Two weeks ago I was blessed to go on a pilgrimage of sorts with the teens of our parish through our Life Teen program. It wasn’t a pilgrimage to the tomb of an obscure saint or the site of a Marian apparition. Instead we journeyed to California, to the thrilling amusement park known as Six Flags where we joined over two thousand teens in celebrating our faith. The experience proved to be a unique combination of theme park thrills and profound encounters with Jesus Christ. In a way the event inspired a realization that the Lord is always present to us, sometimes in the most unlikely of places, and that we are always invited into a profound and personal relationship with Him through the Eucharist.
We began our journey with high spirits, gathering at the school and departing on a bus. Father Robert sent us on our way with a prayer and pizza, and with that we were on the road. The journey was long, and it was clear that many of us had a long week behind us, but this didn’t squash a strong sense of excitement and anticipation for the days to come. I was impressed with the positivity and bravery of the teens as they made the decision to get on the bus and open themselves up to the retreat experience. Fueled by snacks, Pixar flicks, and sheer excitement, we finally arrived at our destination at 1:30 am. Many of us learned or relearned the lesson that retreats are not necessarily a time for sleep.
The next morning we gathered for a continental breakfast in the hotel dining area and enjoyed the finest of California cuisine so as to properly nourish our minds and bodies for the exhilarating day of thrills and chills to come. After breakfast we walked to the beach, during which the teens had a chance to speak with the Core Team leaders; participating in what is known as an Emmaus Walk which allows for deeper, spiritual conversation.
When we arrived at the beach we had some time to walk near the shore and watch the gaggle of surfers bobbing on the horizon as they waited for a substantial wave to come their way. I had heard that some of the teens had never seen the ocean before, and as I looked out past the horizon I tried to see the ocean as they must have seen it at that moment. Like a seemingly infinite space that stretched beyond what my eye could see to the point where only what was unknown to me lay in wait both below and above the great mass of salt water. There was an opportunity to ponder and behold with great awe the immensity of God’s creation, and to recognize my littleness within the scope of his creation. This thought made me recall God’s conversation with Job, when God asked;
Where were you when I founded the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its size? Surely you know? Who stretched out the measuring line for it? Into what were its pedestals sunk, and who laid its cornerstone, While the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God* shouted for joy? Who shut within doors the sea, when it burst forth from the womb, When I made the clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling bands? (Job 38:4-9)
A few of the teens also “accidentally” fell into the water. Fortunately we were able to stop by the hotel before leaving for Six Flags. As we approached the amusement park, large and twisted metal constructions appeared off in the distance. These immense thrill rides, these mega roller coasters, struck awe and fear into the hearts of those riding on the bus. It truly was an imposing sight. We were joined in the park by our bus driver AJ, and we soon split off into three groups and began queuing for the various rides. As we waited in line, sometimes for more than an hour, I was made aware of a peculiar phenomenon. As the roaring carts of hurdling metal accompanied by the screams of their passengers passed over us while we waited in line, the teens seemingly became more religious as they asked me to bless both them and the roller coaster before we got on. This is understandable as when I went on the X2 roller coaster, for example, and as the chair spun and a literal flame nearly singed my right eyebrow, I believed my soul, for just a moment, had left and then reentered my body.
When we were finished with the roller coasters we gathered at the Six Flags amphitheater along with the rest of the teens who had come for the event. It was neat to see so many groups from the west coast and even Mexico journey to celebrate their faith in such a unique place. We then had the opportunity to participate in praise and worship, to listen to a powerful talk on sanctity, and even to spend time with our Lord in Adoration. It was truly a powerful sight; 2,000 teens worshiping the Lord, smack dab in the middle of a California theme park. The event was called Inspiration, and it was both inspiring and hopeful to see so many young men and women in the church gather together to bear witness to their faith and encounter the Lord. After the event we returned to the hotel and got a good night’s rest after an exciting day.
The next morning we ventured out to the beach again before heading back to Arizona. However, this time we gathered at the beach to celebrate the Eucharist within the Sunday Mass. It was the first time I have ever celebrated Mass on a beach, and it was a reminder that the God of the universe who made the great oceans and all they contain humbled himself in the sacrifice of the Mass so as to be present with us, to nourish us, and strengthen us by his grace and his love. It was a powerful experience, and a reminder for me not to take for granted the great gift of the blessed sacrament and to reinforce the importance of providing opportunities for the youth of our community to encounter Christ in the sacraments. Some of the teens “accidentally” fell into the ocean again.
After mass we returned to the hotel, loaded up our bags, and journeyed back to Arizona. I enjoyed talking with the teens on the bus, and watching Shrek twice, but I was happy to return to the parish safe and sound. It was an awesome experience, and I hope the teens had a chance to grow in friendship both with their peers and with their Savior.BACK TO LIST