Topic: Youth

Br. Andrew Dominic Yang, O.P.'s picture

Steubenville Youth Conference - San Diego

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It seems as though many of us student brothers had positive experiences at youth conferences this past summer. Whereas Br. Michael James and Br. Peter attended "Ignite Your Torch" in the Pacific Northwest, my classmate Br. Thomas Aquinas and I, along with 5500 teens and volunteers, were fortunate enough to participate in the Steubenville San Diego Youth Conference on the University of San Diego campus. Named after the Franciscan University at Steubenville, which organizes the conferences nationwide, these conferences (more information can be found here) are designed to bring high school youth together to experience the love of Jesus Christ found within the Catholic Church. I attended as a youth chaperone to my home parish, St. Thomas Korean Catholic Center, while Br. Thomas Aquinas and our Province Vocation Director Fr. Steve Maekawa, O.P. staffed a Dominican vocation booth for young men interested in religious life and the priesthood. 

The Steubenville Conference utilizes a certain style of “evangelical” preaching and music, but combined with a fervent devotion to the sacraments, particularly Christ in the Eucharist and Reconciliation. I’m sure that Fr. Steve, one of 30 or so priests in attendance, alone must have heard hundreds of confessions over many lengthy hours. I know this because I entered his confessional on Friday night past 11 pm to see if he might need any water, only to find a determined grin and bleary eyes. I was moved to see thousands of teens lined up to declare their sins to the priest, receive absolution from Christ Himself, and experience the powerful mercy of God in the sacrament. 

The band, which played on stage throughout the conference, could not have performed any better. Likewise, each of the conference speakers, all of whom fearlessly proclaimed the infinite love of God, exuded a “cool factor” that was undeniably attractive to the thousands of youth present. At certain points, even I found myself steadying my own emotions while blinking back tears of my own. I’m fairly familiar with the intense “praise and worship” style of the Steubenville conference, having attended it before as a layman. Though I can certainly admit, as a Dominican friar, I’m more accustomed to a solemn liturgy that fosters quiet prayer and meditation. But I don’t believe that a charismatic approach to worship, such as was employed at the conference, need be in conflict with the Church’s venerable liturgical tradition; rather, it can complement it when balanced by other elements.

Today, “praise and worship”--drums, electric guitars, and all--seems to be the dominant popular mode of devotion among teens in the United States. Steubenville’s music ministry is remarkably effective at engaging young people through these means, and stirring them to the praise and adoration of the Triune God. A truly Catholic approach, it seems to me, might use and employ such methods—as Steubenville’s ministry does—in extra-liturgical settings to great effect. But in order for faith to last, it must be grounded in a consistent prayer life, and an intellectual understanding of the truths of the faith. Both of these, but especially one’s prayer life, require silence and space for quiet reflection. I think the reason why the Mass developed over the centuries with musical forms like chant and polyphony, was precisely that the Church had a strong instinct that the ordinary and enduring way to approach the Triune God required solemnity, reverence, and a contemplative posture.  At the same time, one of the geniuses of the Catholic Church through the ages has been precisely its ability to adopt and shape dominant cultural forms into itself, purifying them and making them serve the message of Christ and his Church.  There seems to me nothing against, and much to speak for, Catholics adopting this “praise and worship” devotional mode as a means of evangelizing people; while retaining the primary liturgical posture as one of more traditional solemnity.

In all of this, the most important thing that the Steubenville conference does is that it gives teens a chance to powerfully encounter Christ in a way they might not have before. Over and over, the speakers reminded the teens that they are "chosen" by the God of the Universe who calls them by name. Profound healing and conversion happens there; I’ve seen it with my own eyes. However, the Steubenville conference is just one event, one institution that cannot supply all of the Church’s needs. The Church is still in dire need of many things, including good catechesis, a powerful witness to Christ, and the renewal of the contemplative life. That part is up to us, you and me. Archbishop Di Noia, O.P. has insightfully called this period in history a “Dominican moment.” I experienced an aspect of this firsthand, as teens peppered me with theological questions in the common room at 3:00 in the morning. 

Lastly, it’s become known that many young people receive their vocations at Steubenville Youth Conferences. It was most edifying to see hundreds of young men and women respond courageously to a “Vocations Altar Call,” with a blessing given by Bishop Cirilo Flores of San Diego. It prompted me to reflect upon my own vocation, and why I chose to enter the Dominican Order. The answer in my heart was simple: because I love God, and I want to give my life entirely to Him. In the end, I’m not sure who got more out of the Conference, me or the teens I chaperoned. I find myself already looking forward to next year’s conference. Please keep in your prayers all the young people who attended this year's event – that they might always respond generously to God's call.

Br. Michael James Rivera, O.P.'s picture

Ignite Your Torch

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Ignite Your Torch…Conquer for Christ! This was the rallying cry of those attending Ignite Your Torch (IYT), a youth conference which made its way to the Pacific Northwest earlier this month in order to evangelize and inspire 200 teens from Oregon and the state of Washington. IYT offers something unique in the way of youth conferences.  Frequently the accent at youth ministry events is on fun, games, and music, with a dash of catechesis and preaching that goes only so deep.  IYT also allows teen to participate in beautiful and reverent liturgies, and learn about the Catholic faith and how to put it into practice. In addition to being Eucharistic-centered, Marian, and pro-life, IYT invites priests, religious brothers (Br. Peter, myself, and Fr. Stephen Maria represented the Western Province of Dominicans) and sisters, and many others to come together and offer catechetical presentations and workshops on a number of topics.

Some of the highlights from the conference, in my opinion, included Br. Peter’s talk on natural law, and a presentation by Sister Angela Marie, O.P., who spoke about the human person and love, referring to St. Thomas Aquinas as she distinguished between the emotion of love and love as an act of the will. I had the wonderful opportunity to speak on a vocation panel for young men discerning the priesthood and/or religious life, and to talk about the Angelic Warfare Confraternity. Below are some excerpts from my presentation:

Even if we are vigilant and have the best intentions, resisting the devil is not an easy task. Satan is tricky. He appears as an angel of light, but is really the father of lies. His purpose is to thwart God’s plan, and to consume as many souls as he can, by any means necessary. He tried to do this 800 years ago with a young man named Thomas Aquinas, but thanks be to God, he failed. 

At the age of eighteen, Thomas had decided to join the Dominican Order. But his family was fervently against it. Because the Order of Preachers was new in the early 13th century, it had no prestige. Thus in order to keep him away from the Dominicans, Thomas’ family held him captive in one of their castles. After a time, his brothers came up with a plan that they were sure would cause Thomas to abandon his religious vocation. They hired a prostitute to seduce Thomas, but the plan backfired. When the prostitute entered the room and began to undress, Thomas grabbed a searing hot poker from the fireplace and drove her out, chasing her from the room! He then slammed the door and fell to his knees, praying to be preserved in chastity and in his intention to live the vocation of religious life. His prayer was answered in a vision. Two angels came to him and tied a cord around his waist, saying “On God’s behalf, we gird you with the cincture of chastity, which no attack will every destroy.”

This event, which was made public after Thomas Aquinas’s death, is the foundation of one of the oldest groups associated with the Dominican Order, that of the Angelic Warfare Confraternity—a fellowship of men and women, bound to one another in charity and prayer, dedicated to pursuing chastity under the patronage of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Members throughout history have included: Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, St. Aloysius Gonzaga, and many others.

As I’m sure you all know, the pursuit of chastity is often a battle with the world. It is a battle against the devil, who prowls like a roaring lion, who works to devour and destroy the true beauty of our sexuality. Because he cannot create anything himself, the devil mimics God’s power by trying to corrupt everything the Lord has made. Thus the beauty of the human body and the gift of our sexuality is misrepresented in art, television, film, advertisement, etc. People are turned into objects, and love is replaced by lust. What’s sad is that this has occurred so gradually over time, many people don’t even notice it any more. They’ve become desensitized to the hyper-sexualization of our culture. Now, immodesty and promiscuity are practically deemed normal.

As human beings, affected by original sin and concupiscence, we are weak; tempted to act on sexual desires outside of the proper time and place. But we do not have to be controlled by our sexual impulses. God wants us to be free, and to pursue true happiness in a way that avoids the false and counterfeit loves the devil sets before us. Pursuing a life of chastity helps us to do this, for when we practice self-discipline in our thoughts and actions, this in turn leads to self-control, which ultimately leads to self-possession. And it is only when we truly possess ourselves that we can give our whole being back to God and find the happiness we seek.

This is just one of the benefits of joining the Angelic Warfare Confraternity, but there are many others. In addition to having Saint Thomas Aquinas as a personal patron, one is also strengthened in their resolve to resist temptation, especially as the prayers of hundreds of thousands of other Confraternity members, both on earth and in heaven, come to our aid each day. And on certain days, one may receive a plenary indulgence if the usual conditions are met…

As you begin to discern if you want to make this commitment, I offer one final thought. The Angelic Warfare Confraternity is not a magic wand. Members promise to strive for chastity, but you still might fall into sin. We are not perfect. The point is to grow in chastity, and to pray for others as they do so. God granted to St. Thomas Aquinas a purity that infused all his thoughts and actions for the rest of his life. As we pursue chastity, let us seek his intercession and remember that our Lord Jesus Christ calls each of us to be happy and holy saints-in-the-making.

For more information on the Angelic Warfare Confraternity, and how to enroll, please visit angelicwarfare.org