November 29, 2019

National Catholic Youth Conference 2019

Deep Dive sessions equip youths ‘to be vibrant witnesses’

At a Deep Dive session on Nov. 22, Franciscan Friars of the Renewal Father Agustino Torres uses a TACOS acronym to remind NCYC youths to “tell another Christ overcomes sadness.” (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

At a Deep Dive session on Nov. 22, Franciscan Friars of the Renewal Father Agustino Torres uses a TACOS acronym to remind NCYC youths to “tell another Christ overcomes sadness.” (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

Katie Prejean McGrady acknowledged a truth about the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) and similar events.

“All of us hit these walls when we leave these big events,” said the national Catholic speaker and youth minister. “We don’t know how exactly to take what we’ve heard, take what we’ve felt and articulate it in a way that is engaging, that is dynamic and that actually moves somebody to want to know and love Jesus.”

NCYC planners recognized this phenomenon, too. Addressing a packed hall in the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis on Nov. 23 during NCYC, Prejean McGrady recalled an NCYC committee meeting she attended some time ago.

“The thought was, what if we went deeper with the young people who were ready to go deeper?” she said.

“A lot of NCYC is introductory. But NCYC is such an on-ramp for so many people who want to go deeper in faith.”

Prejean McGrady said the committee asked themselves, “What does it look like when you take a couple thousand of you, throw you in a room and actually equip you to go and be vibrant, visible witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ?”

And so NCYC’s new “Deep Dive” series of sessions was created.

Below are practical tips offered by leading Catholic presenters about how young people—and anyone—can live their faith more intentionally through prayer, Scripture and asking “How can I help?”

‘Prayer, love and TACOS’

Franciscans of the Renewal Father Agustino Torres mentioned the “out of sight, out of mind” tendency after NCYC.

Afterward, he said, “You’re like, ‘Woo, yeah!’

“Then two weeks later things get back to normal. Sometimes you go home changed, but things at home haven’t changed. … You go back home to the same mess.

“My solution is prayer, love—and TACOS,” he said, laughter filling the room as a slide appeared spelling out the acronym: “Telling Another Christ Overcomes Sadness.”

Prayer is a must to keeping personal faith alive, said Father Agustino.

“We must pray, because if we’re going to dive deeper, we can’t give what we don’t have,” he said.

And Mass is the highest form of prayer and worship, he told the youths—but only for those who fully participate.

“If you go to Mass without putting anything into it, how can you expect to get anything out of it?” Father Agustino challenged. “I don’t care if what the priest says in the homily is boring—Jesus is coming down in the Eucharist! He is being made present. Every single Mass is a miracle.”

His next practical tip was on love, which he defined as when “we don’t think first of ourselves but begin to think more of the person right in front of us.”

And that includes God.

“How many of you, the first thing you do when you wake up is check your [phone]?” Father Agustino asked. “Don’t think first of who contacted me—think first of contacting God. Just make the sign of the cross and say, ‘Lord, help me to love like you today.’ Then you can check your phone.”

For his last piece of practical advice, the Latino priest admitted his “love for tacos” was so great, he found a way to incorporate them as a practical tip for living the faith by turning the word into an acronym: Tell Another Christ Overcomes Sadness.

“The best way for you to live what you receive” at NCYC, he advised, “is for you to go up to other people, especially if they’re down, and share a word of encouragement—‘Can I pray with you? Here’s a Bible verse that’s helped me.’

“You never know how you sharing this message that Christ overcomes sadness can change a life.”

Reading Scripture ‘is a non-negotiable’

Author and national speaker Mark Hart didn’t mess around in his Deep Dive session on practical tips to live the faith.

“If you actually want to live—not just to be, but to live—as a Catholic, you are going to have to get to know this book—this is a non-negotiable,” he said, holding up the Bible.

His first suggestion was to read the upcoming Sunday readings in advance.

“The Catholic Church actually believes—this is so ridiculous—that in the 167 hours that you’re not in Sunday Mass, that you would set aside some time to read the readings for Mass,” Hart said in mock indignation.

Acknowledging people’s busy lives, he suggested reading each of the Sunday readings—including the Psalm response—on separate days of the week rather than all in one sitting. He also noted the availability of several free phone apps that offer the Sunday readings and reflections.

Hart’s second practical tip for reading Scripture is not to read the Bible in order from cover to cover.

“Start with the Gospel of Mark,” he suggested. “It’s the shortest, easiest, most action-packed Gospel. And it has stories you’re accustomed to hearing.”

He also recommended reading a few verses at a time rather than the entire book or even a chapter, and to use the “four R”lectio divina (“holy reading”) approach to reading Scripture: read the passage, reflect on a word or phrase that got your attention, respond to God in prayer about the word or phrase, and rest in God, listening for his response.

If the Gospel of Mark, at 16 chapters, is too intimidating, said Hart, “go to the book of James.” With only five chapters it’s one of the shortest books in the Bible, “and it’s basically how to put up with really annoying people,” he added.

He recommended downloading free Bible apps that use either the Revised Standard Version (RSV) or New American Bible (NAB), both approved Catholic versions of the Bible.

Hart noted that many people complain saying, “God’s not speaking to me.”

“How do you know for sure?” he questioned. “Are you putting yourself in a position where God can actually speak to you? Even if you only have five minutes, you can still go to Proverbs or Sirach or Psalms and read just one or two lines.

“When you give God the gift of your time, he is going to bless you.”

‘Uniquely suited to help the Church’

In the final Deep Dive session, Prejean McGrady identified the young people present as belonging to “Generation Z,” those born in 1996 and after.

“I’ve studied your generation a lot by reading a lot about you and by spending a lot of time with you,” said Prejean McGrady. “There are three things about Gen Z … that I think make you uniquely suited to help the Church.”

The first trait is that “you believe you can change the world,” she said. Prejean McGrady backed up her statement citing a poll of 3,000 Gen Z members in which 64 percent answered yes, they did believe they could make a difference in the world.

Second, said Prejean McGrady, is that this generation “longs for presence. … You crave quality time.” So when it comes to helping others, she said, “you are uniquely suited to give that quality time to people, to look up from the phone, to stare into the face of another.”

Finally, she said, “You like to tell your story,” a trait essential to evangelization. “When you’ve met Jesus Christ, you can’t help but give testimony to how he’s changed your life—and if your life wasn’t changed, then it wasn’t Jesus that you met.”

These traits enable the young Church to imitate Christ, “to walk into the chaos and the mess and the noise and say, ‘How can I help?’ There are four practical ways you can do that,” Prejean McGrady said.

First is to study the faith.

“Buy books. Read the catechism. Put Scripture in your life,” she suggested. “You need to know what we believe and why we believe it, … … especially in the relativistic culture we live in where everybody has a question and wants to disprove you.”

The second step is to pray. Prejean McGrady likened this essential act to “charging your phone. … You have to take personal quality time with the one who is just enraptured by you and just wants to see your face.”

Next she told the youths to “get out of your comfort zone.” This generation may like to tell their story, but talking to others about Christ and faith can be uncomfortable at first, Prejean McGrady noted.

“It takes a little while to get there, but there does come a time when talking with people about Jesus does become comfortable. You have to ask God to take those uncomfortable moments and make them comfortable for you.”

And evangelizing doesn’t have to mean talking, she added.

“Wear a cross. Put a Catholic sticker on your water bottle or a Catholic background on the back of your phone,” she suggested. “Maybe grab a few friends and pray the rosary in the lunch room. Is it countercultural? … Yeah. But get over yourself. Jesus died on a cross—you can say a rosary in front of other people.”

Prejean McGrady’s last practical tip was to “be generous.”

“Generosity is the way we’re called to see the people in front of us, to ask in every moment, ‘How can I love them like Jesus loves them?’ and ‘How does that bring me closer to Jesus?’ ”

Prejean McGrady closed with words of encouragement to those who chose to take the Deep Dive sessions.

“You are the generation that will revive and renew our Church,” she said. “You will do it through your witness, through your joy, through your stories, through your study and through your generous spirit.” †


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