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Lifelong Discipleship

Many of us have witnessed the effectiveness of Catholic parish and school retreats to awaken faith in teens. The Oblates of St. Francis de Sales recently dedicated Camp DeSales to this important ministry and started Catholic Youth Camp to support it. Over 350 teens participated in one of Camp’s seven programs last summer, in addition to the hundreds of students who attend youth retreats at Camp annually.

We often gauge the success of retreats by the number of participants, the depth of small group discussions, and the felt experience of God in prayer. While important, there is growing interest in followup and longterm discipleship. Are students still practicing their faith five years later?

Many retreatants know how easy it is after a retreat to, as Scripture says, “return to [ones] former way of life and no longer accompany Him” (John 6:66). St. Francis de Sales wrote the Introduction to the Devout Life to motivate souls to stay the course. He wanted us to “run in God’s ways, and, at length, almost fly.”

Practicing Catholics describe three helps to persistent faith:

  • ongoing faith formation in theology, spirituality and apologetics, to address new-life experiences, questions and challenges;
  • transitioning from the joy of one's own conversion to the joys of discipling and serving others. St. Paul writes: “what is our hope or joy or crown to boast of in the presence of our Lord Jesus at his coming if not you yourselves? For you are our glory and joy.” (1 Thes. 2:19–20); and
  • spiritual friendships, the “little churches” we create within the bigger Church where we safely and mutually share our lives, faith, prayer and love.
To encourage lifelong discipleship, the Oblates are developing a new youth initiative. Its mission is to equip teens to live Jesus for life. We plan to run, assist and endorse faith-awakening “on-ramps” (e.g. Catholic youth camps, parish and school youth groups and retreats) and establish/expand year-round followup including youth spiritual direction, mentoring, and small group discipling.

The motto “Tenui nec dimittam” is on the Oblate shield. It translates as “I have taken hold and will not let go.” This is our prayer and goal not only for ourselves but every soul we encounter.

“Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you also want to leave?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.’” (John 6:67-69)
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