Oh, these vast, calm, measureless mountain days, days in whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God. -John Muir
As the summer draws to a close and I prepare for my final year of seminary, I’m drawn to reflect on this year’s summer assignment, what will most likely, and Lord willing, be my last as a seminarian: Camp Chaplain to our diocesan summer camp.
This past summer, I have learned many things: how to make string rosaries, lanyards, and copperplate jewelry. I’ve learned about new animals and plants in the Sierra Nevada mountains of my dear home, California. I’ve learned how to pack so much into a camper’s backpack for an overnight trip that it would make Mary Poppins jealous. I’ve also learned the importance of keeping bug spray on. All. The. Time.
Many other lessons, immensely more valuable and intangible, came to me this summer. While my assignment as Camp Chaplain brought me to camp to serve, listen, and minister to the staff and campers, I found that they taught about and witnessed to the love and truth of Jesus Christ so much more than I could have offered them. From one person I learned what it means to fully dedicate oneself to ministry, giving your all even when you have nothing left to give. From another person, I learned what true patience and grace look like even in the most difficult of situations. One coworker taught me how to appreciate the smallest quiet moments with God’s creation and helped me to rediscover my love of nature, recognizing the love and beauty of our Lord in it all. Someone else showed me how one can live a truly authentic Catholic life as a young person in a world full of adversity, boldly witnessing to Jesus Christ.
This summer I have had the privilege to lead the campers and staff in prayer and to help guide them in their spiritual life here at camp. Each time at exposition and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, my one prayer was that all those present would not see me in my words and actions, but rather Jesus Christ. As I led guided astronomy sessions, my hope was that my campers and their counselors would gain a greater appreciation of the beauty of God’s universe. As we went on meditation hikes, I prayed that through the use of their senses and listening to the scripture passages, those participating would see the beauty of our faith through the sights, sounds, smells, and tactile experiences we encounter in our faith. I also prayed that my own foibles and shortcomings did not get in the way too much and that my mistakes did not impede anyone’s encounter with our Lord.
As a deacon, my time at camp was truly my first experience of having a “flock.” True, I was not pastor and I am not a priest yet, but I was in a way responsible for the spiritual care of the campers and most especially the staff. Through the many conversations, encounters, and even passing moments exchanging knowing glances, I was humbled and honored to take on such a wonderful responsibility, and they, in turn, taught me so much more than I could have ever given them. As the staff and I served together this summer, I was constantly edified by their faith, ingenuity, and perseverance: such as when one counselor got up three times in one night to tend to her kids or when other counselors remained engaged and joyful at 4AM in the morning to bring their campers up a tower to see a sunrise during a thirty-mile trip on the Pacific Crest Trail.
As I prepare for this final year in seminary, I give thanks and praise to our good God who has blessed us in ways known and unknown this summer. I give thanks for the people I have lived and worked with this summer and for the campers I have served. Through our shared experiences, my hope and prayer is that we all have come closer to the Father, that we have come to a more intimate relationship with Christ our Savior, and that the Holy Spirit has greater room to move in our hearts.
Next up: our annual seminarian retreat. Then back to school. God is good. All the time.