Jogging in the woods was a great idea until… WHAM! I bit the forest floor. A root of one of the ancient trees around St. Joseph Abbey and Seminary College caught my foot, and I braced my fall as best I could. I realized I couldn’t jog as I was accustomed to on smooth streets, mind caught up in my music. Smelling pine and old leaves, I rose, dusted myself off, pulled out the earphones, and actually began taking in the sunlight-dappled scene before my eyes -- incoming roots and all. In the literal soil of my mistake, illumination took place, and I was able to arise with a new perspective with which to view the world.
So… Cool story bro, but what does any of that have to do with Abbey Youth Festival? That’s a fair question. I think it has everything to do with AYF 2018. Pondering the life of St. Patrick, the weather of the day, and the powerful talks that were given, there are three themes that fill my heart with thanksgiving: difficulty, illumination, and the call to ARISE.
Falling down hurts. Persevering through a difficult situation hurts. Realizing my own weakness hurts. The week leading up to Abbey Youth Fest 2018 was one that hurt. It hurt to see the weather radars showing rain and thunderstorms after the last two Abbey Youth Fests were so dramatically affected by the weather, especially after a year’s worth of intense prayer for the event. But we persisted, planning for the worst, hoping for the best. I’m sure St. Patrick, our patron saint for this event on his feast-day, himself experienced these feelings of abandonment and difficulty. At sixteen years old he had a comfortable life as the son of an important Roman official -- and then his world came crashing down when he was kidnapped and enslaved as a shepherd on a pagan island, unable to even speak the language. Can you imagine? As the sun stayed behind the heavy fog and mist on the morning of Abbey Youth Fest on March 17th, we all wondered at what was to come. Yet, God in His incredible Providence manages to bring to flower new life out of the soil of difficulty -- every time.
In the shadow of the obstacle, in the realization of our failure, in the dirt of our tumble is where we encounter illumination. Fr. Brad Doyle, absolutely rocking his opening talk despite the grey skies, shared his experience of brokenness. Tying his experience with that of the parable of the Prodigal Son in the Gospel of Luke, Fr. Doyle illustrated that we have to destroy the notion that God wants to destroy us. Rather, it is after our fall that we are able to arise. Like the Prodigal Son, it is so often that our experience of difficulty and need is precisely the means by which we receive the illumination to return to our loving Father -- our Father who runs to embrace us! Indeed, it was in the foggy fields of Ireland that the teenager Patrick really encountered God -- enslaved and surrounded by smelly sheep. The forecasts were an invitation to both prepare even more extensively, and then to trust. Despite all the predictions, not only did it never rain on us, but the sun actually burst forth for Mass. God the Prodigal Father lavished His gifts on us His children at AYF 2018. We learned together that not only is God calling us to live good lives, but that He is calling us to a vibrant, sometimes messy, adventure.
Abbey Youth Fest is just one day a year. But it is not meant to end there. If AYF was just another place to hang out with friends and listen to awesome speakers and music, that’s pretty cool. But so what? Sure, AYF is all of those great things. But even more so, Abbey Youth Festival is a place of encounter -- encounter with the omnipotent Creator of the Universe who is also our Prodigal Father. This Prodigal Father doesn’t just give us beautiful sunsets on what should have been rainy days, but He gives us His only Son who dies for our sins to reunite us with the Father. In the Mass, we encounter the life, death, and resurrection of the Risen Jesus and are called to arise with Him. As we heard in the Gospel at Mass, we want to see Jesus! In receiving the Eucharist, we not only see but receive Him fully, are lifted into the divine life of the Trinity, and are sent forth into the world. Like tripping over a root while jogging in the woods, Abbey Youth Fest 2018 enabled me to see the world in a new way, and encounter reality more deeply -- to unplug from superficiality, and tap into the adventure God placed before me. I am so thankful for Abbey Youth Fest 2018, and I pray that through it you too have been able to arise.
Whether it be Fr. Brad’s talk on the Prodigal Son, Fr. Bryce’s talk on going towards the heights by learning how to fail, or even the weather itself, God had a special message to deliver to each one of us at Abbey Youth Fest 2018. In the Mass, in Adoration, and in all the epic speakers and musicians, God has called and is calling each and every one of us to encounter Him, especially in difficulty and our weakness. He desires for us to be illumined with a new perspective and arise. Our time is now. We are charged with bringing the love of Christ to our houses, our high-schools, and to all we meet -- just as St. Patrick sailed back to Ireland to bring true freedom to his former captors: the freedom and adventure of a life arisen in Christ! Thank you for embarking on this adventure with us -- for letting Christ get into your boat and for putting out into the deep!
May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.
Written by: Luke Kirk, seminarian of the Diocese of Lafayette