This past weekend I served and assisted in a Youth Ministry themed: “Confidence in the Faith.” Appropriate for the Year of Faith and the Holy Father’s call for the New Evangelization, it was also appropriate for what we discerned from reading the Sunday Readings.
As a result of reading the book, I recalled our own youth discipleship program from my home parish youth ministry back in 2000. Being that I was at a retreat at an entirely different parish in an entirely different part of the country, I thought it would be worth sharing there. As the feedback on my last post on being a product of the New Evangelization, I though that I could go deeper into one significant portion of that as well.
It was called XD or Xtreme Discipleship. Each week our study resource (which has been impossible for me to locate) covered a different theme founded in Scripture. At the culmination of our XD program we had a camping retreat, and then began preparing for the next retreat.
All kids who served in my home parish youth ministry would be required to be in XD. They were confirmed, but felt that they wanted to go deeper. They had their milk, and they were ready to move onto the solid food. They were going to be in front of all the other teens, and the XD would have balanced them against the burnout of performing.
Discipleship, to us, never ended at youth ministry. It would carry over to school, sports teams, bands, work, and even internet.
That gave us confidence. Sitting at the feet of the Master, Jesus Christ, and being mentored by other adult volunteers gave us confidence. Within a year one of the girls in our group, without permission, recommendation, or supervision of the youth minister, began a weekly rosary at her house. Within a year, a priest who was previously at our parish requested that we get in a 15-passenger van and evangelize the youth in his new parish.
Some of the characteristics to our Xtreme Discipleship program included: an emphasis on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and invitation from an adult leader, involvement with Parish Liturgy and Service, intentionality, and regular available engagement. There were little to no qualifications to attend youth ministry nights on Sunday, weekend retreats and Liturgies, but the XD had a higher cost.
It is always a leap of faith, of all the stories I have been in my Catholic experience, to assume that any Catholic has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. All of our retreats were incredibly Christocentric. It was reasonable for us to assume that the kids who kept coming back wanted more Jesus that they couldn’t get anywhere else. Either by an adult noticing, or at the recommendation of a youth leader, someone may be invited.
I did, at one time, recommend another youth to be a member of XD, however she had never attended a retreat. We come to know Christ not only at a retreat, we come to know him particularly in the Eucharist and the Sacraments, as well the Word. For parishes that do not have regular youth retreats, you may find that a the best qualification for measuring a relationship with Jesus is their involvement in the liturgy.
In our XD program, it was a qualification that the teen be serving regularly whether it be in the Liturgy, at the retreats, Sunday youth ministry night meetings, confirmation classes, or in other capacities in the Parish. They needed to know that the Church, in some measure, depended on them. Often a teen who would come forward asking to help in some measure, would be invited to take part in XD.
Nobody was forced to be there. Nobody received a shiny trophy for being in the program. No one was dropped off at XD simply because their parent wanted them there. Sunday Youth Nights and Retreats were open and available for everyone, XD was not. Anybody could say no to the invitation to be a part of XD. We have asked people to leave who did not take it seriously. We also asked somebody to leave over conduct outside of Church that we found inappropriate for a Disciple.
Finally there needed to be a regular engagement. If someone was not available for to be at XD meetings, they may have not been permitted to engage in other forms of service. If someone couldn’t be a part of XD, then perhaps they couldn’t have been in the youth choir.
Although, looking back, I recognize that some of the kids whose parents would not bring them to XD would have made better Xtreme Disciples then the ones whose parents did. After a while, the adult leaders made reasonable exceptions for some of the more experienced leaders, meaning that they would be required to take initiative with their own personal discipleship and demonstrate that to their leader.
I really did value this experience of Xtreme Discipleship: it was like a mini-catechumenate that most of us cradle Catholics never get. At times the demands were a bit high and slightly unreasonable. Sometimes I look back longingly because the cost was so high. For some of us the Xtreme gravity of it all was too much, but it pushed me to maturity.
There were many people who fell away from Church after that. A few people may have been there to hang out with the cool church kids (if ever such a label could exist!). A few of the kids wanted to be the superstars in front of everyone at the retreats. Some of the kids became so terrified of the expectations and responsibilities of Mission that they ran away from Church.
On the other hand, a few of us unintentionally convinced our parents that they needed to reassess their own discipleship, so the parents ministry grew out of this. A few of the kids wanted to bring aspects of XD to their campus ministries and college experiences. A few of us in the group are married in the Church, or engaged. Two of us are in priestly formation for two separate religious orders.
The relevance for the weekend has been that this gave us confidence. It gave us confidence to come before God in honesty in prayer. It gave us confidence to come forward to our youth leaders saying, “Here I am.” It gave us confidence to speak the Holy Name everywhere our lives touched.
Copyright © 2013, Mark Menegatti