On Mar, 1 2021
I have been working with students for over thirty years. I have been following Jesus in an intentional way since I was 16 (almost forty years ago!). There is a lot I have learned about students and myself in all this time, but one thing that stands out is – daily prayer is hard.
Let’s start with me. When I was sixteen I had a pretty profound moment with Jesus at a retreat (sound familiar?). It changed the course of my life. I went from wanting to be a police officer to wanting to be a youth minister. I got involved in youth group, joined a young adult bible study after high school (which I would later lead), and eventually attended other bible studies at my parish. I got my dream job as youth minister at my parish, started teaching religious education, leading retreats, and mentoring students. I went back to school and got my masters in Theology, got married, moved from parish ministry to campus ministry and forty years of this amazingly fun and challenging and beautiful intentional walk with Jesus still has me struggling to have daily prayer.
Students. Thirty years of working with Catholics 12-40 years old has been amazing. Teaching classes, leading events like lock-ins, mystery trips, movie nights and bible studies, coordinating camps and retreats and conferences, as well as developing leaders and launching them into ministry. I am blessed to say that there has been a lot of fruit in the last thirty plus years. But the fruit that eludes me is students who have solid daily prayer habits.
Honesty and transparency. One thing I have failed to mention is that along the way in my personal and ministry life I have constantly explored various prayer forms, talked about prayer, and taught about prayer. I developed some really good talks and retreats about prayer. I have had seasons of praying the rosary daily and seasons of not knowing where my rosary is. I have had seasons of reading the daily reading and seasons of hardly opening my bible. I’ve had seasons of being a regular confession-goer and a seldom, if ever, confession-goer, and there was a time when I had never been to adoration and now I really love the time with Jesus. Through all of these seasons one thing has remained consistent, I was honest with myself and my students about the ups and downs of my prayer life. I model Christian prayer by being candid about my successes and failure.
I think that a healthy practice of spirituality is an honest practice. I meld my personal spiritual life with the life of the campus ministry. Here’s how:
- I attend Mass at our campus ministry center.
- I go to adoration with my students.
- I attend our daily rosary a few times a week.
- I go to confession at our campus center throughout the year.
- I post spiritual reflections on my personal and our ministry social media sites.
When modeling a healthy spiritual life transparency is important, but it starts with me striving to grow in my spiritual life. I do not impose my personal styles on the students, and I do not hype one style over another. This is for two reasons. First, I think the most important thing I teach people about prayer is that there is only one true and right way to pray – your way. We all have individual relationships with God and thus our prayer life is individual. Second, I have been an intentional disciple long enough to know a prayer practice that works now might now be as meaningful in 5, 10 or 20 years.
One of the things I like most about being Catholic (besides the Mass) is that there are so many options for prayer. There are quiet contemplative options, loud and charismatic options, ordered rote options, experience-oriented options, alone options, communal options, memorized and off the cuff options, and the list goes on.
I feel like it is my responsibility as a campus minister to make space for all of this variety. I offer opportunities for options the students have not yet experienced, I am open to change in the ways we pray as a ministry, and I give the students as much opportunity to lead as possible.
The hardest part of this openness to variety is often I have to embrace styles that are not my first choice. When this happens, I remind myself of something one of my mentors taught me: You know you are really praying when the style being used is one you don’t really enjoy, yet you can still connect with God.
We can model a life of prayer to our students by looking to Mary, The Model of Prayer: “May it be done to me according to your word.” - Luke 1:38
For more resources on engaging your students in a healthy prayer life, talk with a Newman Coach.
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