Quizzes, Concerts, and Roller Coasters

I remember sitting in my high school theology classroom, chanting these words in unison with fifteen other girls:

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy, but I come so that they might have life and might have it more abundantly.”

John 10:10

That verse was one of the passages that my theology teacher required us to memorize for our Scripture class.  She had observed that some Christian denominations know the Bible remarkably well and can quote numerous verses from memory.  But in her experience, not many Catholics know Bible verses by heart.  So we had memory verse quizzes throughout our semester to try and increase our retention of God’s words. 

I’m very grateful for this tactic.  It worked exactly as it was intended; to this day, some of those verses still float around in my memory.  My teacher specifically chose verses that could easily apply to our daily lives, and they have served to comfort me in times of uncertainty.

This particular verse has appeared in my life in a couple of unexpected but very welcome ways.  The first was a few years ago at a concert.  I was attending a large-scale alternative rock/punk concert with some of my friends.  We were wandering through the booths looking at merchandise in between performances.  A particular tent caught my eye, first because of its beautiful galaxy pattern, but then because of the text that read “Steal, kill, and destroy.”  Considering the genre of music all around us, I wasn’t particularly surprised—until I saw “John 10:10” on the tent as well. 

“Wait a minute,” I said to my friends.  “That’s a Bible verse.  But, it’s next to such violence.  We’ve gotta check it out.”  Something seemed fuzzily familiar, but it hadn’t clicked yet. 

We approached the tent, and the staff smiled in welcome.  I told them I was curious about their beautiful tent, and asked what Bible verse they were quoting.  As soon as I heard them start the sentence, I finally recognized it, and I was able to finish the quotation with them.  It was so exciting to have this little nugget from high school show up in a place I’d never been before.  I felt like the Holy Spirit had waved at me unexpectedly, like finding a friend by surprise in a foreign country. 

The next time I ran into this verse “in the wild” was just last month.  I was at the NJ Catholic Youth Rally with my dad.  Typically, that event is attended by youth groups and young adult groups, but my church’s group hadn’t organized a trip.  My dad and I decided to attend by ourselves and have a father-daughter day instead.  The rally included a day in the Six Flags park, Mass, and a Matt Maher concert.  I have dreamed of seeing Matt Maher perform live for years, so when my mom forwarded me the information about the rally, I was eager to go.

The rally opened with a welcome ceremony led by the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal and some youth from their ministry program.  My favorite thing about it was our “warm up.”  One of the sisters taught us the elements of their outfit—veil, habit, cincher, and sandals, as well as a rosary and three knots to represent their vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience—and set it to a familiar tune to help us remember.  Then she made the entire auditorium stand up and dance to “head, shoulders, knees, and toes” but with the names of her outfit components!  With each repetition, she sped up and challenged us to keep pace with her.  Even though my chronic illnesses kept me from participating fully, it was certainly a lot of fun to watch!

After our warm-up challenge, another sister stepped forward and told us her vocation story.  She prefaced her story with a recitation of John 10:10, which instantly caught my attention.  She went on to describe the moment that she knew Jesus was calling her to something special.  She had attended World Youth Day when she was sixteen, and was dancing with friends and strangers in a stadium with Christian music blasting.  She described the immense joy and fullness of life that she felt in that moment, and she knew that such joy is exactly what God made us to experience and wants us to enjoy. 

That is why, the sister explained, that Six Flags was such a perfect venue for our gathering today.  Riding on roller coasters with friends can give us such an exciting feeling of euphoria.  It is a way to experience the abundant life that Jesus wants for us.  It is also a way for us to practice outreach to others by showing kindness, patience, and love to all around us. 

I adored this notion.  I’d never thought about a day at Six Flags through the lens of theology before, but I’m glad that the Sisters suggested it to me.  It fit in so well with the lessons I’ve learned from my faith educators over the years.  Throughout my years at school, I heard a quote from our patron, Don Bosco, that has taken up a very special place in my heart. 

“My children: jump, run and play and make all the noise you want but avoid sin like the plague and you will surely gain Heaven.” 

St. John Bosco

My youth group always liked to combine faith with food and fun to most effectively evangelize to neophytes and faith veterans alike. Even in more secular settings, it’s easy to see that fun attracts people.  I work as an RA at school, and part of my job is to run events for my residents.  It becomes very clear very quickly that the more fun the event’s activities, the higher the attendance.  The truth is, human beings like fun—and we should!

God made us to experience joy; His plan for us includes our happiness.

Spending the day with my dad walking around Six Flags was great.  The stress of the school year is off my shoulders, and during the summer I can just relax.  Since it was just the two of us, we could explore the park and ride whatever rides caught our fancy without coordinating multiple people’s varied interests.  We got to spend quality time together all day long, which is a rarity with our busy schedules.

The Mass was beautiful.  I loved seeing so many young people gathered to share in their love for the Lord.  My college is very secular, and I only know a handful of practicing Catholics there.  Sometimes, it can feel very lonely, but seeing all these young people at Mass reminded me that I am not alone. 

I also noticed that the nearest roller coaster paused for the entire duration of Mass.  I realized that Six Flags must have purposefully chosen to close the ride temporarily so that we could celebrate Mass in peace without the screams of riders plummeting down intense drops and rolls.  I was floored by the thoughtfulness and respect that they showed us.  It was so nice to see a secular venue validate our faith.  There are plenty of stories of Christians getting their faith disregarded or disrespected, but Six Flags respected us, and that warmed my heart. 

Our evening ended with the concert.  Matt Maher gave an incredible performance.  I am most familiar with his music from XLTs, nights of Eucharstic adoration at my high school.  XLTs are where my faith first took on real, deep, and personal meaning for me, and I miss them every single day.  At the concert, Matt played a lot of songs that I associated with XLT, so I instantly felt a deep connection to Jesus in those moments.  We also got to hear some of his newer music, which was a great way to expand my horizons and hear the Holy Spirit in new ways. 

I am so grateful that God drew me to this event.  It was such an exciting way to revitalize my faith and build my relationship with my dad.  I had some important lessons reinforced, and got to praise God alongside hundreds of other Catholics from my state.  And most importantly, I got a taste of the abundant life that God desires for me and for you!

Cover photo by Pedro Velasco on Unsplash

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