For people whose relationship with God is distant or casual, today is the day to start moving toward greatness.
For those who are already headed in that direction, now is the time to pick up the pace.
Start with simple, little things if you have to.
But do something, beginning today.
Popular Catholic composer and evangelizer Cooper Ray reinforced that message in song and story for about 200 high school teens and adults from 21 parishes throughout the diocese, on Sept. 8 at Helias Catholic High School in Jefferson City.
Mr. Ray was the keynote presenter at the Jefferson City diocese’s 2018 High School Youth Rally.
The theme was “Called for Greatness: Made for More!”
He said the goal was for everyone who attended the rally to go home energized, curious and more receptive to knowing Who Jesus is and everything that He wants for them.
“Christ went the distance for us!” said Mr. Ray. “If we take just a little bit of that understanding with us when we leave here, we’ll be willing to go further for Him.”
The key is to start out simple and keep moving. Mr. Ray talked about trying to start a fire with a spark and then throwing a giant log on it.
“It’s probably not going to work,” he said. “You’ve got to start with the small stuff, with something simple.”
He told the teens to start by making time for prayer every day — beginning the moment they wake up with: “God, hey, I want to offer myself up to You this morning.”
He suggested following that up with the traditional Morning Offering or even something as simple as: “Good morning, Lord. I love You. Holy Spirit, come.”
“St. Pope John Paul II said it doesn’t matter how you pray as long as you do pray,” said Mr. Ray.
Holding up a well-worn, indexed, dog-eared Bible, Mr. Ray also urged the young people to make time to immerse themselves in Sacred Scripture.
“Let’s dust this thing off,” he said. “Let’s start using this book. Let’s start reading into the life of Jesus Christ, into the lives of the prophets, into the lives of those who have laid the foundation for our faith, and let’s try to understand Who Jesus is.
“Let’s ‘let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly’ — so much so that it becomes a part of who you are,” he said, paraphrasing Colossians 3:16.
He urged each of the teens to find friends who hold them accountable.
“We need people who are willing to walk this walk with us,” he said. “We need people who will pray for us and help us through the struggles of this life.
“The strength of our Church will come through these relationships where we’re trying to help get the other one to heaven,” he said.
He reminded the teens to be sure to keep Christ with them and pray for the courage to go wherever He sends them.
“Choose Jesus in this”
The rally, sponsored by the Diocesan Youth Ministry Office, included nationally-recognized speakers and performers, fun activities, prayer and worship.
Perennially popular Catholic music and comedy duo Shannon Cerneka and Orin Johnson, known as Oddwalk Ministries (www.oddwalk ministries.com), served as emcees.
Near the end of the rally, volunteers helped rearrange the stage and exchanged high-fives after working together to lift a portable altar into place for Mass.
“Whatever your experience of Mass is, hopefully it is a good and fruitful experience,” Mr. Cerneka stated. “But for some people, it isn’t, for whatever reason. I want to invite you to start today to make that different.
“You have to be the one to choose that,” he said. “You have to want to open yourself and choose participation. Choose Jesus in this.”
Rain in the desert
Father Dylan Schrader, pastor of St. Brendan parish in Mexico and diocesan moderator of youth and young adults and for religious education, offered the closing Mass and preached the homily.
The opening hymn was called “Now Is the Time.”
Fr. Schrader likened God’s grace to the water that unlocks a desert’s tremendous capacity to give life.
“Our soul can be like the barren wasteland,” he said. “We need the gift of God’s divine grace.”
He noted that in each Gospel account of Jesus healing people, He doesn’t just take away their earthly afflictions.
“He restores them to their ability to connect with God,” said Fr. Schrader. “He’s restoring them in their ability to enter into divine worship. He’s inviting them to a union with God.”
The priest emphasized that it’s impossible to be like the saints and proclaim God’s powerful message without first hearing God’s word clearly and being transformed by it.
“If you want to live abundantly, you must receive abundantly,” he said.
Therefore, he asserted, now is the time to be immersed in God’s saving power and to be open to receiving it through prayer, through the sacraments, through the personal witness of others, through the example of the lives of the saints, through communal fellowship, through Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament and through time spent in service.
“If your soul feels like the desert, at least let it be a desert that is open, a desert that is ready to receive the rain of divine grace,” he said.
“We pray for the grace and the openness to be able to hear the word of God and be able to proclaim it in how we live,” he said.
“A strong connection”
Madalyn Huhn, a member of St. Anthony of Padua parish in Folk and a student at Fatima High School in Westphalia, came away from the youth rally with a desire and determination to spend more time reading the Bible.
She applauded the rally’s presenters.
“They were active with us and made it more personal for how we can follow Christ after we walk out these doors,” she said.
The teens from St. Patrick parish in Laurie wore matching neon green and yellow T-shirts.
One of them was Joshua Leake, a student at Morgan County R-II High School in Versailles. He said the rally inspired him to want to spend more time each day in prayer.
Amelia Godwin, a member of St. Peter parish in Jefferson City and a student at Helias Catholic High School, said she attended the rally “because I feel a strong connection with my faith whenever I go to things like this.”
She wants to remember the stories she heard and the activities she took part in in order to become a stronger, more active follower of Christ.
She realizes that she has to be the one to take the initiative if she wants to continue being Catholic as an adult.
However, “the people around you are something you definitely shouldn’t forget,” she said. “The friends you make now and the friends you make as you grow, they should stay with you. They will be a big part of your faith."