Jesus Weekend

When teens encounter Christ, all hell breaks loose

We sat in eerie silence staring at the messiah-containing monstrance while Charles strummed plaintive chords on his guitar and crooned, "Adoramus te domine, adoramus te domine," over and over again. (Adoramus te domine is Latin for "Get me the hell out of here.")

Then more silence. A girl in front of me began weeping. Through teary eyes, she grappled for a tissue and blew her nose. A kid kneeling in the middle of the room was contorting his face and pursing his lips in an apparent attempt to kiss his own forehead.

After the adoration ceremony finally ended, the collective demeanor of the kids changed entirely. No more talk of sex, drugs, or booze. When Charles led the group in song, the too-cool-for-school guys suddenly came alive and sung along. Some even invented hand gestures to correspond with the lyrics.

Ryan Kelly
Ryan Kelly

That night I went to bed early. I lay on the bottom bunk and tried to fall asleep. But just as I was starting to doze off, the door burst open and the sound of two voices deep in conversation filled the room. It was Tom and Vince, who was freaking out.

"I feel so stressed and unhappy all the time, y'know?" he said. "Sometimes I'll just lie in my bed and stare at the ceiling. I won't even get out of bed."

He went on to tell Tom that he was seeing a therapist. Tom tried to reassure Vince by recounting his own struggles with seasonal affective and bipolar disorders.

Problem was, Vince's troubles didn't stem from a chemical imbalance.

"It all started with my older brother's screensaver," Vince said meekly. "Now it's an addiction! I just—I can't stop. I'll do it every week. And every time, I'd feel so bad afterwards."

Before long, a 22-year-old group leader sporting a sandy blond faux hawk walked in and joined the discussion. After listening to Vince's pleas for advice, he explained to Vince that a lot of guys deal with that same problem. That he would pray for him. That the best remedy was to attend confession. And don't forget to show up for mass every week.

"THE WORLD WE LIVE IN doesn't belong to Christ," Jenny, a TEC leader, told the room on the final day, "Go Day." "You have to choose between God and the world. You're going to be faced with people who criticize the church, people who will say it's all lies. You have to stand up to them!"

A few kids scribbled notes in their journals. Others just stared solemnly ahead. Robert, a looming TEC counselor in his early 20s, lumbered to the podium to relay the next set of instructions.

"You're all going to go into separate rooms with your groups for what we call the 'Affirmation Session,'" he boomed. "You'll be leaving and going back into the 'real world' today. We want to build you up before society tears you down."

Our fearless group leader Charles led us into a vacant dorm room. The six of us—me, Charles, Tom, Red, and the Harry Potter twins—sat in a circle on the floor. In the middle lay a crucifix.

"Okay, guys, we're going to take turns going around the circle pointing out the positive qualities of each other," Charles said softly. "Try to focus on personality traits and avoid pointing out superficial things like clothes and appearances."

Fifteen minutes of awkwardness ensued. It was difficult to conjure detailed appraisals of one another's souls—after all, we had only known each other for three days and the brothers Potter had refused to talk. Everyone seemed perfectly agreeable, to be sure, but for all I knew, they could've been juvenile delinquents or even Lutherans.

Next, we took turns kneeling in the circle, while the rest of the group placed their hands on our shoulders and prayed for us. The whole ordeal was carried out with utmost sincerity and reverence, so I hesitate to disparage it. But I will say this: It was weird. It was definitely weird.

With that came one more meal (leftover casserole, pizza, and soup), a couple more Jesus chats, and one more Mass thrown in for good measure. Then it was time to go.

Before we went our separate ways, I joined Tom for one last cigarette break. As we stepped out into the arctic February air, I asked him what his overall impression was of the weekend.

"To be honest, I'm not sure who to believe," he said as he glanced back through the glass doors. "I never have been. Being raised in a strict Catholic home and going to a strict Catholic school were kind of what screwed me up in the first place."

Tom took a drag from his cigarette and lowered his eyes to study the tops of his Nikes. He looked up and said, "But I think this weekend helped me to get a fresh start. I think I've found my spiritual center."

He stamped out his cigarette and walked back inside.

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