job is a chance to share Christ through your words and deeds. It's not just a few months off ‘Ìâ‰âÂÌâ‰Ûù it's your mission!
Summer vacation is here, and that means it's time to start putting together the pool/beach bag for the inevitable swimming trip to beat the heat. Bathing suit, towel, sunglasses, flip-flops and, of course, sunscreen. As I was applying sunscreen recently, it occurred to me that sunscreen and prayer share a lot of similarities.
They protect you
Sunscreen protects your skin from harmful sun rays. Similarly, when we pray, our relationship with God deepens and we find protection from the world around us.
It becomes easier to say 'no' to the things this world offers (like a movie or a party) and 'yes' to the ways of God. The world can offer a distorted view of things, like family life, sexuality, and money, but through prayer the Holy Spirit helps us to see the truth.
You need to reapply
If you read your sunscreen label carefully, you'll see that you're supposed to reapply the sunscreen every few hours, or after you get wet. If you don't you won't be protected since the sunscreen has worn off.
In the same way, you can't just pray once a week at Church and expect to have deep relationship with God. Any relationship requires a commitment, and effort. We need to 'reapply' by praying every day. We may have grown in holiness at a retreat last winter, but we won't keep growing if we don't keep praying.
While we typically only use sunscreen at the beach, anyone who skis knows that using it on the slopes is a must keep your face from being burned by the sun's reflection on the snow. And I found that if I don't use sunscreen while driving in the summer, I end up with two different colored arms. So basically, you can use sunscreen everywhere.
You can pray everywhere, too. In fact, St. Paul said, 'Pray without ceasing' (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). So while there are places more favorable to prayer, like at Church before the Blessed Sacrament, or in our 'prayer corner' at home (CCC 2691), we can still pray on the bus, at school, or at work. One easy way is to offer up everything you do by saying, 'For you, Jesus.'
You might think you don't need it, but you do
Some people claim that they never tan, only burn. But just because you don't look like a lobster doesn't mean your skin cells can't turn cancerous later. At the very least you'll reach middle age and discover your skin has the consistency of leather.
Sometimes we don't think we need to pray either, because we don't 'feel' like we need God. But the truth is that we always need God. If we don't pray regularly to build a relationship with Him then when hard times come and we finally feel like we need Him, it's difficult to listen to His voice since we're so out of practice. Regular prayer is a necessity.
So go out into the sun this summer and start lathering on your sunscreen. But don't let your laid back summer routine interfere with a regular prayer life.
Friends, I truly hope you're enjoying your summer. Whether you've been sleeping, reading, soaking up the sun, going to camps and conferences, or a little of everything . . . I hope it's been blessed.
I was honored to host a week of camp at Hiawassee this past month and I asked the teens there about some of the pros and cons of summer. You can probably guess most of the pros: no school, time by the beach, time by the lake, no school, time in the mountains, time at camp, no school, etc. Those were pretty much what I expected to hear.
However, I was thankful for a few honest teens who opened up about the cons of summer. The one that most caught my attention was this: lack of order. Indeed, it's hard to stay spiritually and emotionally healthy and whole without much order in your schedule.
Since the school year gives us a pretty consistent and tight schedule, we don't have much time to think and act for ourselves. We're told when to wake up, when to switch classes, when to gather for practices and rehearsals, when to eat our meals, and many other things. But summertime is a little more loose.
Because of this, we need to strive extra hard to keep first things first. Namely, prayer. If we aren't trying, prayer can easily get lost in the chaos. In order to help with this situation, I've compiled a brief list of things that help me continue to stay on point during these summer months.
Now this one may seem obvious, but how often we neglect this great gift! Jesus, truly present in the Eucharist, is available to us more than just on Sundays. During the school year, 8:30 am Mass may be hard or impossible to attend. But it's summer now! On free mornings, make your way down to your local parish. Not only will you grow in virtue, but you'll make everything you do that day better and more fruitful. You may even inspire some of the more, ehh, seasoned people who are there daily.
Liturgy of the Hours
If you've been waiting for an opportunity to grow holier and pray more often, here's your chants! (Sorry, I couldn't pass up that incredibly corny pun). The Liturgy of the Hours are prayed throughout the day and typically consist of one or more psalms paired with other scriptures and reflections of the Saints. (Lord I need You, Oh I need You. Every hour I need You.)
All of our Religious in the Church pray the hours, and lay people are encouraged to do so as well. They're the prayers Jesus, as a devout Jew, prayed 2,000 years ago! It's an awesome way for us to join together with the Church to pray unceasingly, meditate, and come to a deeper and more beautiful understanding of Sacred Scripture.
Prayer on your Pillow
This third one has helped me several times in life. You pick your form of prayer for the day and place it on your pillow. It can be a bible, a rosary, a prayer card, or something else. In the morning you place it on your pillow, and this way it will be impossible to forget praying before you go to bed! Simple!
Schedule Prayer for Each Day
How about we all channel our inner pre-school teacher! Let's get creative. Here's an example of how you can remember to pray every day. You can make Monday 'Mary Monday' and pray a rosary every Monday. How about making Wednesday 'Worship Wednesday' where you commit to praying with some worship music at least once this day! Ooh, and then there's 'Fasting Friday'. Choose something you want to fast from and offer that sacrifice for a special intention. Now I know these seem cheesy, but if you're slacking in your prayer life, it's worth it! There's nothing cheesy or childish about growing in prayer. It's the most mature and responsible thing you can do.
May this summer be fun and relaxing for you without sacrificing the prayer time and order that a healthy lifestyle requires. See you around!
As a kid I remember being super excited for a road trip from Massachusetts to New Jersey to visit my grandparents. In my five year old brain, 'New Jersey' might as well have been the moon and a week was basically forever. I had to pack accordingly. Pulling bags out the closet I filled them with my stuffed animals, dolls, books, art supplies, my sticker collection and a panda poster.
Wisely, my mother did an audit on the bags when I told her I was ready to go. She explained to me that I needed to bring fewer toys and games and pack the items that were really important like clean socks and underwear. Dumping out my first attempt, we picked outfits for each day, pajamas and a swimsuit for the sprinkler and placed those inside first. When I got to Grandma and Grandpa's, I was ready for anything. And I didn't miss my panda poster.
We can treat our summers like I treated my first attempt at packing’Ìâ‰âÂÌâ‰Ûùas a big space to fill with fun stuff. As school lets out and our responsibilities lessen, the possibilities for awesome seem endless and we can start filling our days with trips to the beach, vacations and odd jobs. Yet, if we're not careful, a lapse in our routine can lead us to forget what's most important.
The Eucharist’Ìâ‰âÂÌâ‰Ûùthe body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ which we receive when we participate in Mass is 'the source and summit of the Christian life' (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1324). We don't take a holiday from Christian life. Therefore, it would be foolish to think we could take a 'holiday' from receiving the Eucharist and not suffer. Just like I would have been in a world of hurt if I had attempted a vacation with no clean socks or underwear, skipping mass on Sunday is a mortal sin that cuts us off from the graces God wants to give us in every moment of life.
Have you ever not realized how hungry you were until you walked into the kitchen and smelled dinner cooking? Suddenly your stomach is growling loudly, your mouth is watering and you can't wait to eat!
Our need for the Eucharist can be like this. When we drift away from the sacraments – especially the Eucharist – we find ourselves more prone to give in to temptation, feeling distant from God and just struggling. We may not always realize the graces we're getting from the sacraments – just like we don't always realize that we're hungry.
Just like a balanced diet keeps us physically healthy, regularly receiving the Eucharist keeps us spiritually healthy. This summer, don't let your soul starve!
Mass is actually offered every day at most Catholic Churches. Take advantage of the break from your school schedule and commit to attending mass not just on Sundays but another day during the week. Ask your youth minister if there is a mass they like to attend during the week and offer to organize a breakfast or lunch afterwards.
If you start a job this summer, tell your employer up front that you can't start work on Sundays until after mass is over. This won't come as a surprise to most managers, just be sure you don't spring it on them after they've made a schedule for the week. Learn how to request time off and be sure you do it.
If you're attending a camp that isn't Catholic, be sure that they offer transportation to a Catholic Sunday Mass or Saturday vigil. Many camps will have some sort of Sunday prayer service and while praying with your friends is great, this is not a substitute for Catholic mass. Your parents may need to call and make arrangements, so do your research ahead of time, don't wait until you're getting dropped off to find out what your options are.
When you're out of town, research the local churches and their mass times. If you have a smartphone, you can download the Catholic Directory App to use your phone's GPS to find Catholic Churches near you!
If you are travelling with friends, talk to them before you leave and be sure that they understand this is important to you. Be sure that they'll be able to either drop you off at Mass or invite them to join you’Ìâ‰âÂÌâ‰Ûùit can be a great way to share your faith!
Now that it's well into summer you're starting to pass from the 'Yes! I don't have to go to school!' phase into the 'Wow, I'm really bored' phase. It's a great time to start digging a bit deeper into the Catholic faith, to start growing more in your knowledge and love of God. So here's a list of some awesome books to get you started.
Ablaze: Stories of Daring Teen Saints by Colleen Swaim
So your youth minister told you about the universal call to holiness and you thought to yourself, 'Sounds great. But I can't be a saint now, can I? That sounds like something to do when I have more time, like after college, right?'
Wrong. First of all, there is no time after college (I wish!) and secondly, yes, you are called to be a saint now! And Ablaze gives you eight examples of saints who lived this call to holiness while they were young. It includes pictures, prayers, 'saintly challenges' and helpful tidbits, like maps and definitions (finally, I know what a postulant is!). Read this book and become inspired to start practicing the virtues and walking the road toward sanctity now.
YOUCAT: Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church
If you've wanted to learn more about the Church's teachings, but were afraid to pick up the Catechism because it's full of big words, tiny footnotes and a weird numbering system, then fear no more!
YOUCAT gives you all the goodness of the Catechism in a more readable question and answer format. It answers questions like 'Faith’Ìâ‰âÂÌâ‰Ûùwhat is it?' (Question #21), 'What happens if you don't feel anything when you pray?' (508), 'Why isn't the Church a democracy?' (140), and 'What is the Church's judgment on artificial fertilization?' (423).
It's also filled with loads of extras like Bible passages; definitions; quotes from the saints, popes, and others; color photos; and stick figure pictures of everything from a wedding to the Stations of the Cross. You can read through it in bite-sized chunks to learn more about the faith, sacraments, prayer, and social teaching’Ìâ‰âÂÌâ‰Ûùthoroughly impressing everyone at your youth group.
You Can Understand the Bible by Peter Kreeft
Reading the Bible can be hard. It's a big book with thin pages and if you start at the beginning you're bound to get bogged down in Leviticus (trust me).
It helps to have a road map, so you know what's going on in each book of the Bible’Ìâ‰âÂÌâ‰Ûùlike who the prophets were talking too, or why Paul had to write two letters to the Corinthians. This book explains all that and more. An easy read (I first read it at the beach), each chapter gives an overview of a book of the Bible, and connects the Bible stories to our Catholic beliefs and how we should live out our Christianity today. Because that's what reading the Bible is all about’Ìâ‰âÂÌâ‰Ûùlistening the Word of God so that we change our lives to be more like Jesus'.
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
Okay, so Lewis wasn't Catholic (he was Anglican) but his writings on Christianity are so good that Catholics quote him all the time (he's all over the YOUCAT). You probably know him as the guy who wrote the Chronicles of Narnia.
This book is a series of letters from one devil to another’Ìâ‰âÂÌâ‰ÛùScrewtape advising his 'nephew' on how to tempt an average man who lives in England during World War 2. Screwtape writes how best to tempt their 'patient' into discord with his mother, unchastity, and out of prayer.
He also breaks down into some hilarious fits as he tries to figure out what God ‘Ìâ‰âÂÌâèÏs real purpose is’Ìâ‰âÂÌâ‰Ûùbecause 'all His talk about Love must be a disguise for something else,' right? This is an amusing book and a humbling reminder that it's just as important to watch out for the 'everyday sins' as it is for the big ones.
John Paul 2 High series by Christian M. Frank
The only problem I have with teen fiction books is that characters are never quite like my friends and me’Ìâ‰âÂÌâ‰Ûùthey don't go to Church, pray the rosary, or get into arguments about when the Christmas season is officially over.
Which is why I love the John Paul 2 High series, because these characters do. The series follows a group of Catholic teenagers as they deal with school, dating, forgiveness, and questions of the faith. The story has an action streak in it too; part of the plot revolves around a school shooter.
Teen fiction is about everyday problems, and these characters have ones that are specific to Catholic life, like loving your enemies, understanding why we go to Church, and believing in God.
Letters to a Young Catholic by George Weigel
What does it mean to be Catholic?
George Weigel (Pope John Paul II's biographer) thinks that it's more than just praying every day and going to church, that there's also some sort of internal way of looking at the life and the world that's different.
To explain this Weigel takes his reader on a tour of the Catholic world, from his home parish in Maryland to the Sistine Chapel, from Mt. Sinai to a London pub. Each 'letter' describes a place, a piece of history or a Catholic figure, and some aspect of Catholic life’Ìâ‰âÂÌâ‰Ûùwhy we pray, Mary and discipleship, what we can learn from beauty. They show the impact of Catholicism throughout history and the world, and are a good introduction to notable Catholic saints and thinkers.
If You Really Loved Me: 100 Questions on Dating, Relationships, and Sexual Purity by Jason Evert
When it comes to sexual morality the Catholic Church has some very specific opinions. But have you ever wondered why the Church teaches what it does? In this book Jason Evert explains the why behind teachings on premarital sex, contraception, cohabitating, pornography and more.
Read this book to get a deeper understanding of what love and chastity really are, and how God's plan for human sexuality will leave us happy and fulfilled. It also gives answers to practical question you might have, like how far is too far, how to start over, and how to stay pure. Living purity isn't easy, and this book gives you facts and information you can use to explain your beliefs to your skeptical friends.
So there you have it. A list of seven books to educate, entertain, and enrich your faith life. Happy reading!
Growing up in Ohio, we were oppressed. State laws made it illegal to use any fireworks that were bigger and better than those little party packs you can get at a grocery store. If it wasn't a sparkler, a tiny, exploding bottle of confetti, or one of those paper snap things, you couldn't use it.
And they wonder why people aren't as patriotic anymore?
Despite the lockdown on our Constitutional right to pyrotechnic displays and loud noise-making, my family would always make the trip to watch our hometown fireworks show. The best part was always the finale and even the most hardened heart couldn't help but be inspired. Fireworks are just really cool, and there's no denying it.
Baby, You're a Firework
When I first heard Katy Perry's now-overplayed Firework, I thought it was a really catchy song. It seemed to be encouraging and empowering, and as a youth minister, I was delighted that none of the words needed to be censored.
‘Cause baby, you’re a firework
Come on, show ‘em what you’re worth
Make ‘em go “oh, oh, oh!”
As you shoot across the sky-y-y
I liked the idea that I was similar to a firework, a bright and shining spark lighting up the sky. I wanted to live a life that made everyone say, 'oh, oh, oh.'
Actually, Never Mind.
But then I thought about it more and I decided that the LAST thing I want to be is a firework. As exciting as they are, fireworks don't really have a long life. There's a high-pitched hum, a crackle, and then a really cool explosion of light that lasts for maybe five seconds.
And that's all there is. Except for the smell of sulfur that lasts for another minute, and the charred out debris that lands somewhere. For all of their glory, fireworks burn out pretty fast. No matter how high they go, no matter how cool the colors are, they're forgotten when the next one goes off.
I don't want to live my life like that. I don't want to be a flash that impresses people for a few moments and then fades into oblivion.
I think we have way too many examples of people who live like this; they have a huge moment (or two) of fame but it's over pretty quickly. We were not made to be fireworks. We were not made to chase short-term glory; God created our hearts to be part of His eternal glory (Isaiah 26:8).
What Are You?
If my life revolves around making myself famous, I may succeed, but it will be insignificant in the long-term. A holy priest once told my friend that we can either live to be remembered for a few years or we can be remembered for centuries. I doubt that any of us know who the political leaders, celebrities, or famous people were in 13th Century Italy.
800 years later we're still talking about saints like Francis of Assisi; men and women who refused to chase after worldly fame because they were living for eternity.
Why would we settle for momentary glory when we were made for so much more?
The good news is that you, and I, are not fireworks.
Don't get me wrong, I do hope that you’re noticed, that you’re appreciated, and that people say 'ah, ah, ah,' when they meet you.
We have the opportunity to live lives of significance. Do we want our only legacy to be the smell of sulfur and the burnt out pieces of a life that was once impressive?
This year, I hope you enjoy the fireworks. They are pretty amazing. But they've got nothing on you.
Here are 10 more fun things you can do if you're afraid of getting bored during the dog days of summer.
Miniature Golf Tournament. I have always loved miniature golf. Whoever came up with the concept amazes me. Take golf, one of the hardest games to play, and add windmills, caves, and other obstacles to frustrate the most patient of people. It's amazing. If you want to have a good time this summer, setup your own version of the Masters. Dress up like real golfers, go to your local miniature golf location, and play a round. For a prize, go to your local thrift store and buy an inexpensive green jacket.
Water balloon fight. Who loves water balloons? I do! Seriously though, who doesn't love water balloons? I mean they are balloons filled with water. This one is pretty self-explanatory. Just go to your local store, and buy a pack or two. Fill them up with your hose and head for the local park. Then, have an all-out water balloon fight. Just be sure to pick up the scraps when you're done.
Find a fun job. One of the things you may have to do with your summer is get a job. This is a good way to get used to what it's like to have a boss and be in the work place. But, who says you can't have fun while doing it? Try finding a job doing something you enjoy. I once worked for the local Little League umpiring baseball games for kids, and it was a blast. If you enjoy working with kids, try working at a store like Build-A-Bear or an amusement park. Maybe you could be a lifeguard. There are a lot of possibilities out there; you just have to be willing to do the research to find the right place for you.
Backwards Day. If you really want to transform one of our summer vacation days, have a backwards day. Do everything backwards (as best you can). Have dinner for breakfast, breakfast for lunch, and lunch for dinner. Eat dessert BEFORE each meal. Wear your clothes backwards. Walk backwards. Just don't drive backwards, unless you are absolutely supposed to.
Photo scavenger hunt. Get together with a group of friends and make a list of various locations in your area. The rules are simple. You split into teams and have to take a picture at each location featured. Set a time limit, and whoever does the most in the allotted time wins!
Summer Camp Counselor. Maybe you don't want to get a job this summer, and your parents aren't forcing you to, but you can still do something meaningful with your days. Consider being a summer camp counselor for children. There are a variety of camps that that deal with anything from sports, to music, to arts and crafts. Giving back to the community is something that is so important and helping children is something that you'll always treasure.
Host your own 'Minute to Win It' game show. Have you seen the show 'Minute to Win It'? It's pretty awesome and involves a variety of simple games that you have to try to complete within one minute. Get your friends together; setup a bunch of games, and play. If you really want to make a spectacle of it, do it on your driveway, so all your neighbors can be entertained, and have someone dress up like Guy Fieri.
Invent a new game in the pool. When I was a kid, my brother and I used to invent pool games all the time. I think they were all called 'Shark', but they each had different rules. Anyway, if you're tired of Marco Polo, create some other fun games you can play. Who knows? Maybe you'll come up with your own version of 'Shark', and we'll cross paths one day.
Tailgate tournament. If you've ever been to a college or professional football game, chances are that you've seen a bunch of tailgate games that people play in the parking lot. There's Cornhole, Ladder ball, Bocce Ball, and more. They are all so much fun. Get a few together and have a tournament with your friends. Make the winner a Root Beer Float.
Read a spiritual book. I never loved to read in high school because most of the time, I had to read whatever the teacher assigned. While I was sure to be obedient to my teacher and work hard for good grades, I still wished that I could read something for fun. As I grew older, and reading was no longer assigned, I began to get into some good Catholic and Christian books, which helped me to learn a lot about my faith. If you're looking for something challenging and inspiring, pick up a book by a Catholic or Christian author. You can check out our Life Teen Store for some great options.
We at Life Teen, we hope you all have a great, fun, and holy Summer Break. We hope to see many of you at any of our events with your parish this summer. Above all, please know that you are constantly in your prayers, and we love all of you very much.
One of my favorite things about high school was the last week of school. Sure there were finals, but I knew the school year was about to end, and it was almost time for summer break. Ah . . . summer break. Oh how I would look forward to it. Oh how I would long for it. Oh how I would plan out all the exciting things I was going to do, only to get trapped in a cycle of boredom within a week. You probably know the drill and have been there before. There's nothing to do. It's too hot, and theme parks are too expensive. So, what can you do? Well, if you're not already going to Life Teen Summer Camp, here are 10 fun things you can do with your summer vacation:
Backyard camping. Who doesn't love a good camping trip? Why not take all the travel and preparation out of it and have one in your very own backyard? Grab a tent, some friends (of the same gender), and your sleeping bags, and get ready for a fun night laughing, telling stories, and more. For an added bonus, bring along some graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate to make smores.
Chutes and Ladders Tournament. Bring back the memories of your childhood by getting out the old Chutes and Ladders board game from your closet. (You know you still have it.) Find some friends who own it to have multiple games, get a bunch of people together, and setup a tournament bracket. Give the winner a big blue ribbon to wear, and if you don't have the game, try Candy Land.
Volunteer some of your time for that 'Cause' you 'liked' on Facebook. We all have causes that we 'support' on facebook, but supporting something on your page and actively working for them are two different things. Take a look at those causes, and find out how you can volunteer some of that free time you have for them. It will make a world of difference.
Create a short movie or documentary. Nowadays, websites like YouTube are very popular as people create videos that they hope will go viral. Sometimes the videos are great. Other times, not so much. Why not get a group of friends together, write a screenplay and script, and put together a 5 or 10-minute movie? You could work on this in one day, one week, or even a whole month.
Christmas in July. One of my favorite times of year is Christmas: the joy, the gifts, the decorations. I just love it. So, why does it have to be only once a year? Get out your Christmas tree and garland, blast your favorite version of 'Holly Jolly Christmas', and host a Christmas party in July. If you really want to make it fun, organize a white elephant gift exchange, or watch a classic Christmas movie like 'Elf'.
Wiffle Ball Homerun Derby. If you're a baseball fan, you know all about the annual Homerun Derby. (In fact, this year I'm really excited because it's in Phoenix. If anyone has tickets, they want to donate to a man in ministry and diehard baseball fan, I think I may know someone who's interested). Anyway, it's an exciting event, and as a kid, I used to dream of what it would be like to play in my own. But, who says you can't? Go to your local store, get that thin yellow bat and white wiffle ball, and play in your front yard. If you really want to go back to your childhood, pretend to be your favorite player. I'm Ken Griffey, Jr.!
Help with Vacation Bible School. My mom is a Coordinator of Christian Formation at a Catholic parish, and she would love that I put this on the list. Why? Because she is always in need of good teenagers to help out at Vacation Bible School. As teenagers you are role models to many younger kids, and what better way to spend part of your summer than to teach them about the faith. It's a great week, filled with lots of joy, and you'll probably make some new friends too!
Slip ‘Ìâ‰âÂÌâèÏN Slide races. Is it possible to not smile while you are around a Slip ‘Ìâ‰âÂÌâèÏN Slide? Ok, maybe if you sprained your ankle, but otherwise, this is one of the most joyful things in the world. So, what's better than one Slip ‘Ìâ‰âÂÌâèÏN Slide? How about 2 of them, side-by-side, so you can race? For an even bigger smile on your face, grab a pack of Yoo-hoo and some popsicles.
Make a scrapbook. I am not an arts and crafts kind of guy. I can barely draw a stick figure, but I do love reflecting on the many good times I've had in my life. If you're looking for something to do this summer, take some time to go through some old pictures or mementos and make your own scrapbook. It'll be a great thing that you can go back to at any time when you want to remember something special in your life.
Learn something new. Summer vacation is a great opportunity to do something you always wanted to do but didn't have the time. You have about 3 months of free time on your hands; use it to learn something new. Perhaps you could take some cooking classes. (If you're going to be heading off to college soon, this is a good skill to learn; trust me.) Maybe you could take some guitar lessons or learn another instrument. What about learning another language? The opportunities are endless. After all, learning doesn't have to be something we only do at school.
Regardless of how you spend your summer break, be sure to make the most of it. Once you're done with school and in the work force, you're going to miss the 3 months of free time you used to have to do whatever you want. These are just some ideas. Come up with some of your own, and be creative. Your summer vacation will only be boring if you allow it to be.
Vacation. A time to get away and relax on a beach somewhere . . . A time to be with family and reminisce about old memories while making new ones . . . A time to hang out with friends, walking up and down Main Street and eating pizza and ice cream til sundown.
Vacations are wonderful . . . until something goes wrong.
Bad weather, theft, sickness … no matter how well planned a vacation is, it will never turn out perfect.
It was the shoes that did me in. The cheap fashion sneakers that were good enough for mall hopping but not for traipsing four days across the cobblestone streets of Rome, Italy. By the second day of my vacation my feet were throbbing and blisters were forming. Every vacation will go wrong somehow, but what are you supposed to do when it does?
I had spent months planning for my vacation to Rome. I checked out a guide book from the library, bought my tickets, and printed out pages of maps and bus schedules from online. Not that I was going to try to take in the whole city in four days, quite the opposite.
My plan was to simply do the four things I wanted to do the most. I would do one each day, at a leisurely, non-stressful pace. After my mini-vacation I would stay in Italy for another few days to go to a retreat.
A couple weeks before I left, an acquaintance of mine, Liz, asked me if I could remember her intentions while in Rome. I was a little surprised since I don't usually put sightseeing and praying together, but I agreed.
Here’s a picture I took of the view from the top of the dome at St. Peter’s!
I'd forgotten until I was halfway down the stairs from the dome of St. Peter's Basilica. The climb up was all right, even though I skipped the elevator and climbed all 551 steps by myself.
After I saw the view from the dome (you can see all of Rome from up there) and began to climb down, squeezing through the tight, tilted stairways that spiraled around the dome my feet were started to ache. As I stopped to catch my breath against one of the tiled walls I remembered what I had told Liz and offered up the suffering for her intentions.
Offer it Up
'Offering it up' means giving our sufferings to Jesus on the cross, to join with His suffering and to use it for the good of others. Doing this gives our suffering meaning. It no longer stands alone, but becomes 'a participation in the saving work of Jesus.' (CCC 1521)
St. Paul talks about this when he wrote to the Colossians, saying 'In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of His Body, that is, the Church” (Colossians 1:24). This doesn't mean that Christ's suffering was missing something. It means that when we offer Him up any suffering we have, big or small, body or mind, we unite it with His suffering and are able to participate in His sacrifice for the good of the Church.
For the rest of my trip, whether I was tired, hungry, waiting in a line, or trying not to get lost in the middle of an abandoned field on the way to a museum, I offered it all up for the intentions of my friend.
A Huge Difference
The result was a much happier trip for me. Instead of spending hours complaining about my sore feet I found comfort knowing that God was going to use this suffering for good, and I was able to enjoy my trip despite the difficulties. And when I finished my vacation days and arrived at my retreat it didn't feel like such a shift in mentality, because I'd had a connection to God the whole time.
So this summer when you're on vacation, whether it's at home or away, and the inevitable complications occur ‘Ìâ‰âÂÌâ‰Ûù flight delays, flat tires, hitting grandma in the face with a football (I swear it was an accident!) ‘Ìâ‰âÂÌâ‰Ûù don't think of them as ruining an otherwise perfect vacation. Try to think of these things as an opportunity to offer up suffering as a prayer to God. I promise it’s better than complaining.
If you're on the interweb, you've seen #YOLO unfold in a series of tweets or status updates of shenanigans involving late nights, red bull, and impulsive hair dye. I don’t find the choices in these updates all that inspiring.
When I think of life-changing choices that inspire, I think of my friends Cathleen, Mark, JD and Kate.
Cathleen was a pre-med student. The spring break of her senior year, she went on a medical mission trip to Ecuador. She spent a week taking canoes and hacking through rainforest to reach remote villages and administer life-saving immunizations. I remember her sitting cross-legged and sunburnt on the floor of my dorm room, as she told me that she was putting aside her medical school applications and impressive shoe collection to return to Central America to serve as a missionary.
She taught in a mission high school for two years and married the head of the school science department. Cathleen remains in Central America with her husband where her life is nothing like she imagined. She still wears great shoes.
Mark studied biochemistry at the University of Toronto where he also held the number one place on the tennis team, had a serious girlfriend, and graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1995. He deferred a full graduate level scholarship to spend a year volunteering as a high school teacher in Belize, Central America. Although he had never given it previous thought, in his second year there he discerned a call to the priesthood and was ordained by Blessed John Paul II in 2003.
Now the pastor at the mission where he once volunteered, his days are filled with the stuff movies are made of ‘Ìâ‰âÂÌâ‰Ûù crossing bridges made of planks and rope to bring the sacraments to remote villages and trucking through the hills of Guatemala to celebrate Mass in chapels rarely visited by priests.
His latest adventure was bringing 20 youth from Belize to World Youth Day in Madrid. He said that sharing this journey with the youth,
'To walk beside them and stand invited into the intimate moments of God's own revealing love to them . . . to admire the wonder of Christ's love for them and His love in them has been quite possibly the greatest, most quiet of personal joys in my priesthood thus far.'
Kate & JD
In November, Kate and JD were licensed as adoptive parents, ready to receive whatever child God had in mind for them. Max was born a month later and placed in their family. When describing the handsome, smiling baby he cuddled in his new Facebook profile photo, JD explained that Max has Down Syndrome,
'Which means God has a few extra challenges ahead for him. We can't know how Down's Syndrome will affect Max's life until he lives it . . . But we're excited to face new challenges together with Max!'
Do You Only Live Once?
Cathleen, Father Mark, Kate and JD made decisions based not on the idea that you only live once, but that their lives are eternal and their actions have eternal consequences for themselves and those they encounter. To put aside the luxuries, rewards or the 'easy path' on earth may seem crazy or ill-advised, but following Christ has always been about faith in Christ's promise that 'whoever loses his life for my sake will find it' (Matthew 16:25).
In choosing to lose their lives to the plan of God, they've discovered what Father Mark describes as, 'The great life, the Catholic life, life to the full.'
This week I found myself scavenging for loose change under the seats in my car so I could to afford a long anticipated vanilla double-shot latte. It cost me like $5! When did coffee get so expensive? (Okay, that's another story.)
It seems like everything fun or delicious costs money. You might feel like when money is tight or non-existent the only option on a friday night is to sit and stare at the wall.
But instead you could go on a hunt to capture a chipmunk with friends! Kidding. But my friend just told me that in college he and his friends' were on a mission to capture a live chipmunk, cage it, and then make it domestic. By domestic I mean that my friend was convinced that he could actually train the chipmunk like a pet dog.
So these guys spent the day hurling their bodies around a park trying to capture these little critters. Hilarious . . . and scary! (Do chipmunks have rabies? . . . moving on)
If the chipmunk hunt doesn't appeal to you, here are some more creative and inexpensive ways to fill those empty pockets with fun and excitement this summer:
Have an 80′s movie marathon. Rent as many 80′s movies as you can find and watch them all weekend. You can get them at the library for cheap; well, usually for free. You can explore other decades too. My friends and I propped our feet up one night for black and white movies from the 40's-50's.
Bring back coloring books. That's right. Jesus told us to be like children. So let's gear up. You can buy a few books at the dollar store with some sweet crayons. You and your friends can decorate pages while listening to your favorite iTunes mix.
Make a “how to” youtube video. It could be about anything – make macaroni and cheese, boil an egg, or give instructions to your favorite dance moves (breakdancing, crunking, popping, freestyle, hip hop). Teach me how to dougie! See how random and weird you can make your video. Get creative.
Water Balloon Fight meets Capture the Flag! Balloons + Water + Swimming suits + a bunch of friends = Epic Adventure. Make teams, hide around your neighborhood, and play capture the flag.
Spend the whole night talking in a different language accent. This may sound ridiculous, but it is super funny. Especially if you are horrible at them. My brother laughs at me because my English 'accent' sounds like I am Australian man from India. Apparently he hasn't heard the Austrialan/English/Indian dialect. (*Ahem, ok, let's just pretend that exists)
Rearrange Furniture without telling anyone. Your room and your muscles are in need of a work out. So get the Fung-Sway on and arrange your room or the family room in a new way. Make new shapes, but act like you have no idea what the family is talking about. See if anyone even notices.
Bring a pile of your laundry and play reverse strip poker. Don't get scandalized. This is all about adding clothes and it is super fun. Each time you lose a round add a layer of clothing. By the end you should look like are a big marshmallow of layers. Make sure there’s air conditioning!
Teach yourself how to Knit. Knitting is super cool
Connect to a random relative member. Your cousin who you haven't seen since last Thanksgiving is in need of some LOVE. So pick up the phone, skype, or facetime. I am not talking about that 'odd' uncle you try to avoid. Think of someone you haven't reached out to in years. Surprise them!
Make a bucket list with list with a friend. We all have things we want to do or accomplish in our life: Go Skydiving. See the Grand Canyon, Marry a really holy (and attractive) Catholic man . . . Oh wait. That my list. Whatever your dream items are, take some time to write them down and start accomplishing them!
The point is that a lack of funds shouldn't keep you. With child-like attitude and a sense of adventure make some memories that you will remember without going into more debt before college.
And maybe if you spend less money on entertaining yourself, you can afford that cup of coffee for the road.
When I really got into my faith and my Christian walk during high school, a few things really annoyed me . . . (in no particular order)
People who left right after Communion at Mass.
Some “Christians” who persecuted me for being Catholic, or told me I’m was going to hell.
Watching friends from school act one way at Church and another way on Friday nights.
Guys who were “too cool” to sing or worship their Creator.
Some teens who used their faith walk as a way to “pick up” the opposite sex.
But over time, those things didn’t annoy me as much. I realized that prayer for those people (and myself) got me a lot further than annoyance or bitterness. One thing that still really irks me, though, is when I hear someone say that Christians can’t have any fun. That’s just idiotic. It makes about as much sense as an inflatable dartboard . . . just stupid.
Christians can absolutely have fun. If Christians don’t have fun that’s nobody’s fault but their own . . . it has nothing to do with living out their faith. The people who claim that without alcohol, drugs, or premarital sex that there can be no fun, have NO conception of or true relationship with Jesus Christ.
There’s nothing more fun than laughing so hard your abs hurt and having your head hit the pillow at the end of the day knowing that your words and deeds did not offend your Creator and Father. Christian fun can be found almost anywhere, it just takes humility and creativity – it takes remembering that God is God and you’re not, and that He created us with a creative spirit, we just need to tap into it.
True “Christian fun” necessitates a few things and has a few criteria:
Constructive not Destructive – It doesn’t damage anyone or anything else. It builds up and doesn’t tear down. There is no victim.
Inclusive – It doesn’t shut people out. It’s not cliquish, the more the merrier.
No Regrets – You shouldn’t feel ashamed afterwards. You could share it with anyone and not feel the need to hide it or to go to Confession afterwards.
Creative – Open your minds and eyes to the fun around you. Think outside the box.
Christ-Centered and Life-Giving – It flows from Christ. It forms us into the image of Christ through innocence and deepens our overall holiness.
Prayer – Prayer should be able to be incorporated very easily, at the beginning, middle or end.
This could be the greatest, funnest (how’s that for terrible English) summer of your life, one in which you explore and discover dozens of new ways to celebrate life and laugh yourselves sick – all for the glory of the Kingdom of God.
Now what do you think? Would you rather be called beautiful or sexy? Exquisite or provocative? Lovely or tempting? Gorgeous or beddable?
I almost gagged when I saw 'beddable' as a synonym for sexy. It's pretty disgusting that if a man sees you as 'sexy,' he sees you as a target with whom he can get into bed easily.
It may not seem disgusting if you're picturing your handsome boyfriend seeing you as 'beddable,' but what about the old man walking down the street? Yup. Now you're grossed out.
Sex, Sex, Sex
When a man sees a woman whom he thinks is sexy, he's looking at her with one thing in mind: sex. This might be great if every man walking around had a beautiful vision of sex as “a glorious thing created by God to be an act of selfless love, a gift of oneself created for marriage to be an icon and foretaste of the joys of the marriage of Christ and the Church in Heaven!”
But, I'm assuming that isn't the case in our pornographic culture where airbrushed, scantily clad women are used like objects to sell cars and beer, and sex is seen as something 'dirty' that can be thrown out with the trash on a first date.
Why do I care if you’re seen as beautiful or sexy?
Because I want you to know how good and beautiful you are, and to use your beauty to draw others to God (who is authentic Beauty), rather than to use your beauty to manipulate and draw others lustfully to yourself.
Because I never ever want a man to treat you like an object to use for his own lust/pleasure. I want you to guard your beauty in a way that humbly commands the respect of who you are as a person (a daughter of God, which makes you royalty and a Princess), rather than to disregard your beauty, and throw it away like one who prostitutes her beauty and body to any man who desires it.
And how does this relate to bikinis?
Well, an interesting study was done at Princeton University (and thank you, Jason Evert, for bringing this study to my attention), where men viewed pictures of both women in bikinis and women more fully clothed. The study on the male undergraduates found that:
'Men tend to associate bikini-clad women with first-person action verbs such as I “push,” “handle” and “grab” instead of the third-person forms such as she “pushes,” “handles” and “grabs.” They associated fully clothed women, on the other hand, with the third-person forms, indicating these women were perceived as in control of their own actions.'
Also, in some of the men (those who scored higher on a survey having 'hostile sexist' beliefs vs. 'benevolent sexist' beliefs), the part of the brain associated with analyzing another person’s thoughts, feelings and intentions was inactive while viewing scantily clad women. These brain scans showed that the men who viewed women in bikinis tended to de-humanize them and viewed them, rather, as tools and objects.
So are all guys this way?
From this study, a conclusion might be made that there’s some hard-wiring there that can interfere with the average man’s ability to interact on deeper levels with a stranger in a sexy bikini. What goes on in a man's brain is automatic, and not purposeful, thus some men may choose to yield to lust, while others may choose to love and see women as human beings.
For instance, I have a lot of 'non-average' guy friends who are striving for holiness and allow God's grace to constantly redeem their sexual desires. One guy friend, when he is tempted to lust after a female stranger, gives her a name so as to make her a real person to love, rather than allowing her to be an object of lust.
Obviously, these kinds of men are stellar guys and not the 'average man' who sees women in bikinis as walking pieces of meat over which to ogle and drool.
What do you want for yourself?
However you look at it this study though, women in bikinis were seen as sexy, beddable, and tempting and fully clothed women weren't. I don't know about you, but even if I disregarded the holiness of my brothers in Christ, I would want to guard my body against being seen as a tool!
But I do care about my brothers' purity, and want to help them out by not wearing what is basically a bra and underwear to the beach and inviting them to lust over all that is, ahem, 'hanging out.'
Also, I want to be the type of woman who inspires men to holiness and beauty and not lures men to lust and my booty. See what I did there?
Your body is so good!
Modesty isn't just about clothes. It's a virtue that guides who we are, how we act, how we dress, etc. We don't dress modestly because our bodies are bad. In fact, we dress modestly because our bodies are so good, and in fact a 'temple of the Holy Spirit' (see 1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
Some girls dress immodestly because they want the attention. Other girls dress immodestly because they are following the trends of the culture and don't know any better. This is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say about modesty:
' . . . Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden. It is ordered to chastity to whose sensitivity it bears witness. It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their solidarity…
“Modesty inspires a way of life which makes it possible to resist the allurements of fashion and the pressures of prevailing ideologies.' (CCC 2521-2523)
But everyone’s wearing it . . .
The 'fashion' of our culture right now definitely leans towards immodesty on and off the beach: short skirts/shorts, tight, see-through, low-cut, and low-riding clothing.
Thankfully, there are many amazing young women who are standing up against the culture and developing modest, yet stylish clothing (and bathing suits) so that women can maintain their dignity.
While I admit that I loathe shopping for modest swimwear because it does take more time and effort (and is often more expensive than the itty-bitty centimeters of fabric they sell at Forever 21 and Target), I believe it's worth it.
I ditched the bikini a few years ago and have not regretted it. Modesty is a sacrifice that I'm willing to make to be seen as a whole person to be loved, and not a tool to be used.
My sisters, I love you and want the best for you. I pray you know how good and beautiful you are, and that you use your beauty to always lead others to Christ.
My challenge to you: join me in ditching the bikini this summer in favor of more modest swimwear to be seen as beautiful, not sexy.
One of my favorite things to do is workout. Whether at a gym, running outside, or doing P90X in my home, I love getting my body into shape. (Now, if only I could work on my eating habits a little bit). For me there's just something about the discipline it takes, the feeling I get at the end, and the little results I can see that show me I’m getting healthier.
While it's important to eat right and exercise, it's even more important to train your soul (1 Timothy 4:7-8). As you continue on with your summer break, here are five ways to help you get spiritually fit:
Daily Mass. As high school students, it can be difficult to get to Daily Mass during the school year. Often times, it is scheduled while you are in class, but that's not the case when you're on break. Find what time Daily Mass is offered at your parish and go. There is nothing better that you can do for your soul than receiving the Eucharist everyday. For an added bonus, bring some friends. Not only will all of you grow spiritually but you'll be great witnesses to the rest of your parish.
Reconciliation. Summer break can be a great time to get in the habit of attending the Sacrament of Reconciliation on a regular basis. Find out what day and time the Sacrament is offered at your parish and neighboring parishes. Make it a priority to go once a week, and take time to really examine your conscience beforehand.
Scripture. Too often during the school year, it can be easy to use homework or reading assignments as excuses not to open the bible. But, during summer we may not have that problem. Why not take some time to read the scriptures? If you don't know where to start, try praying through the Sunday Readings. The great news is that, we've got the Sunday, Sunday, Sunday podcast to help you break them open. If you want to go further, try the Daily Readings for Mass posted here on lifeteen.com. Also, many Youth Ministers host Bible Studies during the summer, so be sure to ask them the day and time so you can attend.
Rosary. If you want to deepen your relationship with Jesus, try deepening your relationship with Mary. There is no better way to do this than with the Rosary. If you're not sure how to pray it, ask your Youth Minister to help you, and commit to praying it consistently. Maybe you want to start off with every Sunday. Maybe you want to pray it every morning after you wake up. However you choose to do it, stay committed and know that God can really move in those 20 minutes.
Eucharistic Adoration. Silence is something that we are slowly losing in our world today. It seems that no matter where you turn there is some kind of noise to distract us. There are cell phones, music, TVs, computers, and more almost everywhere. But there is still one great place we can go to find some silent prayer: the Adoration Chapel. Spend some time in silent Adoration this summer, and again make it a commitment. Every Thursday our staff takes a Holy Hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time. Perhaps you could join us then. While you may not be physically present with us, we will be united in the Eucharist.
These are just five ways to help you grow spiritually fit. Do your best to make them a part of your routine this summer. After all, if you are willing to put in the discipline it takes, not only will you feel great but you'll start to see results in the way you live your life.