Young Adults

Feast of the Guardian Angels

Aside from the guardian angel prayer, my next closest association with this feast is its affiliation with planting bulbs. While working for the Franciscans, one of the biggest parish festivals we celebrated was the last weekend in September. Part of this celebration was a fundraiser that included the selling of bulbs…tulips, gladiolus, daffodils, etc. The idea is intended to be both a seasonally-appropriate way to support the youth programs, and a way to get fall planting on the calendar for Midwestern gardeners. I didn’t come from a family of gardeners, so this fall planting business was new to me, but the association has stuck.

It turns out that these bulbs go into the ground at the end of the growing season, when the soil is about to freeze and be covered by snow. They are buried and all but forgotten. In the springtime, however, they are the first to appear—almost startling green and hardy.  They offer the first splashes of color to a barren landscape, and welcome source of nourishment for pollinators. They are literally life-giving  and the metaphor smacks of the Paschal Mystery.

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At the time, I lived in an apartment and thoughts of planting and yards were a bit beyond my lived experience. Maybe you’re in this place too—where you’re ‘adulting’ in different ways that you see demonstrated by parish festivals and involvement. It’s not uncommon for there to be a wealth of opportunities for youth retreats, mom groups, Knights of Columbus breakfasts; blood drives/food drives/diaper drives, rosary-makers, nursery helpers and the occasional young adult outing. (Thanks goodness for the gift of communities like CBC, am I right?!).

If I may, I hope to offer a word of encouragement and invitation for this contingent of the Church, because I think the work and presence of young adults within the worshipping community is not all that different than that of the work of the bulbs—in that it represents the beautiful and welcomed blooming of seeds long-since planted.

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As a person who has experienced this interim in church life, no longer a youth--still discerning what comes next, I have dabbled in all kinds of church ministries/classes/events. At worst I felt a little vulnerable, a lone-ranger of sorts because I was trying on roles in the church to see what fit me. At best, I was welcomed and made to feel a valued and contributing presence in the community. This is important discernment work, period. Like all discernment work, it is a growing experience and it is a fabulous way to do some inner-work identifying who it is God is calling you to be in and for the world.

Speaking as a parent of small children, it does my heart good to see this kind of exploration in any parish. Maybe planting is your thing, maybe it is social justice, maybe you offer piano accompaniment, middle of the night adoration shifts, help with youth group, visiting the homebound, serving as a Lector or Eucharistic minister. Whatever it is, it is powerful for me to see young adults in positions of service and leadership among the ranks of seasoned parishioners. It is powerful for my children, too.

Like the bulbs planted on the Feast of Guardian Angels, the fruit of this quiet work you are doing offers a breath of fresh air for the body of believers, and a quintessential bit of the practice of discernment. Thank you for the ways big or small that you contribute your gifts to the whole of the community—we are blessed because of it.

 

Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom His love entrusts me here, ever this day [night] be at my side to light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen.



 

4 Steps to Begin a Budget

You work hard, try to save money, but it always seems to disappear. When friends plan things for the weekend you wonder, “Can I actually afford this?” Seems like you need a budget. Aren’t quite convinced? Financial experts add a few more questions to the list: Are you alive? Do you spend money? Would you like both to continue?

Okay, okay, no dire threats, I know. But seriously, budgeting is the first step to financial peace for your entire life, and you don’t have to have a steady salary, retirement plan, or be a stock-market whiz. All you need is addition, subtraction, and a sharp eye for your cost of living.

My guess is it’s not the addition and subtraction that have stopped you; it’s the “sharp eye for cost” bit. For me, at least, it’s the most difficult thing about budgeting. It’s also the most fundamental. Where do you spend money? Is it necessary? How do you know?

1) Track your purchases! During college I worked near campus at a coffee shop. Students never, ever saved receipts. They probably thought (and I’m guilty of this as well!) that they had a “good idea” of their spending, but as someone who has tried to budget, failed, and tried again, I know specific numbers are indispensable. At the most basic level, you can simply save every receipt.

Alternatively, you can create an online account with a reputable company like Mint.com. This service will link to your bank account and credit card, automatically tallying your expenses. Mint.com helps me personally because it saves time and eliminates the hassle of hoarding receipts. The downside is that it’s difficult for me to track my cash purchases.

2) Total your costs. So you have the numbers, now what? You have to tally up costs in some way, so snag a budget template online, or download an expense tracking app. Quality products, like the GoodBudget app, are often free and provide tools like graphs and charts to help you visualize your spending habits. If you use Mint.com, your expenses are tracked in your online account. From there you can assign them to different categories like “Gas & Fuel” or “Restaurants” to sort your purchases.

3) Figure your income. Examine how much money you have and where it comes from. Templates and apps make this step seamless by displaying how much money you have currently alongside your income. In addition, services – like Mint.com – link to your bank accounts and automatically display deposits.

4) Compare your results. Are you chipping away your savings? Are you spending money eating out that you would rather spend on something else, like travel? Comparing #2 and #3 will highlight that. Once you know how you receive and spend money, you’re better equipped to make good choices with it. Financial gurus can tell you how much to funnel into savings, what a reasonable gas budget is, and the like, but the first step is recognizing your current financial state.

Having a working budget has made me more confident and allowed me actually to focus less on money. It’s no longer a mystery. I’m free to work hard, save money, and then know exactly where it goes. It no longer “disappears”. How awesome is that?

This post originally appeared on Newman Connection.

Beauty Worth Writing Twice About: Thoughts on the Beginning of a New School Year

It is the end of the summer semester, and the fall one begins soon, and the sunrise-sunset nature of it all always gets me thinking (seems appropriate for a professor). I have been involved now in the education of college students for about a decade, and most of that has been spent in some way with Faith Formation or Campus Ministry. All this wistful nostalgia prompts a question: why do I stick with it? My all-too-easy answer: because it is important. But that of course is not really an answer, because one would immediately ask: why is it important? Let me make a feeble attempt to explain.

The truth of the matter is this: I wrote a version of this essay much earlier in my career, promoted by an assignment asking the same question be answered for a newspaper article, directed my way by my boss at the time.

It was summarily rejected.

Various reasons were given, but the main gist was that it was weird, and not the answer folks would expect. You can decide for yourself if that is indeed the case. And with more years under my belt, I understand that philosophical musings are not the best draw when raising money and awareness is involved (this is obvious to everyone but we philosophy majors). But as this essay is not now expected to raise a dime, I can freely admit: I still feel the same way, and hope to feel so for many years to come.

For you see, the importance of a thing rests not in what it does, but what it is for. So a great amount of money spent on some frivolous thing is worthless compared to the momentous giving of the widow’s mite. While what a school or a ministry IS depends largely on what it does, why they are important depends on WHOM these things are done for.

And who are all these classes and programs and formation opportunities for? The easy answer would seem to be the many college students served by a host of staff and volunteers. College ministries are important then because the students they minister to are important.  All this is true enough in its own way, but I think it confuses the issue, and does a disservice both to the staff and students of the various ministries throughout the Church.

First of all, in putting the students “first,” we are prone to set the dynamic of ministry squarely in the consumer-based model of our work-a-day world. Thus, staff members become customer service representatives that provide student-clients with a product. If the clients are not satisfied with this product, then they will take their “business” elsewhere.

This is unfair to both parties. First of all, the Ministerial staff will never outdo the allure of the modern entertainment juggernaut. Nor did they sign up to put on a show—they signed up to be a part of an Apostolate. Secondly, it is unfair to the students as well—this model does not challenge them, does not treat them like adults, nor does it act like they have anything positive to contribute to the aforementioned Apostolate.

In fact, the fundamental “problem” with how we conceive of Young Adult Ministry rests in this fact: we deal with this group like it is a problem,  a riddle within the Church to be solved! We throw ministries at them because they are a “lost generation,” or because they are “addicted to the modern world,’ or because “the future of the Church is bleak without them,” etc., etc.

But we who work with Young Adults can attest to a different reality, that the real reason we choose to work with this group is not because they are a problem to be solved. We choose to work with Young Adults because they are beautiful. (This is where the weird, unpopular part of the essay really picks up steam!)

Look, young Children are beautiful too, but in their own way: their heads-too-big-for-their-bodies, wide eyes, and silly smiles are cute in precisely the same manner a fat, fuzzy caterpillar is cute—not so much like the beauty of a butterfly per se! Similarly, we “Non-Young” Adults are beautiful in our own way as well, but in a way more like the Grand Canyon: “look how time has eroded the rocks to show the majestic, weathered layers underneath!”

But Young Adults, they are beautiful in the proper and fullest sense, like the first flowers that bloom in Springtime. They are pleasant to observe, wonderful to talk to, fun to listen to, and refreshing to be around. They may give us “old folks” our fair share of grey hair, but they make us feel young all the same.

They are, in a word, beautiful.

By now you can see how this answer does not strike a fundraising note, nor even an easily digestible introduction to a ministry. It is undoubtedly off-kilter, and easy to misunderstand. To be blunt, I am saying much more than the simple fact that most of us wish we looked like our 20-something selves. (This is also a stinging commentary on our paltry sense of the word "beauty," but I digress). However, without such an answer, I do not know how to explain my commitment to this wonderful, blessed calling.

Why is college ministry important? Because beautiful things warrant that we should attend to them, that they should not be left to mere chance. We tend gardens, we curate museums, and we, too, should have places for Young Adults to grow. It is the glory of Christendom that Universities took root in the soil of its culture, and the happy lot of all ministers to young adults that we are grafted onto this every-growing vine.

And ultimately, we do this not for the students, the future, or even ourselves. We do this for the sake of God, who deserves to be praised with an offering most beautiful, a bouquet of our best and brightest. God deserves our Young Adults to fill His Choirs, and we owe it to God to offer as many Young People up to His throne as possible. Certainly He deserves them more than the world or the devil. This, and this only, is the true reason that working in college ministry is important. And it has been worth every moment.

It is even worth writing this essay twice!