At the heart of Notre Dame Vision is the mission to empower young people to recognize grace at work in their lives and respond to God’s call by offering their gifts in service to the needs of the world. For the past eighteen years, this mission has been carried out each summer through four week-long conferences for high school students and parallel conferences for campus and youth ministers.
Ministry leaders are working hard this year to adapt programs to new formats, including online and hybrid models. It can be tempting to “copy and paste” old programs into new formats, to put old wine into new wineskins (see Matthew 9:17, Mark 2:22, and Luke 5:37–38). For example, we can email parents a lesson plan and tell them which pages to cover in the religious ed textbook, or we can gather the teens on Zoom to watch the youth minister give a talk and send them into breakout rooms for small group time. These solutions are fine, but they fail to respond creatively and take into account the reality we are all experiencing.
During the Year of Mercy, I sought to deepen my own practice of mercy through my service as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. That summer during Notre Dame Vision, I encountered a young man profoundly moved by his reception of the Eucharist. As I prayed with this encounter, I experienced a profound renewal of my call to serve as an Extraordinary Minister, and I committed to serving regularly at my parish’s Sunday Mass.
I glanced up as the young man approached, next in line for Communion. He lifted his face, his eyes brimming with emotion as I held up the host and said, “The Body of Christ.” Looking into his eyes as I placed the host on his outstretched hand, he held my gaze with an intensity that took my breath away. He breathed out a soft “Amen” as he closed his hand around the host and lifted his clenched fist up to his chest. Grasping the Bread of Life, clinging to the source of love, he took a deep breath and with every fiber of his being uttered “Thank you!” as tears filled his eyes and flowed freely down his face. His response evoked something deep within me and I could only watch in awe as he consumed the host, a smile breaking across his face as he turned to make his way back to his seat. An encounter of no more than a few seconds, yet one in which God’s abundant mercy and love touched both his heart and mine.
Pivot. We are doing a whole lot of pivoting in life, aren’t we? Personally, professionally, socially, and even spiritually.
Summer, for many of us in ministry, is our time to slow down, to pause, to reflect, and to recalibrate for the coming year of ministry. Often, it is the time we give ourselves permission to take time off, go on vacation, or even make time for a retreat. Due to the realities of life at the moment, even our rest this summer invites us to explore new and creative ways to rejuvenate and reconnect with the source of our ministry and call.