From 2007-2009, I accompanied my youth group to Catholic Heart Workcamp for a week over the summer. During this time, I bonded with friends, and also deepened my faith through service. The experience was unlike anything I had before as a Catholic in the Protestant Bible Belt. Don’t get my wrong, my home church is beautiful with it’s 174 year old history, Gothic-Revival Architecture, and breathtaking stained-glass windows. However, not much had changed in our parish since the church was built. We still kept the communion rail up, even though Vatican II disbanded them in in 1959, and our pipe organ is so old that even “Ode to Joy” sounds like a funeral dirge when played through it. Catholic Heart showed me that the Catholic Church is alive and well today.
Flash forward ten years from my first experience and I now had the opportunity to chaperone a group of students to their first CHWC. Well, they initially asked my Dad to do it, but he only agreed to go if I went, and I was thrilled to return. Dad and I left ahead of the charter bus to meet them in St. Louis, Missouri where we explored Six Flags, Anheuser-Busch (on our own time), and enjoyed a few too many slices of Imo’s pizza.
The next day, we arrived at camp in Champaign, Illinois. Now, if you’ve never been to Champaign, Illinois, just close your eyes and imagine a school, a gas station, and corn as far as the eye can see. That’s about it. The CHWC staff greeted us with smiles, offered to help unpack, and took a group picture of us and then the camp officially started. As it turns out, we had been booked into a “Next Level” camp. I kept hearing the term tossed around, but thought they were just referring to it that way because it was a spiritual/service camp, and not a purely fun one like space camp. Nope. Next-Level referred to the seriousness of the camp in that Mass was held every morning, the attendees were a bit more founded in their faith, and the staff was all very experienced, and as a result, a little distant.
Overall, the benefits of attending this next-level CHWC greatly outweighed the disappointment of taking off the nostalgia glasses. The daily masses really helped to set the mood and remind us why we are truly there, and I left the week with a sense of completeness and warmth that I had not felt in a long time. During Adoration, I truly felt the Presence for the first time ever. For those non-Catholics reading this, Adoration is a quiet prayer time spend in front of a Monstrance, which is a golden spiked holder for a blessed Eucharist (which Catholics believe to be the true body of Christ). It was an experience that I was able to have alone in the crowded gym where we gathered and felt sorrow, repentance, joy, and hope all within the 30 minutes of quiet reflection time.
The best part of Catholic Heart Workcamp is called Four Corners. This is an event that even the basic camps host, and the next-level one made it all the better. The idea of Four Corners is that the room is split up into 5 areas. Just kidding, it’s four. One is a space where you offer up prayers and intentions through physically writing them down on paper, a rock, or something else. Two of the corners have the adults sitting down around the space with a candle in front of them signifying that you can approach them to talk or pray. I had two young people come up to me and my candle at one point and was able to talk them through some stuff they were worried about and offered prayers for clairvoyance and peace of mind. It was really a wonderful experience. The final corner though, is Reconciliation. One of the seven sacraments is offered as a private area is roped off and 18 priests were there to hear confessions and offer forgiveness. I was the first in line for this as it had been a while since I last went. I suffer from anxiety and mild-depression and the sacrament of Reconciliation is one of the few times that I can go to someone, unload all the guilt and worry from life, and leave truly happy with a burden lifted. The best part about CHWC’s Reconciliation though is that the priest and I did not know each other and are likely never to see each other again, so there are no holds barred and the sacrament can be completed in it’s purest form.
I left Catholic Heart Workcamp this year with a sense of worth. Not a selfish, or entitled sense of worth, but one that whispered at my heart and told me that I mattered, and that I was able to make a difference in someone’s life. That alone was worth the week of sleeping on a classroom floor, eating the scraps off the Sysco truck, and sitting on a bus full of teenagers for 13 hours. That, and the quality time I got to spend with my Dad was nice too. He and I have been adventure buddies for a long time, but that will be a post for another day. I hope that this post inspires you to seek something that will give you the same level of happiness and contentment that this experience provided me. God Bless.
P.S. I am currently editing a video of my experience for the Parish and will upload the link here once I finish.
P.P.S. It is finished! CLICK HERE for the video.