Be ‘the best version of yourself,’ speaker urges teens

Kim invited Taylor Bittner (center), a sophomore from St. Stanislaus Parish in Rossville, and Nikita Rogers, a freshman from St. Francis Xavier Parish in Burlington, onstage to help make an on-the-spot beatboxing recording using their voices.
Kim invited Taylor Bittner (center), a sophomore from St. Stanislaus Parish in Rossville, and Nikita Rogers, a freshman from St. Francis Xavier Parish in Burlington, onstage to help make an on-the-spot beatboxing recording using their voices.

by Monte Mace
monte.mace@theleaven.org

EMPORIA — What is the purpose of my life?

That was just one of humanity’s tougher questions presented to some 100 rural youth from the archdiocese at an event held Jan. 3.

Nationally renowned speaker Paul J. Kim posed that and several other similar questions to participants at the ReNew Year Heart retreat, held at Sacred Heart Parish in Emporia and sponsored by the archdiocesan rural youth outreach.

Kim started off by asking the teens a series of questions like: Why graduate from high school? Why go to college? Why get a job and be successful? Why have a family?

But the next one was a stumper.

“What’s next?” Kim said. “If you don’t know why you’re doing it, then you have no purpose in life.

You’re just like little robots. But for Christians and Catholics, it’s much more beautiful. The purpose of your life is to have a relationship with God — where life has meaning. Your purpose is to be a gift to other people. God wants to use your life to accomplish something great.”

Then Kim broached the topic most teens probably think they’ll never have to deal with: death.

“Without faith, it’s terrifying,” he said. “But for us, death leads to eternal life.”

He advised the teens to strive to be “the best version of yourself,” and to stop wasting time comparing themselves to others and worrying about the small stuff — such as the latest clothing fashions, the newest electronic gadgets, being part of the “in” crowd and all the other things that might preoccupy others.

Fortunately for the kids, Kim didn’t immediately leap to profound questions. In the beginning of the session, he warmed up the crowd, admitting as a teenager he went to Mass only to get doughnuts and meet girls.

Kim also dazzled the kids with his beatboxing skills, then invited four of the attending teens to join him on stage to create a multitrack beatboxing instrumental that drew laughter and applause.

But Kim then turned the program to deeper issues. And deepening their faith was what many of the kids said they came for.

“I came last year,” said 15-year-old Amanda Pritchard, of St. Patrick Parish in Osage City. “It was exciting. It helped with renewal of my faith. I wanted to have a greater experience of my faith through the day.”

St. Catherine Parish of Emporia sent the largest group of 20 kids to Re-New Year Heart. One was Marvin Magana, 15.

“I came to help and to meet new people,” he said. “I want to learn more about my faith. I came last year and it was a lot of fun.”

Last year’s conference was cut short by a major snowstorm. Weather also threatened to interfere this year but archdiocesan vocations director Father Scott Wallisch, who led the Benediction and eucharistic adoration, told the group he prayed a rosary asking for good weather. Predicted freezing rain didn’t materialize.

Other teens came to the conference just to see what it was all about, probably never expecting to be asked the meaning of life.

“My mom said, ‘Why don’t you go?’” said Braden Myers, 15, of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Mayetta. “I came to see what happens and to renew my heart.”

Fifteen-year-old Taylor Bittner of St. Stanislaus Parish in Rossville thought the conference was enjoyable.

“[Kim] puts it in language you can understand,” she said.

Her mother, Angie Bittner, is the rural youth outreach coordinator for the archdiocese. She awoke at 4:30 a.m. in order to pick up Kim at the airport in Kansas City and drive him to Emporia. Bittner invited Kim to speak after seeing him at conferences in St. Louis and in Steubenville, Ohio.

“I liked his message saying don’t just go to church but love [Jesus],” she said. “The purpose of every youth-centered event we do is to provide an opportunity for kids to encounter Jesus. We do our best to provide an amazing opportunity for them and pray that their relationship with him will deepen.”

As proof that Kim’s challenging questions stimulated the teens, during a Q&A session they asked him equally tough questions such as: Who created God?

“As a kid, I almost had an aneurysm thinking about that question,” Kim answered, gesturing with both hands to his head that it’s a mind-blowing thought. “But it’s an infinite mystery. There was never a moment when God wasn’t.”

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