My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I remember it as if it was yesterday. It all began when I went to an evangelization conference in Phoenix, Arizona, when at the last minute I decided to change the workshop that I had signed up for and went instead to the one about Life Teen. I had never heard of Life Teen before, but something was telling me to go to this particular workshop. When the presentation had ended, I knew that this was a program that I wanted to bring to SSCM. I few months later, Gilbert Juarez, the parish youth minister, and I flew to Mesa, Arizona, to visit the parish in which Life Teen began. We were both impressed at the number of high school teens who attended the Life Teen Mass and the Life Night afterwards. This program was changing teens’ lives.
Twenty years ago this month I celebrated the first Life Teen Mass here at Ss. Cyril and Methodius Church, and Gilbert conducted the first Life Night after the Mass in the garage of the rectory. That was the only space that was free. We had formed a Core Team of about 10 or so young adults to help. The office computer printed labels of all the teens that were of high school age. We mailed out over 1,000 personal invitations. Since we expected most of those invited to jump at the opportunity to be part of this new ministry, we ordered enough pizza to fee about 200 teens. Well, as it worked out, we over ordered – each teen that showed up had about four pizzas each! From such humble beginnings, this important youth ministry has grown to serve thousands of high school teens. On this 20th anniversary, let me say something about this program and why it is important to the growth of this parish. Permit me to quote from the National Life Teen Office.
“What is LIFE TEEN? LIFE TEEN is a comprehensive program designed to minister to high school teens of all faiths from a uniquely Catholic base. Attempting to reach teens on spiritual, emotional and social levels, LIFE TEEN responds to their needs to be loved and accepted in a day and age where future young people experience a sense of hopelessness about their future and lack meaning and direction for their lives.
“To provide this direction, LIFE TEEN encourages teens to embark on a journey of faith and relationship with God through Jesus Christ. At a weekly LIFE TEEN Mass, teens enter into authentic and full worship of God with a faith community of peers, families and adult ministers. Teens experience Christ’s power and love through praise, prayer and breaking open the Word of God in scripture. All are welcome as teens gather to take part in the Eucharist.” After the Mass, the teens meet in Msgr. Kasper Youth Center with Gilbert Juarez, and other youth ministers who form the Core to learn about their Catholic faith through the Life Night experience. Life Teen is every Sunday of the year with a couple of exceptions.
LIFE TEEN works because it has as its central focus one mission: to lead teens closer to Christ by experiencing His power and love in the Eucharist.
The parish community is vital to the success of LIFE TEEN as teens receive education, support and guidance in the environment of community – community of peers, church leaders, parents and volunteers. When teens come to know that they are loved by God and by community, they can be empowered by the Holy Spirit to lead fruitful lives in service of God and others and witness to the love they have received.
I am of the opinion that LIFE TEEN is vital to the growth of the church. If we, as a Christian community, can successfully help our teens learn how to live their Catholic faith as teens, then they will be able to allow their faith in Christ and His church to be the guiding principle in their lives. This is a teen friendly parish, and we are proud of it!
The teens no longer have pizzas served in the garage of the rectory, but pizza has become a stable in youth ministry! We all know that the best way to reach a teen is through their stomach! Every Sunday the high school teen leaders serve their fellow teens pizza or hot dogs or nachos or Frito pie or some other teen friendly meal and something to drink.
Parents of high school teens should encourage your own teens to be part of this exciting program. I encourage you high school teens to participate in the Life Teen Mass every Sunday at 5:30 p.m. and to take part in the Life Night in Msgr. Kasper Youth Center immediately after Mass.
I pray that the day will soon come when every high school teen of this parish will gather around the altar of the Lord each Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist together!
I love you