Tuesday, August 21, 2012

One In Him

One week ago last Sunday I made the journey to that place that has been the highlight of my summer for the last 5 summers: Camp Veritas. Since going there in 2008 and having the privilege to be one of the first 60 kids to experience Camp Veritas, the people and the camp itself have always been a home away from home, a sanctuary, a quiet place for me to go and spend a week reconnecting with God and friends. Going in, this year felt a little bit different, for one reason in particular: it was my last year as a camper.

After 4 years of coming as a camper, this year, 2012, would be my last year as a camper at Camp Veritas. While I would be more than welcome to return the following year as a counselor, there was a certain bittersweet feeling as I contemplated that fact.

As far as the week itself, this year flowed as effortlessly and beautifully as previous years have. We arrived on a cool Sunday afternoon with the sun popping in and out of the clouds and a cool breeze blowing. As the group grows bit by bit every year things change a little bit, but the events of each day generally remain the same from year to year. Sunday afternoon is a time to reunite and hug everyone in sight, meet new people, get settled in your cabin, as well as gear up for all of the fun spiritual, social, and athletic activities that will take place throughout the week. It was fantastic getting to reunite with so many old friends as well as meet some great new people as well.

Monday started off with a bang as my group's first big sports activity was the rock wall. While I am happy to say I've made it up to the top every year, this was the first year I made it up without any long pauses or direction as to where I should put my hands/feet. Rock Climbing always provides a great analogy to the climb our faith lives can sometimes be. There are times when the going is easy and natural, and other times where we have to stop, re-evaluate our path, and continue upwards and onwards. As we get to the top, our strength gone, one last easy grip is awaiting us, so we can then look at the beauty surrounding us as far as the eye can see and feel accomplished in the climb we have made.

Tuesday got off to an amusing start. It began drizzling just as my group had lake activities and the go-kart track. While the rain was light enough as not to affect our lake time, its affect on our racing time was interesting. We were allowed to continue racing so long as we were safe, but the kicker was that due to the wetness of the track, all of the grit got thrown up at you. By the end of the period, all of us looked like something out of a battle in Braveheart or Lord of the Rings, covered in race track grime from head to toe. It was still a fun day though, and the weather cleared up nicely. So nicely, in fact, that we had a pool party later that night. There I met a great guy named Kenny, who told me and a couple close friends of ours the story of God's intervention in his life. I walked away that night reminded in a deep way that our God is a God of redemption and wondrous deeds,  who is waiting for each and every one of us, to personally and passionately return to Him.

By Wednesday things were in full swing. We were all drawing closer together as a group, and we also had a special chance to grow ever closer to God that night. At Camp Veritas, every afternoon/evening is praise and worship time. Your mornings are the time to "play hard," while late afternoon until dark is your time to "pray hard." That evening, the counselors broke into groups and stood outside the chapel, willing to pray with us campers for or about anything. Whether you needed healing, direction in life, whatever, they were there to pray for you. After the first huge wave of people had gone and I had had some quiet time to pray and recollect, I decided to go out and ask a group of two nuns and two counselors to pray over me, that I might better know and love God and where He is calling me in life. So often I think people forget that no matter where we are in our lives, whether we're youth, adult, nuns, friars, priests, students, etc., we all come together as one in the body of Christ. For the next 5+ Minutes each member of the group individually prayed over me, pouring out love and support for me as a child of God. While God's presence may be present to all of us who seek it, there's something about when a group of brothers and sisters in Christ surround each other in love and prayer that makes it feel even more real and present.

By Thursday, two big things were clear: One, Cardinal Dolan, the shepherd of the Catholic Church from New York City up to where I live 3 hours north of there, would be coming for a visit to see how Camp Veritas was doing this fine August day. Two, we had passed the midway point through the week. the next day, Friday, would be our last day there. SNIFF!!! Regardless, the Cardinal's visit was a jolly good time. He went around and shook each camper's hand personally at least once (keep in mind, we had over 300 campers this year). He even played Tug of War with us!

I also got the chance to meet up with an old friend and mentor of mine, Mr. David Rider. David was a professional Broadway-level tap dancer who left the business to become a priest. He is now studying over in Rome and will be ordained in a couple years!!

By Friday everyone was determined to go out with a bang-including the weather. As we all gathered in the chapel for Mass before dinner, we heard sheets of rain pouring down on the tin roof over our heads. It. Was. Bad. We had expected that over the course of dinner it would lessen up a bit. It didn't. On came the rumbles of thunder, flashes of lightning, and continuing buckets of rain. We all squeezed back into the chapel for one last great night of praise and worship, with a great talk by one of the friars before singing and times of quiet in a room lit by only a few candles and the fading light from outside. Miraculously, the weather cleared during Praise and Worship, and we were able to have our talent show out on the basketball court. All of the performances were very well done, from song covers to skits to wrapping priests and friars. Friday night really was a great "last hoorrah" for all of us, and we went to bed that night with the bittersweet taste of a fantastic week coming to a close.

As Saturday dawned, the weather couldn't have been better. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, the sun was shining, and yet it was still quite cool for August. Those of us who chose to say morning prayer with the friars and nuns for the last time this year went to the chapel first thing in the morning. After that, we all ate a quick breakfast before packing and getting ready for our final Mass. I had the honor of serving along an extremely inspirational group of priests and one of our Bishops, before saying goodbyes, taking pictures together and leaving that tiny little mountain getaway for this summer.

As I watched friends say farewells and a group of courageous, God-loving teens disband until next year that Saturday afternoon, it was all I could do to fight back tears. Part of it was that the week had ended. Part of it was remembering all of the joy this camp has and continues to bring me. The biggest thing, though, was thinking how much had changed in and around me for the better since that first August afternoon 4 years ago when I first attended the first-ever Camp Veritas. In the past 4 years, I have had the pleasure of watching brothers and sisters in Christ I look up to answering calls that range from dating, getting married and having kids, to joining the seminaries or convents, to joining the armed forces. No matter where in the world God has called them, they never cease to be good role models. People that care about you and are there to help you in any way they can. People like that have given me the strength to become more confident in who I am and in getting to know other people. They've also given me the tools and the inspiration to draw closer to our Lord and seek Him and His calling for me in life on a daily basis.

As I was reading the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles yesterday, I was struck particularly by Chapter 2, Verses 42-47, which talks about the community that the early Church built, founded in awe of the wonders of God and love of neighbor. As I read through that passage, I couldn't shake the image of Veritas from my mind. A place where we unite for Christ. A place where we pour into each other the love, redemption, and life lessons we recieve from the Father, ultimately becoming better people both for our friendship with each other and the friendship with Jesus Christ that is formed simultaneously during that week.

Camp Veritas, you will forever be my home-away-from-home, my sanctum, my special place. To all of you who have called me friend or done anything from have a deep-conversation with me, to praying for me, with me or over me, to just giving me a hug or a hello whenever you see me, thank you. You have pointed me to the Father in ways few others have, and I will ever look forward to that week in August where we all unite in the power of Christ to lift each other up and draw closer to Him.