17 years ago on July 17th we celebrated the 17th Sunday of Ordinary time. That was my first day in parish ministry and a day I will never forget. It didn't seem like very much at the time, but it was the beginning of and experience and a wonderful adventure that would change the course of the rest of my life. Because of that simple day, I have met bishops, Cardinals, and even the Pope and well as presidents, musicians, and countless laity of various degrees of faith. I have had experiences which wouldn't have even happened in my dreams and made friendships that will last forever.
I had no idea where this would lead me, but there is no part of my life that has not been affected by the result of this day, 17 years ago and I am grateful. I returned today to the church where it all started. The church has been renovated so it no longer looks like it did at the time and there is a new priest now, but most of the people are the same. It was great to return "home" and reminisce with old friends.
Never underestimate the influence one person can have on a teenager. I am here today because a priest reached out to me, gave me something to do, trusted me with real responsibility, and was a real friend. I know that I am one of several who had the blessing of his mentoring and friendship and each of our lives were changed for the better.
I am thankful that I can look back over the past 17 years and find young people who I have been able to affect in similar ways. It delights me to see them, now as adults and nearly adults, and see how their lives have changed because I reached out to them, gave them something to do, and trusted them with real responsiblity. Of course, not every kid accepted, but those who have are now wonderful adults who have a strong foundation in faith, service and ministry. I am convinced that the best way to keep kids Catholic is to get them involved in parish life - I don't just mean youth groups! Choir, altar servers, altar guild, readers, religious ed, and parish councils are all great opportunities for young people to nurture and put to use their faith. Don't let these opportunities slip by.