“But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to every one I send you to and say whatever I command you.” Jeremiah 1:7
“Go, do not be afraid, and serve.”—Pope Francis
“It’s too early, Mrs. Hill,” yawned one of the 7th grade girls in my car as we traveled in a caravan towards our ultimate destination: Camp Magis, held at Bishop Hodges Catholic Pastoral Center located on 1,400 acres in the middle of WV mountains just outside Huttonsville.
“I’m just going to sleep until there’s enough daylight to read,” sleepily stated another young lady.
“I’ll just take a nap too,” I retorted in a poor attempt at early morning humor.
Neither of the girls said a word. Yep, they were definitely sleepy. After all, it was just minutes after 6:00 am, and most of the students were not used to being awake this early.
John, my husband and fellow co-worker, was ahead of me in his truck as well as five other parent-volunteer drivers, three of whom would be staying in the camp along with John and me. The drive would take about 3 ½ to 4 hours, depending upon traffic and length of stops.
The Camp Magis tradition began in 2014 for all seventh graders in WV Catholic schools. The name, “Magis,” whose Latin roots mean more or better, also comes from St. Ignatius of Loyola, who asked, “What more (magis) can do I do for Christ?” In addition, the Camp’s spiritual theme was further inspired by Pope Francis who urged youth at the World Youth Day rally in 2013, to “Go, do not be afraid, and serve.”
Last year, John returned from camp, after his first visit, bubbling over with enthusiasm for the activities, the counselors, and they way in which the students bonded—not only to each other, but to their faith. Thus, when I was asked this year if I would go, I had to say, “yes.”
Still, I must confess, the teacher side of me was bemoaning the fact I would miss three days of classroom instruction with my students. Certainly, I could leave plans for my 6th and 8th graders, but that type of work is not the same. Then, on Friday, five days before we were to leave for camp, Father Dean talked to the 7th graders at the end of our weekly church service. While his message was meant for the students, I could not help be inspired as well.
He began by emphasizing that importance that magis means more and better.
“Go, be ambassadors for our school. Do more than is asked of you. Do better than is expected of you. Ask yourself, what is God calling me to do more of or to become better at? Be mindful and prayful in these questions throughout your stay.”
Much to my delight, our students took Father Dean’s directions to heart during our three-day stay. From volunteering to read during church service, to cleaning up after meals, to diving into activities with vigor and vim, to sitting/kneeling quietly during times of prayer, to helping one another during difficult tasks, as well as to looking out for a student from another school who clearly had some challenges—our students did more and better.
Specifically, two activities deeply stirred me. One occurred each morning. Students were asked to attend chapel at the start of each day, before any other activity, including breakfast, for a unique prayer service. I was prepared for whining, complaining, and passive nonparticipation, but I was pleasantly surprised.
Both mornings, students, with no prodding from the other parent-volunteers, John, or me, listened to the speakers, and did as instructed. Looking around the chapel each morning and seeing our students, side-by-side teens and chaperones from other schools, kneeling at the alter, or sitting with their heads down in prayer and reflection, was such moving scene—I could not help but feel a profound stillness and sense of peace within.
In fact, walking away from chapel on our last morning, one of my students said to me with a wide smile, “Mrs. Hill, I didn’t think I’d like having to pray every morning, but I feel happier each time I do it. It’s like God giving me a hug to start my day.”
She was still grinning as she took off running to catch up with a group of girls heading to breakfast in the brightness of the full-on golden sunshine of a brisk autumn morning. If only I could bottle that moment for another time, when teen hormones will inevitably cloud her vision; but maybe, just maybe, the seeds of prayer, like the fallen hickory nuts l kept stepping on, haven taken root within her and will help her weather stormy days of teenage angst.
Did I mention that the camp setting could not have been more idyllic? Fall colors were flamboyant like an outdoor Christmas light display. In fact, many of our activities required hiking up hills of multi-hued leafy paths.
One of these hikes was based upon Mother Teresa’s quote, . . .”God is the friend of silence. . . . . We need silence to be able to touch souls.” Kids and chaperones alike were invited to spread over and up the side of a hill. Once nestled into a spot away from other campers, we were to spend 20 minutes in total silence.
I chose to walk as high as was permitted on the edge of a heavily forested area. The wind continuously whistled, rustling the leaves. Colors of amber, rust, and honey gently rained around me. The scent of overly-ripened apples, the detritus of fall, and damp earth filled my nostrils. I leaned back on my hands sensing the blades of cool, green grass bending with the pressure of my touch. The mountains across the valley were rolling and numerous, striking a bold, colorful contrast to the cobalt sky and soft, billowy clouds. Below me were students immersed in the sounds of nature and stillness. It was as if this natural resonance were an old-school felt eraser wiping away the mental, monkey-chatter often scrawled upon my mind. This was a Divine moment on a Divine canvas.
Such symbolic representation—we were separate; and yet, we were one in His silence. What a message: One world; one collective group of people–divinely created to serve one another and our earth.
Magis. Let us do more. Let us do better.