By Rev. Jason Weber
In February I will be leading 52 young men up the highest peak in the Caribbean from Feb. 7 to Feb. 10. I am very grateful to those who have donated to this effort making it possible and making this the most exciting pastoral effort this year. My mom asked me what this program consists of, and why it is so important. These are certainly great questions because if it is ONLY a hike, well, nice, but. . .
This is much MUCH more than a hike. If we were to have this effort in the states, the youth group(s) and young men would need to contribute the cost of the trip, which I'm hoping to keep to around $120 per person- a pretty good deal for a four day trip which includes sleeping bags, transportation, park admission, and 4 days of food for 68 people (we have to use pack mules, and for every three mules a guide is required, making 15, plus the head guide): a formidable enterprise.
So, from the beginning, I made it clear that those who would like to go on the hike must participate in the formation program beginning in August. The young men would need to form teams with one or two captains directing their team. The formation program was broken up into 4 major themes of the spiritual life: The Battle, The Weapon, The Sacrifice, and Triumph, finishing with a spiritual retreat in January. Each month the teams were required to meet for two Bible studies and accomplish two missions. They went more or less as follows:
The Battle: First Bible Study- David and Goliath, (Samuel 17); Second Bible Study- The armor of Christ from Ephesians 6. The Spiritual life is a battle, we have an enemy, Satan, and we need the armaments of Christ if we shall be victorious. The missions included organizing a sporting event for children and praying with the ill and infirm in their communities. The Ill and infirm of course are our opportunity to show the love of Christ to our neighbor in a very specific way with folks who have a very specific battle (the ill and infirm can be united to Christ more closely through their sufferings than others who are not suffering, but there is a battle here and whether we choose Christ or become embittered- we share in that battle with our presence). The idea for organizing an activity for children is that these young men need to take responsibility within their communities and lead others to what is good. It is not enough to fight the battle for Christ in the confines of our own hearts. We are in this together.
The Weapon: PRAYER, and in a particular way the Rosary. We looked at Jacob's fight with the angel, and Revelation 12. These great chapters on prayer consider the seriousness of prayer and the struggle of prayer. When we consider prayer as wrestling with God and the one weapon with which we can defeat even God (he lets us win of course. . .) and then see the Rosary as a way by which we defeat the great dragon… well… this is serious and profound. I would love to have what scripture says about Jacob written on my tombstone: "for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed." If only I would be found worthy! Their mission? Pray the Rosary together.
The SACRIFICE: CHRIST’S and ours. We looked at the zeal of our forefathers, the Maccabees who fought to preserve the ways of God, and Phinehas who did not tolerate the adultery of the true faith through the adultery of the body. We also meditated on the Servant Song in Isaiah 52-53 and Psalm 22 and the death of our Lord. He has offered himself in sacrifice completely and zealously, will you? It is only at this point that we made Mass mandatory (one of the missions was to come to Mass well dressed). All I can say is that there is not much of an understanding of a Sunday obligation. On a Caribbean island, a sense of obligation tends to be generally lacking. It was beautiful to hear that people ask “where did all these well-dressed young men come from?” It was then that I realized how much fruit this effort was bringing forth.
TRIUMPH: The Resurrection and Pentecost. Christ has conquered and we share that conquest when we give testimony. Last week we held a retreat given by a Franciscan novice from our town. During adoration, they each received letters from a friend or family member encouraging them to greater faithfulness. It is always very touching to see men, (and young men at that!), cry. Currently, we are in our final preparations for the hike- both physical preparations which are substantial, and spiritual. Each of the 6 teams is tasked to prepare some scripture and reflection topics during the excursion. Each team is also required to be responsible for two meals or other activities to inspire reflection on our experience on the mountain. We are already talking about the future and how these young men will be more integrated into the parish in service and prayer. The men are united and eager, not just to ascend a mountain, but to take up their roles as leaders within society. The retreat that we had last week revealed that unity and zeal. Please pray that both of these powerful qualities continue to animate our young men.
I'm still surprised at how well this effort has gone! I know that I'm not in charge, it is the Lord that gives the growth, but still, after several failed attempts at bringing the men closer to Christ, to see the zeal and growth in ways I couldn't have imagined is a great grace and consolation. Please pray for us- they are still young men- but we are learning to turn our gaze up towards the heights!