Salina — Nearly 400 youth from across the diocese gathered March 22-23 for the annual CYO Convention.
This year’s theme was “Come As You Are,” and included nationally-recognized speakers Paul J. Kim and Sarah Swafford.
Both speakers wove the theme of love and virtue throughout their presentations.
Known for his beatboxing and straightforward talk, Kim fielded questions and dolled out advice Saturday afternoon.
“Love is willing the good of the other,” he told the crowd. “That doesn’t sound romantic, does it?
“If you think about it objectively, it wills the good of the other person, and it means it has nothing to do with how you feel, how they feel, or that one hot moment. It is about truly willing what is authentically good for this person.”
Yet in culture, it’s easy to confuse love with other emotions.
“There’s another four letter word that starts with “L” and looks really good from far away,” Kim said. “It’s called lust. Lust is using the other. Whereas love wants to build the other person up, even to sacrifice one’s own desires, to build that person up, lust is all about using that person and taking from them whatever is necessary to get the most amount of pleasure and then move on. You all are in high school. Have you ever seen this play out in relationships?”
In relationships, it can be easy to ask the question “How far is too far?” Kim said.
“Let me answer that in a simple way: It’s the wrong question,” he said. “It’s like asking ‘How much trouble can I get in before I’m really in trouble? It’s like driving on the wrong side of the highway thinking ‘How much can I play chicken before we get in a terrible accident?’ ”
He posed the question to the students of who one day wishes to be married.
“If you think you’re called to marriage, guess what? Your future spouse is out there somewhere,” he said. “But let me break it down for you this way: They’re not dating you right now; they’re probably dating someone else.
“If you have any sense, it should make you at least a little bit bothered that your future spouse is being played and used by a dude who has no interest in making some sort of lifelong commitment to this girl. He just wants to have fun.”
Swafford calls this the “Cycle of Use.”
“In our world, men will emotionally manipulate women, get them where they’re most vulnerable to get what they want,” she said. “And women will take their sex appeal, their body, because they know they can offer it, to get what they want, which is to feel loved or wanted or feel desired.”
Swafford, the author of “Emotional Virtue,” emphasized two phrases to the high school students: “I will not use you” and “I will not let you use me.”
She said young adults sometimes talk about the “love test.”
“ ‘If you really love me then you’d ….’ or ‘I really love him so I’ll …..’ ” she said. “The answer is ‘If you really love me, then you’ll sacrifice for me.’ It’s not the most popular answer; it’s not the easiest answer, but that is the answer.”
Bryce Hickman, a senior from St. Nicholas of Myra Parish in Hays, said Swafford’s talk resonated with him.
“It’s true in today’s society that men and women use each other,” he said. “It’s important to want the best for each other.”
He said attending convention allows him to “build a relationship with God on my own.”
Swafford said despite the abundance of social media outlets, it’s easy for teens and young adults to feel alone. Isolated. Insufficient.
“I travel all over the country, all over the world and hear it all the time … ‘I will never be enough,’ ” she said.
During her high school and college years, Swafford said she spent the bulk of her time worrying about:
Who am I going to date and eventually marry?
What are they going to do for me?
How are they going to make me feel?
How good can I look doing it?”
“What would happen instead of spending 80 percent of our time worrying about these questions,” she said, “what would happen if we asked these three questions: ‘Who do I want to be? What am I living for? Who am I living for?’ ”
She said during college, her group of female friends asked a group of guy friends “What do guys want in a girlfriend/future wife?”
“They looked at us and said ‘holiness and confidence,’ ” Swafford said. “They told us even guys that aren’t into their faith will say they want a girl who knows who she is and does the right thing. They busted out a napkin and wrote this down. They called it the ‘simply irresistible virtuous woman.’ ”
Yet Swafford said it’s essential to surround yourself with virtuous friends who will provide availability, accountability and vulnerability. She encouraged the youth to develop a relationship with God, find supportive friends and strive for virtue.
“The No. 1 thing I hear is ‘I’m alone, no one else is struggling,’ ” Swafford said. “You guys, everyone in this room is fighting a hard battle. It might not be your battle, but be kind, because everyone is fighting a hard battle.”
Kim also shared about his path to ministry.
“Life isn’t always a linear line,” he said. “I’m ashamed to say it, I wanted to major in partying and hooking up in college. I wasn’t at peace and I was miserable and I knew I wasn’t right with God.”
A pivotal moment came when he worked up the courage to have an honest confession with the priest at the Newman Center.
“Up to that point, I would lie in confession because I didn’t want the priest to be judging me, so I made up sins to make myself sound better,” he said. “I did that for years. I finally said ‘I’m going to be real, I’m going to tell him everything.’
“I said my confession. I was sorry and I wanted to change. I heard those most beautiful words ‘I absolve you from your sins.’ ”
He began attending weekday Mass, eventually discerned for three years with Franciscians in New York, and after discerning a religious vocation was not his call, earned his Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy.
“So I spent tens of thousands of dollars to find out people have problems in life, in their marriage.” Kim said. “Then I realized … I don’t like listening to people’s problems all day.”
He offered a parent’s perspective and some practical advice to those considering or preparing for college.
“I want you to proceed very wisely,” Kim said. “The current level of debt in America because of college loans is $1.4 trillion. Do you know how many zeros that is? That’s more than all of the credit card debt combined in our country.”
He encourages education, and continuing education, but in a purposeful way. Changing majors multiple times throughout college can be a recipe for trouble.
“If you don’t know what you’re going to study, start doing some research,” he said. “I don’t think I spent enough time meeting with professional psychologists asking questions ‘What do you do every day? What is your life like?’ It looks different on paper than it does in actuality sometimes.”
Kim said hard work and dedication are essential ingredients for life.
“You might want to do something that someone is doing, but don’t think it will come easy just because you want it,” he said. “You have to make it happen. Pray about it, ask God for guidance and then work your butt off to be excellent at whatever you do … whatever you feel called to … whatever you feel passionate about.
“So much of our culture has the mentality of ‘I’m owed this.’ No, you’re not. You are owed what you bring to the table for the value you bring to a company, a non profit, a ministry. Work hard. God will honor that hard work.”
In addition to keynote speakers, the weekend also included Eucharistic Adoration, Reconciliation, youth spotlights, prayer services, a dance and vocation panel.
Abby Reif, a freshman from Sacred Heart Parish in Plainville, attended for the first time.
“Everyone said it was a great time to learn about yourself and Jesus,” she said. “I loved Adoration.”
She said she appreciated Kim’s candor in speaking about his faith journey.
“It shows everyone is the same and has the same feelings of doubt as you do, but they have overcome it, and you can, too,” Reif said.
Part of the work of the universal Church is to “go make disciples,” Bishop Jerry Vincke told the teens at the closing Mass Sunday afternoon.
He spoke of St. Ignatius of Loyola, who felt weighed down by the sins of his past.
“At one point, the Lord spoke and said ‘Leave your past. Leave your sins to me. I need you for the people in this world that I love,’ ” Bishop Vincke said. “My dear friends in Christ, Jesus is saying the same thing to you.”
The bishop shared a story from a few weeks ago, when he was traveling on a Friday during Lent. He stopped at a gas station around dinner time, and there was no meatless pizza in the gas station.
“I was crushed,” Bishop Vincke said. “I asked ‘Don’t you have cheese? I can’t eat meat today because it’s Lent.’ ”
The young clerk behind the counter asked “What’s Lent?”
“She didn’t know too much about Jesus at all,” Bishop Vincke said. “She knew Jesus died, but didn’t know he died on a Friday, it was very fascinating.
“There are a lot of people in the world we live in who do not know the love of God. Do not know the mercy of God in their life.”
A self-admitted sports fan, the bishop said he has witnessed or participated in many exciting games.
“The greatest thrill, joy in my heart ever is when someone encounters Christ,” he said. “That brings me more joy and more happiness than anything, especially if a person has been away and they experience Christ. It’s the best.”
This is the call God gives to everyone.
“Jesus is calling every one of us to be disciples of Christ by having a relationship with him,” Bishop Vincke said. “To pray. To get to know Jesus. Become the best disciple where you’re at.”