Throughout high school I was blessed with many different friends that spanned several types of “cliques.” From the band geeks to the church kids and everywhere in between, I knew that I usually had some social event going on that weekend. While these occasions may not have been the place-to-be in the county that night, it still felt good to hang out with people and enjoy each other’s company while doing simply fun things (board games, eating unhealthy amounts of chips, typical teenage behavior).
Once we all graduated however, the nights filled with pizzas and Mario Kart were few and far between. On top of that, it felt like every night I would see more and more of my friends participate in activities that, for lack of a better term, weren’t the holiest things to be doing. Scrolling through social media I saw the parties that I wasn’t invited to with people that appeared to be having the time of their lives.
While I was still having fun with the people that decided to keep have fun while still trying to fight sin, seeing all the other people around me celebrate the “YOLO” lifestyle made me feel like I was missing out on something. Even when I did hang out with the few friends that I had that also avoided the party lifestyle, I had a sense that I was still missing out on something. That while this might be entertaining, I was missing out on some fun. All it took to change my mindset was a week at (almost) Heaven-on-Earth: Camp Covecrest.
The Mountains are Calling
During all of my years as a high school student, I could never go to a Life Teen summer camp because of academic obligations. So the summer after I graduated high school was my first possible year to even attend the camp. I signed up to go because for the past four years I had heard everybody and their mother (literally, the mothers would go as chaperones) talk about how amazing the camp was. Ultimately, I wanted to be reminded that it’s possible to have extreme fun while still living a saint-like life.
When I showed up to the camp, I was immediately greeted with an immense amount of joy, love, and more joy (repetition intended). I had a general idea of what was going to happen that week because of all the things that my friends told me, but what I experienced that week was more than just amazing sunrises and running around in the mud. I experienced what it felt to live fully in the sacraments and in relationship with Jesus.
I’ve heard people describe going to a Life Teen summer camp as “50% camp, 50% Jesus” and they were absolutely right. Rafting down a river during the day and Adoration during the night; it was like I was Bear Grylls at a seminary.
Rest in His Arms
Now, while the typical summer camp activities (craft-making, ultimate frisbee, etc.) were fun in their own right, the true joy of that camp was more than that. The source of the joy for all of the missionaries and campers were meeting Jesus in the sacraments, which were offered on a daily basis.
I wasn’t unfamiliar with the sacraments but having them be the focus of each day was completely new to me. What’s crucial to know about the sacraments and how much we need them in our lives is that they are an outward display of God’s grace. If we are to aspire to have a life filled with joy, we must fully embrace the sacraments.
While you’re at camp, there were several priests who, as well as going rafting with you, are available for confession almost whenever you need it. One particular morning, when the sun was rising over the mountains and the fog was rolling out of the camp, I went to Confession. As I was walking to the next available priest, the normal pre-confession thoughts began to enter my head. Normally I would be walking to the confessional booth with fear in my heart but instead of those anxieties, the beauty of the campsite gave a sense that God was right there with me, walking me to that chair.
As I began to dump my sins out to the priest, I could not only see God in him but in what was around him as well. The normal plaster walls were replaced by trees that reached astounding heights and a lake that stood silent as the birds were singing. This Confession felt like a Disney movie and I was practically skipping when I was absolved.
While I was at camp, I was looking forward to Mass or Confession more than almost any other activity during the day. While I was still having fun with the other things available, the sacraments were the highlight. That, I discovered, was the key of living with joy. Sure, social interactions are great, but ultimately, we have to root ourselves in Jesus, by rooting ourselves in the sacraments, if we want to enter into a deep and fulfilling relationship with God.