By Nicky Gant
As a mom of three young boys, I enjoyed getting to know 18-year-old Mason Tope through the Called and Gifted program at St. Paul the Apostle in Davenport. Not only is he a talented student-athlete, he emanates the joy and confidence we all want for our teenagers, along with a desire to help others and a clarity that his blessings come from Christ alone.
Though he attended Mass with his family and went to St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School, his faith journey came to life on another level after he was inspired by a friend at Davenport Central High School. On the long bus rides to cross-country meets, they shared in-depth conversations about life and Christianity, which motivated Mason to pursue a deeper relationship with Jesus.
They attended a teen retreat together at Harvest Bible Chapel in Davenport where Mason had an encounter with Christ, which sparked a transformation in his life. He began listening to KLOVE Christian radio, hanging out with faith-filled friends, practicing daily prayer and receiving the sacraments on a more regular basis.
Though he had to let go of some friendships and change his ways a bit, Mason has never looked back to his former way of being. His faith has grown and he’s happier than ever, living life to the fullest and not caring what people think. He explains, “I think that comes from Jesus in the sense of knowing that it only really matters what he thinks.”
Mason is inspired by the early Christians who boldly proclaimed their faith and is contemplating pursuing the priesthood. Through participating in the Called and Gifted program, he realized that he probably has a charism, or gift, of knowledge due to his love of spiritual reading. However, since he’s too busy to do much reading these days, for now he’s practicing the charism of encouragement by reaching out with positive words for others in his daily life. He hopes that by seeking to love everyone no matter what their past or appearance may be, he can spread the love of Christ and potentially inspire others to a life of faith.
Mason wants other teens to know how much better life can be when we take the time to build a personal relationship with Jesus. He explains: “You can have more peace, joy and happiness. Jesus is someone who really loves you and is always there for you, helping you, forgiving you, encouraging you and guiding you to be the best person you can be. Jesus will never betray you and will always support you no matter what.”
Knowing how busy teens are, Mason recommends taking baby steps such as praying for five to 10 minutes per day, receiving the sacraments, listening to Lighthouse Media CDS and reading a good spiritual book such as “Prayer for Beginners” by Peter Kreeft, “Rediscovering Catholicism” by Matthew Kelly or “Holiness Revolution” by Dan Dematte. He also recommends the Called and Gifted program and church youth groups as great places to grow in Christ.
Even though he knows it feels like a big step for a lot of people, he especially advocates attending a retreat. “Give your time to God for a weekend, and he’ll reward you,” Mason says.
“You’ll open yourself up for him to really work in your life, and you’ll never regret it. He’ll change your life. Plus, you’ll meet new friends and make memories that will last a lifetime.”
I hope this article inspires teens to take Mason’s advice to start creating a stronger relationship with Jesus. It would be nice to see more people full of happiness and optimism, finding their calling at a young age. God bless.
(For information about beginning a Called and Gifted program in your parish, please contact Nikki Gartner at jngartner@ aol.com or call (563) 370-3360.)