by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Several people have been kind enough to mention to me that they missed my column during the summer. Others may be thinking more like a paraphrase of the promo for the sequel to the old “Gremlins” movie: “Oh, no! He’s back!”
In July, I received a letter from Ann Marie Growney who is an eighthgrader this year at Holy Spirit Parish in Overland Park. Ann Marie began her letter by telling me: “My life completely changed this summer. My life changed because I fell in love with this amazing guy. And what’s even cooler is that HE LOVES ME BACK!” I am thinking to myself: “This does not sound good — an eighth-grader falling in love so passionately with a guy, no matter how amazing.”
Then, Ann Marie writes: “Well, I met this guy at Camp Tekakwitha!” Now, I am thinking: “Oh no! What is our archdiocesan attorney’s phone number?”
Ann Marie continues: “You are probably thinking: Why on earth is a 13-year-old girl telling me about her love life?” She was right about that. This is not the usual letter that I find in the daily mail. I think it is best to allow Ann Marie tell you in her own words why she wrote to me:
“First, let me tell you a little bit about myself. I’m very blessed with a loving family who provides me with all my needs and lots of stuff that aren’t necessary for living. I was a typical Catholic. Both my parents are Catholic, and I go to a Catholic school. I also go to Mass with my family every weekend, say prayers before meals and bed.
“I was baptized as a baby and received my first holy Communion and first reconciliation in second grade. But I just treated all these sacraments and prayers as a chore or a big pain in the butt. Just like a lot kids my age and even a lot of adults.
“Then, I started going to Camp Kateri Tekakwitha. . . . This was my fourth year at camp. And it was so fun! Except for a couple parts and those were the Bible studies and Mass. That went on until this summer. I was blessed with Taylor Kramer as my counselor. She is so fun, enthusiastic, faith-filled, awesome, helpful and just, overall, I had an amazing cabin.
“Well, truthfully at first I didn’t think that. When I got there I found out my cabin was full of 7th-graders, and I was thinking: Seriously, God? Out of all these people at camp, you put me with these 7th-graders? Do you want me to have a miserable time at camp?
“Then, I thought maybe he was calling me to be a leader to these girls. Then, after my first day, I realized these girls were amazing and didn’t need a leader. But I knew that God was calling me to be a leader, but I didn’t know who to be a leader to.
“So camp went on, and I realized this year’s camp motto was: Open the door to faith. And throughout camp, people talked to us campers about how Jesus is knocking on our door — and has been our whole life — and when we open that door for Jesus, our hearts will be satisfied with Jesus’ unconditional love.
“And the first couple days, I was thinking in my head, OK, how long are these things? Can’t we just get to the fun stuff? Then, came the fourth night and adoration! That’s where my life totally changed in two major ways.
“The first thing was I figured out that God was calling me to be a leader to my friend (Lexi Cheray). She lost her mom when she was five. Her mom was very spiritual. . . . After her mom’s death, Lexi struggled with faith, and our friendship became weaker and weaker. Then we went to this camp — not as partners, but just to the same session.
“So, at adoration I was praying to God about: Whom I am called to lead? Right then, I see my friend [Lexi] crying, and I realized that God was calling me to lead her to become a strong Catholic just like her mom. So, I immediately start praying for her and to her mom.
“Also, that’s where I fell in love. So, I fell in love with Jesus Christ! Yes, I’m truly deeply in love with Jesus Christ. And he called me to be a leader and inspiration to others.
“And that night, Lexi, whom I was praying for, said she felt her mother’s presence. And we both started crying, and I told her what happened at adoration. Now, she and I are amazing friends who love Jesus, love going to adoration, praying and going to Mass. And now she and I want to be leaders to everyone by sharing our story.
“So, I just wanted to let you know that Camp Tekakwitha changed my life. I’m an ordinary person, and Jesus has an extraordinary life planned for me.”
Wow! Letters like Ann Marie’s make me look forward to opening the mail! I am grateful for Ann Marie’s and Lexi’s permission to share with you their experience at camp. What happened during adoration to Ann Marie and Lexi illustrates what Jesus wants all of us to experience during this Year of Faith. Our Lord wants each of us to experience his love for us in a deeper and more profound way. Jesus wants each of us to fall in love with him and to experience the abundant life and complete joy he alone can provide.
The Lord is using Ann Marie and Lexi to lead us all to open the doors of our hearts to Jesus — giving him permission to help us experience his love in a fresh and powerful way. We can all learn a lot from the “love life” of these two 13- year-olds.
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