By Sarah Levesque (Rated G)
This past Saturday – May 2nd, 2020 – I had the opportunity to attend JESUS aCROSS the Border’s Virtual Event, Virtual College Night with Fr Mike Schmitz. The main event was in the form of a Zoom webinar and started with an explanation of the JESUS aCROSS the Border (JATB) mission by Billy Beauchesne, the President of the organization. It is an umbrella organization started in New England devoted to connecting young Catholic adults through young adult groups, primarily in the United States but expanding worldwide. This was JATB’s biggest and most diverse event yet, with 560 registered attendees (plus more over Facebook Live) coming from 157 colleges, 99 young adult groups, 39 states and 18 countries.
The second speaker was JATB director of Events Jimmy Coppinger, who acted as the Emcee for the night. After welcoming everyone, he explained how the night was going to be run, thanked all those who helped in making the evening a reality, and introduced the main speaker, Fr Mike Schmitz.
Fr Mike is well known in Roman Catholic circles for his pithy and humorous videos answering many questions through Ascension Presents on YouTube. He is also the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries for the Diocese of Duluth as well as the chaplain for the Neuman Center at the University of Minnesota – Duluth, and has been a sought-after speaker for youth, young adults and more.
In typical Fr Mike fashion, when asked to lead in prayer, he quipped, “I’m ready; I practiced!” He then led us in a prayer asking the Father to bless us, to help us open ourselves up to Him, and to send His Holy Spirit to make us more like Him and His Son. After making the Sign of the Cross again, he thanked us for being there on a Saturday night. He spent the next ten minutes giving a talk on “Emerging from the Tomb”, or what are we supposed to do with the time we have been given. He answered the question in this way: “Here’s what we can do: we can tolerate it – we can simply endure it, we can resent it, we can waste it.” This, he said, is his “biggest fear… My biggest fear is that I would come – this is me, personally – that I would come to the end of this time that I’ve been given and at the end of it I’m no different then I was when I started it.” Instead, we are called to consider the question, “Have I used this time to actually live differently, or have I just tried to recreate the life I think I should be living, or I would have been living had this quarantine and all these kind of things not been put into affect?” A couple minutes later he had another question for us, saying, “This is the key: God, are You asking me to change? And not waste this time, not resent it, not ignore it, but You’re asking me, You’re inviting me to use this time, Holy God. You’re inviting me to change.” He clarified that he understood that a lot of people don’t like change, that we like stability and security. But, as he said, “To live is to grow, to grow is to change.” After all, “Christian life is about reaching maturity, about reaching full stature, as St Paul says… and if I’m not there yet, that means I have to change. It’s not even a choice, it’s not an option, it’s a necessity. I have to change. To live is to grow, to grow is to change. We are given this time, I believe, to change.” We need to ask, as Fr Mike did, “God, what do you want me to do so that I’m not the same person at the end of this as I was when I went into this, but I’m more and more like You.” We need to live these days intentionally, so we can change as God longs for us to change, to grow as He wants us to grow.
After Fr Mike’s short talk, Jimmy Coppinger asked him a couple trivia questions about Boston while we transitioned into the question & answer portion of the evening, which was to be the longer section.
The first question was “How can I foster perseverance to push through procrastination and laziness in my prayer life?” Fr Mike’s responded, “One of the first things we need to do… is admitting we have a problem… to identify even more specifically what is it, what is the obstacle exactly keeping you from being consistent in prayer” because, he went on to say, different obstacles need different solutions. Examples he gave included putting it off, not finding the time, and finding it dry. He suggested that procrastination might be solved by a schedule or being accountable to someone trustworthy and committed to the same thing. He also reminded us that we need to know ourselves and do what works for us, and not make it too hard for ourselves. As he said, “I need to acknowledge myself and make allowances for myself do it – not making allowances in the sense of making excuses, I mean making allowances like ‘since I know myself, I’m going to set up my [prayer] schedule according to me, not according to Saint So-and-so.’”
Two people asked questions involving how one is to live one’s faith away from community. These Fr Mike answered by reminding us that we are each a part of the church. “I’m called to grow in my interior life and to live it out in the context of my family in my exterior life,” he said. “Have that interior resolve of ‘I want to be that kind of Christian who races after Christ… regardless of who is supporting me and who is not…’ Draw close to Him in prayer on a regular basis.” He also said, “Keep this in mind: even when you feel like you’re alone, you’re not alone… The Lord God has given you a gift of faith and that’s something that’s a gift… Just being able to say ‘Oh my gosh here is the Lord who has given me this gift because He knows me, He loves me, He desires my heart. So to pursue him, even alone, you soon realize I’m not alone here, because he’s actually planted here in my heart…. and I have a desire for Him. That very fact so important.” He reminded us gently that everyone fails and that we need to try again after we fail, and said that when we do fail, we need to ask God to show us what it was we were looking for when we made that wrong choice, because we don’t look for sin, but for good in the wrong places. He also said we need to ask, “To what degree can I pursue the Lord in an intentional way on a daily basis in my own prayer,” because “the only kind of Christian who can live in any circumstance and any season is the Christian prays no matter what the circumstance, no matter what the season.”
Another question that was asked was “What is your favorite prayer in this time?” Aside from the Mass, Fr Mike said his favorites were the what he called “The Big Three”: Liturgy of the Hours (he recommended using the iBreviary app), the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and the Rosary. He said though he did not originally like praying the Liturgy of the Hours – the official prayer of the Church – over time, praying it “with it’s Psalms and canticles and those readings over years has just like seeped [them] into my bones. Another person asked Fr Mike to recommend three books, and after some thought he answered, “…here are some books that really shaped me.” He listed Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis and Christianity for Modern Pagans by Peter Kreeft. Of Mere Christianity he said, “every one of the authors who writes books on apologetics is reliant on C.S. Lewis”. Of The Screwtape Letters he added, “Whenever I read it I am blown away by Lewis’ understanding of the human condition, how deeply he gets temptation…” Of Christianity for Modern Pagans by Peter Kreeft he said, “This did more to shape my worldview than almost any other book I’ve read.”
Of course, this is only a summary of what Fr Mike said, and I’ve had to strip away the stories and most of the humor Fr Mike infuses his talks with. I invite you to see the recorded video of the talk and the Q&A on Facebook to get the full experience. A great many questions were asked, though sadly due to time constraints most could not be answered. After answering seven questions and leading us in the JESUS aCROSS the Border prayer for young adults, he helped Jimmy and Billy give away multiple prizes to the watchers. Once the thank yous and giveaways were over, we were all invited to an afterparty, as JATB generally has a social event after their main events. This virtual social event was Trivia, utilizing Zoom breakout rooms, and over 40 people played. All in all, I had a great time Saturday night, and I hope that until the social distancing orders are revoked, JATB will continue to have events like this.