By Christine Bordelon, Clarion Herald
Letting high school seniors know that they are never alone in the world and that God is their companion along life’s journey no matter where that leads was the essence of Senior Day Nov. 6 at Our Lady of the Lake in Mandeville.
Austin Ashcraft, youth ministry leader at Our Lady of the Lake and a teacher at St. Paul’s School in Covington, started the day with advice for seniors from Archbishop Hannan, Mandeville High, Pope John Paul II, St. Paul’s and St. Scholastica Academy – advice he wishes he would have gotten before going to college.
“I wished someone would have told me that freshman year in college would hit me really hard,” Ashcraft said. It is a time of transition, and the hype doesn’t always meet expectations.
Ashcraft shared his favorite quote to drive the point home: “The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort; you were made for greatness.”
He inspired them to turn moments of challenge into opportunities. He showed photos and a video of a mission-adventure trip to Mexico where he and college-age students worked with Mother’s Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Mexico City. Their side trip was climbing an 18,000-foot mountain covered in slick ice.
Ashcraft created the trip as a response to his students expressing disillusionment with college and how they sought a more meaningful life. He took them out of their comfort “life” zone and thrust them into a world of helping others.
Only five of the 16-member group made it to the summit, but all found joy as they forsook their troubles and served Christ through their service to Christ’s children who had physical challenges.
“Joy comes by just forgetting about yourself for a while,” Ashcraft said. “You don’t have to do big things (like a mission trip). Where you are, greatness can be found.”
Archbishop Gregory Aymond, who celebrated Mass for the youth, spoke to seniors about their relationship with God.
He encouraged the students to spend time daily in prayer, to allow God to “whisper” a response in their ear that could be realized in the sense of peace they feel; in making decisions; a plan of action that becomes clear. He emphasized that he valued them and their dignity as young men and women and said Jesus would journey with them the next year, no matter what path they chose.
He answered questions on free will, marrying people of another faith, why God allows suffering in the world (God doesn’t; he just lets nature be nature and people exercise free will while always being there in the midst of suffering) and the relationship of science and religion.
Regarding vocations, Archbishop Aymond said God is calling each of the seniors to use their gifts whether their vocation is marriage, single life, the priesthood or becoming a religious sister or brother.
He expressed concern about dating relationships and asked them to consider what they do.
“It’s important to follow the values of Jesus by respecting your own body and the body of the person we are dating,” he said.
Archbishop Aymond briefly touched on sexual abuse of minors by priests in the Catholic Church. He assured them that it is not something happening today due to safeguards implemented back in 2002 with Safe Environment policies.
“Sexual abuse of any kind (especially to minors) is an evil and cannot be tolerated and, if discovered, that person should be put out of ministry immediately.”
One student asked the archbishop if he personally struggled with faith. He said everyone struggles, but told them not to give up but to seek God and ask him to show his face or seek advice from someone older.
To maintain and strengthen their faith in college, Archbishop Aymond suggested being active in Catholic campus ministries surrounded by people with similar values.
When asked about his favorite saint, he said his namesake, St. Gregory, a dedicated priest, bishop and pope who wrote about his struggles with faith; and Pope John Paul II who had a special affection for youth.
The day helps seniors become steeped in the larger vision of Catholic identity as it emphasizes that faith doesn’t end in high school, promotes solidarity among northshore Catholic schools sharing the same Catholic values and connects personally with Archbishop Gregory Aymond, said St. Scholastica’s campus minister Colin MacIver.
“This senior day is a way of experiencing some of the answers to their questions,” Father Mark Lomax, pastor at Our Lady of the Lake said.
“It’s a great opportunity to be closer to your faith and be with your peers on the northshore,” Archbishop Hannan High senior Mikayla Boyer said.
Christine Bordelon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.