Jesus Weekend

When teens encounter Christ, all hell breaks loose

"Have I wished evil upon other people?"

Yes, yes, yes, agreed Skyler's nodding head.

"Am I guilty of masturbation?"

Ryan Kelly
Ryan Kelly

Skyler froze. At that point he decided it was a good time to keep his answers to himself.

THE NEXT DAY"RISE DAY"marked the time in which we were "free to live for Christ." But such sentiments were pushed aside that morning at the breakfast table. With no camp counselors in sight, the kids lapsed into profanity and tales of adolescent debauchery. I sat silently between the Harry Potter twins, picking at my sausage patty.

Legendary stories of passing out drunk in absurd locations and circumstances were told and retold, as were accounts of sexual conquests, dope smoking, and other sinful revelry. Other than Peter, Paul, and me, the only one who stayed silent was Vince, a meek, lanky kid with braces.

Then, in an uncharacteristic flash of boldness, Vince interrupted the one-upmanship: "How many of you believe in God? Raise your hand."

Everyone at the table put their hand up.

"Then why would you do all that?" asked Vince, visibly shaken. "How can you all talk that way?"

A theological debate broke out as to whether drinking was a sin ("Why did Jesus turn water into wine and not the other way around?") and so forth. When we were dismissed, Vince walked off alone and frustrated.

We were herded back to the conference room for more song, led again by Charles. The morning's lecture centered on explaining the church, which, we were told, "is a mystery." The ensuing sales pitch broke down like this: The Catholic Church and Jesus Christ go together. They are not separate. To deny one is to deny the other. Therefore, the church is the only true path to Christ.

"Who has siblings?" asked the presenter, a moon-faced woman in her late 20s. Most of the room raised their hands. "Well, now you all have more siblings, because we're all family!"

Yesterday, such a claim would have elicited eye rolling and groans. But after 26 hours of bonding with one another and listening to song after peppy song, lecture after sappy lecture, the kids barely batted an eye. A few of them even snuck embarrassed looks at each other, fully committed to the premise that sexual contact between one another would constitute incest.

After the next lecture, titled "Christian Life" and delivered by Suzy, we were once again treated to a Christian rock anthem played over the PA system (after each talk, the lecturer would play a song of her choosing and explain to us why she found the lyrics inspirational). This time Suzy told us to put our heads down as the song played.

When the track ended, we lifted our heads to find 15 strangers facing us in a straight line. They were adults holding candles. And they were singing: "Carry your candle/Run towards the darkness/Take your candle and go light your world."

We learned that these cherubic strangers were called "Wheaties"—adults who had "died" during previous TEC weekends and were now reborn. Furthermore, they had been praying for us individually over the past week and had been responsible for all the food preparation and cooking. They took turns calling our names. When my name was called, I followed suit and approached the Wheatie who had called me. She hugged me and gave me a piece of paper that read, "Jesus of Nazareth lovingly requests the honor of your presence, this afternoon, at a celebration to be given in his father's honor."

I thought little of it until three hours later.

After that evening's mass, we proceeded in a single-file line downstairs toward the basement chapel, our hands placed on the shoulder of the person in front of us. The pitch-dark halls were lined with indecipherable figures, presumably the Wheaties and their cohorts. They held candles to light the way and sang in unison as we filed past them, "Oh, Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary/Pure and holy, tried and true/With thanksgiving, I'll be a living sanctuary for You."

That's when I realized the horrible, unblinking truth: We were sacrificial animals about to be ritualistically slaughtered by savage, candle-wielding perverts in a dank basement.

But I was wrong. Instead we entered a chapel devoid of chairs, benches, or furniture of any kind. Songbooks and boxes of Kleenex lay strewn about the floor. I inferred from this that we were expected to cry. Which made me feel a little uneasy. Also, old.

Father Tom told us we were about to partake in a Eucharistic adoration, a now-uncommon Catholic ritual in which parishioners come in direct, literal contact with Jesus Christ.

"This is not a symbolic contact," said the Padre. "This is meant to demonstrate the substantive presence of Christ our Lord."

Enter the monstrance. A monstrance is an elaborately designed, candle-like item featuring a golden sunburst. In the middle of the sunburst is a circular piece of glass called a Luna, roughly four inches in diameter. Father Tom placed a wafer of cornbread in the Luna, blessed it, and placed it on the altar. The wafer was now literally Jesus.

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