As a child, Stephanie Clouatre-Davis had a hard time finding her niche in a family of three brothers who were always outdoing her in academics, athletics and popularity. A lifelong struggle with her weight made the comparisons she was making in her mind all the more glaring.
“They were everything I wanted to be,” said Clouatre-Davis, sharing her story with 1,400 high school students gathered at Loyola University Oct. 28 for the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ celebration of World Youth Day. “If my job was being their sister, I had no idea where I fit in,” she said, recalling an especially painful experience: being asked by one of her brothers to walk several paces behind him as they walked in the shopping mall.
Clouatre-Davis, who ultimately overcame her feelings of inadequacy – earning a theology degree from Loyola, and becoming a wife, mother and youth minister at Holy Ghost Church in Hammond – told the teens that there may be times when they stop caring about God’s call altogether; or, to use a cell-phone analogy, lose interest in fulfilling their promise when their “ringtone doesn’t sound as good as someone else’s ringtone.”
“I fell farther and farther away from what I was called to be,” Clouatre-Davis said of her childhood retreat into silence. “Not only did I not hear my ringtone, I began to dim my light; I began to put my phone on silent, reserve my power.
“I couldn’t hear (God) and I didn’t want to hear him; I quit listening,” she added. “I became less and less myself. I started depending more and more on ‘Stephanie,’ and less and less on my God.”
‘Phone line’ to God can fail
Breakdowns in the two-way communication between self and God – and ways to repair them – were explored throughout the day at the annual gathering of young Catholics sponsored by the archdiocese’s Youth and Young Adult Ministry Office. In Clouatre-Davis’ case, her disconnect from God’s call nearly made her forget that God had a wonderful plan for her life as an evangelizer of youth.
She said it took the trauma of finding her home in New Orleans covered in mold after Hurricane Katrina to rid herself completely of the defensiveness in which she had wrapped herself since childhood. Still insisting she could handle Katrina’s aftermath on her own, she collapsed to the floor when her cousin asked how she was doing. Fortunately, God stepped in, and Clouatre-Davis recalled a description of prayer given by St. Therese of Lisieux.
“Prayer is a throbbing in the heart, a looking up to heaven, a calling out for help,” Clouatre-Davis said, noting that as her cousin picked her up from the floor, she felt her heart “beat again.” She said as long as one is communicating with God, having a joy-filled life takes just three simple steps: Dosomething; discern your gifts; and find a place to land those gifts so they can meet the needs of the world.
“You are to be Jesus Christ to the world, not just in his humanity, but in his divinity as well,” Clouatre-Davis said.
After eating lunch, line dancing and visiting a fair of Catholic exhibitors in Loyola’s Peace Quad, the Catholic teens attended the breakout session of their choice from a list of 14 topics, ranging from ways to protect themselves from the snares of social media, to tips on how to persuade their peers to advocate for life.
Nicole Autin, a ninth grader from St. Matthew the Apostle Parish, said her girls-only workshop by Catholic singer Kara Klein reminded her that while it is difficult to be a woman of faith in a society that expects her to be a certain size and possess certain talents, she must ignore this static.
“The way the world tells us to be is the opposite of how we should be; it tells us that we’re not good enough, but we are,” said Nicole, 14, noting that as it is with any interpersonal relationship, spending time with God is key to knowing him.
“We have to really talk to God a lot so we can find that joy and be a woman of God,” she said. “I try to go to (weekly) adoration. It helps a lot.”
Finding quiet spaces
The day’s other keynote speaker, Gospel singer and recording artist ValLimar Jansen, observed that God continually speaks to us through family, friends, Scripture, the sacraments, nature, and even through our bodies. To prove her point, Jansen asked the young people to study their hands.
“Look at your fingertips. Out of the billions of people in the world right now, yours are the only prints that look like this!” Jansen said. “So in our very bodies God is calling us and telling us that we’re rare and unique and special to him,” she said, adding that the same singularity also is true of the human retina.
“The question is not if God is calling, but can you hear him now?” Jansen said. “I am convinced we are being called to sacred spaces and quiet places to hear God a little more clearly in our lives,” she said, challenging attendees to set aside just three minutes every day during Advent to “sweep aside all the business of life” to speak to God in sacred silence.
“If we are practiced in listening to our God speaking to us, no matter what the world is saying, no matter the circumstance or the situation, we’ll be able to recognize the voice of God calling us,” Jansen said.
The attendees, ninth through 12th graders hailing from 70 schools and parish youth groups, concluded the day with Mass celebrated by Archbishop Gregory Aymond.
During the homily, the archbishop said that like Bartimaeus, the blind man healed by Jesus in the day’s Gospel reading, God’s children are not content just to hear the Lord; they want to seehim with “the eyes of faith.”
“In this Eucharist, my sisters and brothers in the young church, the Lord Jesus says exactly the same words to you and to me that he said to that blind man: ‘What do you want me to do for you?’” Archbishop Aymond said.
“Today, you and I come to this Eucharist, and we ask Jesus to heal any blindness that you and I may have in which we do not see him in our daily lives.”
A separate World Youth Day for grades 6-8 will be staged by the Youth and Young Adult Ministry Office Nov. 10 at St. Mary’s Academy.
Beth Donze can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.