Theology of the Body Camp for Teens!

This last summer I had an amazing opportunity to speak and lead worship at “ECHO,” a 4-day Theology of the Body Camp for teens at St. Joseph Abbey in Louisiana. The 3 days prior, I got to help prepare a group of young adults to serve the teens as hospitality, prayer team, and family group leaders. It was so beautiful to see these teens (and young adults) dive deeper into their faith and learn, through Blessed John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, who we are and what we were made for in this life and eternity.

Where our culture portrays a life of chastity as dull, repressive, and ridiculous, I experienced completely the OPPOSITE during the ECHO retreat, through the faithful and joyful witness of married couples, religious (both priests and sisters), and single people. In this video you can see the real joy of people who have experienced God’s love!

If you are a teen who wants to grow deeper in their faith, I highly highly recommend coming to this camp. Watch the video for yourself:


Wanna Get Revenge?

Jonah (star of the “Jonah and the Giant Fish” saga in the bible) is the quintessential wimp and drama queen. He runs away from God’s voice like the cowardly lion from Oz, hoping that he can escape the call to convict the entire city of Ninevah (capital of Assyria) of their sin in order to lead them to repentance. But Jonah is not a fan of the Ninevites. They are mean people. Imagine Gotham City people—corrupt, immoral, evil—and then imagine no indoor plumbing, and you have the Ninevites. Jonah, as a Jew, wants God to give these pagans what they deserve. He wants God to smite them with His all-powerful arm and turn them into a pillar of salt like that dude’s wife back in the day. When the city does repent and God shows them His mercy and graciousness, Jonah whines like a little kid whose parents won’t let him go to space camp for the summer, but send his friend instead.

Jonah, like many of us, does not love as God loves. Jonah, in his concupiscence, does not want the best for these people, but wants them to get what they truly deserve. And Jonah was not even personally close to these people! How hard is it, then, for us to love and want the best for those who have hurt us, especially if they are close to us? What about those who have abandoned us? Betrayed us? Abused us? Well, without God, it is impossible. But with God, all things are possible (Mt 19:26), and we can do ALL things because He gives us the strength (Phil 4:13).

In our humanness, we want to hate and hold grudges, gossip and compare, wish harm and get revenge. Since not all of us are as naturally virtuous as St. Therese of Lisieux, who purposely showered her “enemy” with as much love as possible, what can we do? The first step is to pray for the people who have hurt us or those we can’t stand. Why? Well, for starters Jesus told us to (Mt 5:44). Secondly, because prayer will not only affect that person, but even more will transform us. If we pray for humility for that person, we, in turn will also become humble. (I personally think praying for “humility” is the best “revenge” prayer.)

Next, we must forgive. Not seven times, but seventy times seven times. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Forgiveness is a high-point of Christian prayer; only hearts attuned to God’s compassion can receive the gift of prayer. Forgiveness also bears witness that, in our world, love is stronger than sin. The martyrs of yesterday and today bear this witness to Jesus” (2844). Maybe we’ve been told, “Forgive and forget,” but the truth is, “it is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense; but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming the hurt into intercession” (CCC 2843).

If we want to truly be Christians–“Little Christs”—we must be merciful as God is merciful and forgive trespasses as God forgives ours. Love will conquer all.

“Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.” – Romans 12:21

“Since you have purified yourselves by obedience to the truth for sincere mutual love, love one another intensely from a [pure] heart.” – 1 Peter 1:22

“We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God* whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” – 1 John 4:19-21

Love is Painful

It is nice to be “in love.” It feels like a big warm pancake is hugging you and glorious melodies are rising like blossoming flowers within your belly. I have felt that before.

Unconditional, sacrificial LOVE, on the other hand, is friggin’ painful. To CHOOSE to love someone over ourselves, to recognize our own pride, to die to our selfishness, to see our imperfections–that is painful. I have definitely experienced this pain. The pain of seeing how much of a jerk I can be to my family, how selfish I can be with my friends, how unforgiving I can be to my enemies, or how pompous I can be to strangers.

The decision to love unconditionally is imperative to enter the Kingdom, though, so we MUST endure this death, this pain, this suffering of the “wages of sin” (Romans 6:23) that envelops our hearts. I heard someone say once that Jesus could’ve chosen to be hugged to death. Rather, for our sake, He chose to embrace the cross so that we would “not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

Why is love so painful? Because our hearts are being purified like gold is tested in fire (1 Peter 1:7). When gold is purified, all the impurities rise to the top of the liquid. When we choose to love, all of our impurities and imperfections rise to the surface, as well. We can choose to ignore them, persisting in pride, or we can recognize the imperfections in us and ask God to remove them by His grace: “Wash away all my guilt; from my sin cleanse me…a clean heart create in me, God; renew in me a steadfast spirit” (Psalm 51:4,12).

And when does the pain end? Well, with gold, it ends when the goldsmith can see his reflection in the shimmering liquid. With us, it ends when God can see His reflection in us–when we are face to face with God and the beatific vision becomes a reality in Heaven, where God “will wipe every tear from [our] eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain” (Revelation 21:4).

As Catholic Christians, we do not run from the cross, for we know that the ecstasy of the Resurrection is impossible without the agony of the Cross. Instead, we embrace the pain of purification, knowing that “if only we suffer with him…we may also be glorified with him (Romans 8:17). We embrace pain in order to LOVE, and the victory cry of the disciples who suffer remains, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us” (Romans 8:18).