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It is always so beautiful seeing what God can do with a simple yes.
Ben and I didn’t go on a honeymoon after we were married last year. I used almost all my vacation days to prepare for the wedding, and as recent college graduates, we didn’t have much money anyway. We decided that we would go on a bigger vacation this year. We had a few ideas of what we wanted to do, but we hadn’t made any formal plans.
One night, after the confirmation class Ben and I volunteered at, the coordinator of youth ministry asked if we would be willing to chaperone a Steubenville. We told her we would need to check our schedules. Between Ben (a convert) and I (a recovering Cafeteria Catholic), neither of us had attended a high school Steubenville conference. We had a good friend describe his incredible experience at it, and we had attended a young adult, one day Steubenville conference a few months earlier, so our interest was peaked. When we got in the car, we discussed the idea of spending our vacation as chaperones instead of our other plan. The more we talked about it, the more excited we got, and we happily gave our “yes.”
Going into this trip, I knew that I would be able to get something out of it, but I did not expect it to be such an incredible experience for me personally. I anticipated that this trip would be primarily be centered around service to the teens with some solid experience for me, but this trip felt much more like a blessing I got to share in with the students while also helping as needed.
This post has lots of links to the places, links to talks from the conferences, and photos.
We started our morning with Mass. After Fr. Joel blessing the buses, we began our lengthy bus ride.
We stopped for lunch at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake (the Mundelein seminary). I would’ve loved to spend more time exploring the campus, but even during our short time there, I was in awe of the beauty of the campus. The chapel was the most beautiful church I had seen (until the next day when we saw the Basilica in St. Louis). Neither my words or my pictures can do this justice, but the beauty of it inspired a quiet reverence.
Though it was a very long bus ride, it was joyful.
We ended our evening at Our Lady of the Snows Shrine with night prayer and a prayer for spiritual protection. Both of these became regular parts of our days during the trip.
During our morning meditation, we focused on openness.
This was followed by small team olympics. Though it was incredibly hot outside, it was really fun. We were given some pretty interesting events ranging from typical (like three-legged races and the human knot) to more creative (like getting an Oreo from the forehead to the mouth and a blind scavenger hunt).
We got to attend Mass at the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis. Yet again, neither words nor pictures can do this gorgeous place justice. It just inspired prayer and reverence and praise. Seeing these beautiful churches was so wonderful. I wish we were able to have more churches as beautiful as these.
We spent the afternoon at the Saint Louis Zoo which was a fun side trip, but yet again, it was incredibly hot outside. Ben and I spent a lot of time inside the penguin exhibit.
This was an incredibly busy day.
Ben and I got up a little early so we could take a walk to the Lourdes grotto. It was peaceful and lovely.
Shortly after that, our entire group took a rosary walk. It was an incredible experience, and I loved praying as we walked from the Lourdes grotto to the Annunciation memorial, to the Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine. It was a very, very hot day, so that was a challenge during the walk.
Before leaving for the conference, we had Mass in the chapel at Our Lady of the Snows. It is a beautiful, mosaic-covered church. We were told in the homily to be open, but not to Satan’s voice.
The conference was high energy and really fun. The keynote was given by Michael Gormley, and it was fantastic. He was really funny, but I’m also appreciative when he talked about the intellectual aspect of our Catholic faith. Adoration was fruitful because God made something clear to me that had been on my mind for a while.
I was exhausted by the time we got back to our (very, very, very nice) hotel.
We started the second day of the conference with Mass. The key takeaway for me was that even the greatest thing we have ever done in our lives sells us short. Our dignity, our value, our worth comes from Christ Jesus.
The women’s talk by Sr. Miriam was AMAZING. I loved the talk myself, but it was great hearing my girls gushing about how great it was. They said it was wonderful because it was the first time they felt a religious sister was relatable. They also appreciated that she didn’t shy away from tough topics.
Since our group was in the latest lunch shift, my small group decided to go to confession. Though the line was long, it was definitely worth it. I enjoyed chatting with my girls, and I had a really good confession. I actually confessed one of my repeat sins, but for the first time, the priest asked me why I do this. This caught me off-guard, and it was really hard to talk about, especially because I didn’t have an answer for a while. However, this short time helped a lot. Though I don’t think I am miraculously cured from what leads to this repeat sin, I do think this priest who I don’t even know the name of gave me some really great strategies to take it on.
For the afternoon session, we could pick between two talks. I was admittedly indifferent to which one I went to (indifferent in the sense that both sounded amazing, and I didn’t feel pulled one way or another), so I joined Ben for the social media talk. It was yet another excellent talk. Paul Kim did a great job combining facts about addiction to social media with faith and humor while also providing practical tips.
The large talk was about elevating our mind. They discussed pornography. I was shocked they addressed such a big topic with high schoolers, but I’m really glad they did. We live in such an over-sexualized culture, and the age when most kids are exposed to porn is disturbingly young. There are so many concerning aspects of porn, and I’m grateful they broached this uncomfortable but necessary topic.
The keynote was another talk by Sr. Miriam. It was an awesome talk on Bartimaeus and we were challenged to think about where we limit ourselves with our faith because we get comfortable.
Adoration was incredible. It was beautiful to be able to share a powerful prayer experience with Ben. Though I didn’t have any earth-shattering experiences, I was blessed with some clarity and peace. It was also beautiful seeing how the Holy Spirit was working in others’ lives.
It was an emotionally and physically exhausting day, but it was spiritually rejuvenating.
The last talk was given by Paul Kim. It was hilarious and a really great way to wrap up the conference (except for Mass, of course). His talk could really be summed up with one line he said “knowledge is only power if you put it into practice.” It was a great reminder that we can’t just keep these experiences locked away for big conferences. We need to have this enthusiasm, love, and joy every time we encounter Christ.
I shared my Mass takeaway on Instagram, but what happened at the end of Mass was really beautiful.
#mymasstakeaway In the Gospel today, we heard about the enemy planting weeds among the good seeds of wheat. As Catholics, we are called to be that good wheat and stand up against the weeds in the world around us. The bishop actually said that it is a great time to be Catholic because we have so many opportunities to evangelize. Being a #Christian is difficult because we are called to lift up our crosses, but we have Christ’s strength to help us. The Mass was a great way to conclude #steubystl!!!! #sundayfunday #sundaybest #Catholic #CatholicsofInstagram
They called up students who weren’t baptized or weren’t Catholic, then boys who were discerning the priesthood, and finally ladies discerning religious life. I was tearing up watching the students go up. Please pray for those the first group (the unbaptized/ unconfirmed) to come home to the Church and for the second two groups as they discern God’s will for them.
Though it was a long bus ride back to Our Lady of the Snows, it was full of good conversation.
Though this wasn’t part of the conference, I think it was one of my favorite days of the trip. We started with a prayer service and discussed ways to keep living our faith.
We went to Six Flags which was really fun. It’s pretty funny hearing a group praying Hail Marys before a scary ride.
We ended the night with Mass and Adoration.
The homily from Mass helped us understand that we are experiencing this new level of faith in a safe place, but we have to be ready to live it when it isn’t as easy when we get back home.
The talk during adoration warned us that Satan doesn’t want us to keep the graces we have received on the trip, and we can’t let ourselves become slaves to our sin. We need to bring joy to others as we live in Christ and Christ lives in us.
Ben and I ended the night by looking at the lit up shrines in the dark.
As we were driving home, we got to hear about the different graces people had received.
We also visited Holy Hill National Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians. Though it was beautiful, my favorite thing that happened there was when we were walking up the stair in the tower and hear praying. A group of students was praying the Divine Mercy chaplet on their own.
We celebrated Mass and headed home.
Trying to explain all the graces I received from this short trip would make this post a lot longer. To be honest, I’m also not sure how much I should share with these experiences. For now, I will summarize them below, and if I do decide to share more, I will link to them below.
It was so wonderful to be able to spend so much time with Ben, especially time that was centered on God. It helped me continue to understand our vocation of marriage in light of putting God first and sharing the love of God with each other.
I was so impressed by the spiritual maturity of the students. I sincerely enjoyed getting to know the students and spending time in prayer with them. They have some beautiful goals and truly love their faith. Though the amount of energy they had could be a little tiring at times, it was so awesome to see it channeled in ways to praise God or grow in fellowship.
I was especially impressed with the core team. This was a group of students who had been on a Steubenville trip before and took on a leadership role. They did so much: from leading small groups to giving talks to reaching out to people to doing miscellaneous tasks: they did it all.
One of the things I wrote on day 2 about all the students was “I am so impressed by the faith of these high schoolers. So many beautiful souls. Praise God for their faith and vulnerability. They will do amazing things for the Kingdom.”
As I mentioned in one of my first posts, I didn’t learn much about the saints, and Mary is included in that. Though Steubenville conferences are centered around the Eucharist and this pilgrimage really focused on the Holy Spirit, I felt really drawn to our Blessed Mother both through experience and by learning more about her through both the books I was reading: Our Lady of Fatima and Mary: Help in Hard Times.
My Yoke is Easy
This verse (Matthew 11:28-30) has been following me around lately. I was able to piece together what God was trying to tell me through it early on in the trip. Though I’m still getting more pieces to it, it was nice to finally get the bigger picture.
One of my pretty common prayers lately has been for God to give me a hunger for Him. There are so many beautiful pieces written about people hungering of thirsting for the Lord, and I wanted to experience that. I was able to towards the end of the trip accompanied with a large lesson from God. This is an ongoing challenge in my prayer life, but I now have some guidance on addressing it.
Though this was an exhausting trip, it was absolutely worth it. I am so grateful I had the opportunity to chaperone it. I’m really looking forward the Encounter MKE Conference in the fall and hope to have an opportunity to chaperone a trip for the high schoolers again.
Have any of you gone to a Steubenville conference? Please share your thoughts and/or drop a link to any blog posts you wrote about your experiences in the comment box.