By Liz Mastalio
I have been looking forward to my high school graduation since freshman year, so now that it can be reached with days instead of years, I am surprised to realize I am nervous. Reflecting on junior high, I wonder if I will be as lost as I was then when I step onto my college campus next fall.
When most people look back on junior high school, they see a dork or a nerd. In my case, I was much less nerdy than I am now. I hung out with the right people, wore the right clothes, and liked the right music. Then, I thought I had it made. Now, I can see the things that I was ignoring. First, I am not a popular-crowd-type girl. I love math, and I spend more time on my homework than on my hair. I really like wearing T-shirts and jeans, and I don’t care how many friends I have, as long as they are good and loyal. So what changed?
In eighth grade, I doubted that God existed. I started to dread going to Mass on Sundays and refused to participate in church activities, but my mom wouldn’t let me get out of confirmation class. Those classes and my confirmation changed my entire life. I learned that God was there and that he loves me and cares about every single thing I do. For my confirmation service project, I began visiting sick parishioners in the hospital, and I heard their stories about life, love and their faith.
At the end of my freshman year, I could see the changes in myself. I went to Mass willingly every Sunday, and I was doing things I wanted, not things other people thought were cool. Then my youth minister gave me an application to the Diocesan Youth Ministry Committee (DYMC). I applied, and the next August I was in Fort Madison, completely unprepared for meeting 18 people. By the end of the weekend, I knew this committee wasn’t just serving others; it was serving its members as well.
On DYMC, we came together under the common bond of our God, a God I now know has always been there and always will be there for me. Even though some of us on DYMC were athletes; some of us were musical, and some of us were studious, there were no divisions. This really surprised me, but I’ve realized why this is true. Each of us had something in common. Our God loves us and we love our God. Everything else is second. Together, we talked about friends who were struggling, bad things that were happening to us, and our greatest achievements.
Youth ministry is all about relationships like these. My relationship with God has let me give everything over to his plan: I pray about every decision and every trouble I have, and God gives me the strength and peace to do what is right and keep pressing through. In other relationships, God is a great middleman.
The common knowledge among DYMC members of our faith overrode the tension of common interests for the DYMC-ers, and it does for all Catholic youths. In knowing we have something in common, we can talk comfortably without worrying that others might not understand or will be offended. God helps our relationships with nonCatholics too, by granting us understanding of their shortfalls and encouraging us to be happier for their successes.
Participating in things like Mass with the bishop, eucharistic adoration and the High School Youth Rally for the first time helped me to make many of these relationships. I’ve met so many Catholic teens who, though I haven’t talked to some for two years, I know I could call on if I needed to. I’ve met adults who have encouraged me in many faith-filled activities, and I’ve grown and strengthened relationships with nonCatholics who are amazing people, too.
Mostly, though, I’ve grown a strong relationship with God by seeing his light shine through Mass, the Eucharist and his people. With my relationships, I know that although I’m heading to college next year, I won’t be going back to the same lost self that I was in junior high because I have countless people who will help me find my way every time I lose it.
This is what youth ministry needs to seize: the opportunities to build relationships between adults and youths, youths and youths, and youths and God. We need to focus less on doing things for each other and more on doing things with each other. I believe that youths can become amazing, successful, God-filled people if these relationships are formed now. The opportunities are all around you, so go out and grab one!
(Liz Mastalio is a senior at City High School in Iowa City and a member of St. Mary Parish there. She is chair of the DYMC.)