The cost of discipleship is one we are all called on to cover
By Bill Brewer
Father Chris Michelson hopes his lesson to students active in the Diocese of Knoxville’s youth ministry didn’t fall on apathetic ears during his homily for the annual Diocesan Youth Mass on Sept. 15.
His question was simple. Are you all in? Are you totally committed?
It was an important question to the students who represent the Catholic Church in their high school communities within the four deaneries in which they reside.
Citing Scripture readings from Exodus, 1 Timothy, and Luke, Father Michelson emphasized to the youth in attendance that they must place their full faith in God and maintain it, even when others are doubting God’s presence, such as those being delivered from Egypt by Moses. The pastor of St. Albert the Great Parish in Knoxville, which hosted the Youth Mass, also pointed to Timothy, who was recognized by St. Paul for living his faith, especially during difficult times.
The veteran priest inspired the students to “seek the good that we all have inside” as part of their ministry.
“We all have goodness inside. What a great message for us, and what a great message hopefully for all of you. Many of you have agreed to leadership positions in our diocese. … People saw goodness in you, and we have to find that goodness in ourselves. And may you always work on sharing that inner goodness,” Father Michelson told the students.
In continuing his homily, Father Michelson quizzed the young women and men about their dedication to their faith. Again pointing to the Israelites on one hand and Timothy on the other, he wanted the students to self-reflect.
“Are we all in? Or are we all in when it’s convenient, when it’s easy, when there’s nothing else we would rather do? Are we all in in living our faith on Sunday morning, or would we rather be at the lake? Or maybe we would rather sleep in. Or maybe we would rather do something else. Are we all in?” he asked.
Father Michelson juxtaposed the Israelites, who followed God until the journey from Egypt became difficult, and Timothy, who followed God despite the path of Christianity being difficult.
He asked the students whether they were all in when it came time to volunteer at the homeless shelter or other ministries of service, or did they decline and instead say they had other things to do.
“God is all in for each and every one of us. He sees each one of us individually, and He’s all in. Are we? He says, ‘I’m with you, no matter what. There’s nothing you can do that’s going to separate me from being all in.’ But you. You have to decide if you are going to be all in back,” the priest said. “I congratulate all of you who are all in and being able to say, ‘you know what, I will serve. I will serve in DYMAC.’”
Deacon Al Forsythe, director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the diocese, said he looks forward every year to the annual Mass where the diocese can recognize its youth leaders.
“This is when we get to celebrate those young people who are all in. We recognize them and congratulate them for their works in parishes and deaneries throughout the diocese,” Deacon Forsythe said during Mass.
When asked how important it is for youth to be all in in their faith, Deacon Forsythe said it is critical, especially at a time when there are so many secular—and unhealthy—distractions vying for their attention.
“What I see is that our world is telling us to do something completely different than what the Word of the Lord teaches us, what God teaches us. If you want to make a difference in this world, now is the time when you have to step up. Now is when you have to make those choices. Now is when you have to say you are all in,” he said.
“Our Church is very fortunate that we do have a lot of young people, especially in this diocese, who are not only living out their faith, but they are sharing their faith with others. They’re becoming the disciples of Christ that we’re hoping for,” he added. “Most of the young people who are involved (in youth ministry) are not in our Catholic schools, so it’s even more important for them because they are living their faith in school communities that aren’t very Catholic-engaged and are very secular.”
Students spoke of how their involvement in youth ministry and the Diocesan Youth Ministry Advisory Council (DYMAC) hones their leadership skills, which they’re incorporating in their schools.
Jada Hilton, a student at Bradley County Virtual School in Cleveland, said serving in diocesan youth ministry is important to her.
“I love serving in the youth ministry. And I hope to continue serving in youth ministry,” Jada said, noting that she applies her ministry to activities like vacation Bible school.
She wants to extend her youth ministry leadership experience to her school activities.
Kimberly Ramos of the Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy and Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish said youth ministry allows her to serve all her community, and it also lets her use her creativity to serve people. “I try to apply it at school where I work hard on becoming more inclusive.”
And Kat Moates, a Polk County High School senior and member of St. Thérèse of Lisieux Parish in Cleveland, said diocesan youth ministry has been instrumental in her growth as a Catholic.
“Being involved in diocesan youth ministry has opened my eyes and my heart to so many different things and so many different people, opportunities, situations. It has allowed me to grow in leadership. Leadership to me is being empathetic and being there for everyone, and it has really allowed me to grow in that,” Kat said.
Following the Youth Mass, Deacon Forsythe and deanery youth coordinators Beth Parsons (Smoky Mountain Deanery), Donna Jones (Chattanooga Deanery), Deacon Dan Hosford (Cumberland Mountain Deanery), and Deacon Jim Fage (Five Rivers Deanery), recognized several students with youth ministry awards.
Discipleship Youth Award:
- Our Lady of Fatima Parish—Caroline Hill and Jimmy Ellsworth;
- St. Michael the Archangel Parish—Natalia Hernandez;
- St. Patrick Parish—Narlin Navarro
Light of the World Adult Award:
- Our Lady of Fatima Parish—Rick Hill and Ryan Goral;
- St. Michael the Archangel Parish—AnaBel Andrade;
- St. Patrick Parish—Pamela Reed
St. Timothy Award recognizing an outstanding high school junior or senior:
- Our Lady of Fatima—William Carter.