“True and solid devotion consists of a constant, resolute, prompt and active will to execute what is known to be of God’s liking”.
Saint Francis of Sales
Young people are challenging and like to be challenged in order to prove their worth. This brief chronicle is meant to be a praise to the youth and children who responded to the challenge to become more united with Our Lord during Advent 2020 and an encouragement to all those who strive to form youth in faith.
A week before the beginning of Advent in 2017, during the “Good Afternoons”, Father Brian Dinkel, IVE (pastor at Our Lady of Peace) challenged the youth of the Catechism Program to draw closer to Our Lord through an act that only could be done by courageous young people, capable of overcoming themselves with a great desire to offer a valuable gift to the God made man. The challenge was to attend Mass and/or pray the Rosary with someone else every day during Advent. Knowing that two of the parish Masses occurred during the school hours and the last Mass took place when they were returning from school and knowing they would be very tired, Father offered to celebrate a special Mass for them at 6:30am each day. By 7:05am they could be on their way to school. The proof that they were attending Mass (especially if they were going to another church) was to have their picture taken in front of the church and post it on Instagram or ask the priest to sign a bulletin after Mass.
The first Monday of Advent arrived and to our surprise, there were over 50 people at the 6:30am Mass. Several young people with their parents and some entire families. After Mass, every day, there was a small table in the parish hall with bagels and donuts (which a lector donated), along with hot chocolate. It was a necessary stop for everyone before continuing the day. This was repeated each day of Advent; the atmosphere was one of great joy and each day more and more young people and families began to step up to the challenge. Approximately 40 youth completed the challenge that year and the fruits of conversion for them and their loved ones were tangible. Many of them have not stopped participating in daily Mass and praying the Rosary since then.
This was the first of many Advent and Lenten challenges. The 6:30am Mass was so successful that it was established as a parish Mass and, until before the current pandemic, was one of the most popular.
At the beginning of the current academic year 2020 – 2021, when a mother came to register her children, she told me that she was eagerly waiting for catechism classes to begin so that her children would once again pray the Rosary as a family, attend Mass eagerly, and be better prepared for school and homework. The comment did not go unnoticed. I had never heard so concretely how much influence the catechists have in an hour and a half of class every week. Immediately, I began to think about how to help them make these teachings and devout practices a habit. I remembered Don Bosco’s beautiful phrase: “education is a matter of the heart, and the owner of the heart is God. We can do nothing if God does not teach us the art and does not put the keys in our hands”.
And God taught his art once again in the midst of the Pandemic and placed the keys in the hands of his children. Advent came and like all previous Advents, Father Brian challenged the children and youth again, this time through a very engaging video, since we are not having classes in-person. The participants had four options this year: they could attend daily Mass in person or virtually, pray the Rosary, do meditative reading of the Bible for fifteen minutes, or do small works of virtue proposed in an Advent calendar sent to them by email. They could choose to do one of the activities, a couple of them or all of them. Every day we connected by Zoom to pray the Holy Rosary with those who took up the challenge. Different teenagers took turns leading the Rosary and showing the slides with the prayers and images for mysteries contemplated. It was very uplifting to see how many of the children stopped what they were doing and for half an hour stood in the presence of God to pray.
By the grace of God, more than 110 children and youth completed their tasks and came to receive their certificates and gifts. The great majority were able to make two or more of the proposals. I believe the greatest fruit of these challenges is that, in addition to strengthening the life of grace in the members of the family, many of the participants began to enjoy and taste direct contact with God in things that are very accessible to them: the Mass, the reading of Sacred Scripture and the Holy Rosary.
May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God Incarnate and our Mother, grant the children and youth entrusted to our apostolates a true and solid devotion and perseverance in grace until they become great saints.
Sr. Maria de Foy, SSVM