Photo by Igor Rodrigues via Unsplash

Speaking Out: I encounter God through others

By  Danielle Rivest
  • May 16, 2019

Being a young Catholic often means straddling a line between being part of the secular world and embracing who you fundamentally are in the Divine Plan. 

When I was in high school, it was really difficult to find this balance and I was often rejected for favouring the latter. One time, someone asked me if I belonged to a cult. Another time, someone said I was too religious to date. 

But the issue wasn’t that I was openly practising my faith. It was that I was surrounding myself with people who disliked it when I was my true, authentic self. This self-inflicted self-divide took its toll on me. So I reluctantly, and with hidden excitement, began attending a youth group at a local parish.

After evening Mass on Sundays, we would gather in the church hall and spend time simply being ourselves. We laughed with a revived joy. We learned with a renewed vigour and curiosity. Most importantly, we formed life-long and life-changing relationships. And this was when I felt God revealed Himself to me. That is, I encountered God through others.

It has been a while since I’ve been in a youth group. At the beginning of this academic year, I volunteered to be a co-leader of The Well, a youth group at my parish, St. George. 

Every Wednesday, I meet with an incredibly wise and kind group of young people who are on fire for their faith. Never have I seen such a supportive and empathetic group of young people. 

Each person shares their highs and lows of the week while the others listen attentively and respond gracefully. In these young people, I truly see Christ at work in their hearts. 

One night, we were talking about vocations and the difficulty in trying to answer vocations in our lives. Naturally, our conversation fell into the question of simply being in a relationship with God, especially when we are all inclined to sin. 

One young person took a piece of paper and drew three squares on it. Beside these squares, she drew three different-sized rectangles. She pointed to the rectangles and said, “This is how we see our sin. Each sin feels like a different weight, some worse than others.” 

Then, she pointed to the squares: “This is how God sees sin. Though some sins may seem unforgivable to us, nothing is unforgivable to God.” 

As I looked around the room, there were sighs of relief, smiles of awe and expressions of gratitude. God was there, fully present in a simple square. Because she allowed Christ to see her heart and work through her hands, this young person was able to bring a more pastoral perspective to how we see sin. 

Youth groups provide young people with the opportunity to engage in wholesome discussions that foster their fides quaerens intellectum, or “faith seeking understanding.” They are the agents in their pursuit of faith, the participants alongside the Paraclete. 

Being a youth group leader is more than catechesis or leading discussions. It is about listening and learning. These young people continue to teach me, challenge my own views and encourage me to be a stronger disciple of Christ. They inspire me to be a better person, to follow as much as I lead and to act as much as I preach. It is because of these young people that I leave each meeting feeling comforted and empowered by Christ. 

As I continue to pursue my vocation as a Catholic educator, my time at The Well reminds me that the world is in good hands. 

As I sit on the other side, a leader rather than participant, I happily observe the joy within the room, and I am affirmed in that same feeling I had when I was in high school: I encounter God through others. 

(Rivest, 23, is a first-year teacher candidate at Western University’s Faculty of Education in London, Ont.)

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