This last week, I and 12 campers and 10 other staff took off for the far corner of the Diocese of Jefferson City down in Hickory County for the 3rd annual Camp Maccabee. This camp was founded to instill a strong sense of Catholic masculinity in our future generations. In the back of my mind, for years, has been a question that has stemmed from priestly ministry: how do we prepare our youth for being a Catholic adult in a world that is quite content to keep them children? Now, I know nothing about being a woman...but being a man in this world, that I know a bit about. On a chance, I was driving with Fr Dave Veit down in the Steeleville area of Missouri and we got to talking about camps and he mentioned there was this rustic resort, Eaglehurst Ranch, run by Catholics and with a Catholic ethos about it and we got to talking about wouldn't it be great to have a camp there to center on Catholic Masculinity. WE talked to Fr Joe Corel, vocation director of the diocese and the unnamed camp was born.
The camp's name was important. It sets the tone. I scanned my memory for men who exhibited great virtue and strength in the face of incredible odds. I remembered the story from the Old Testament of Judas Maccabeus. Judas' father, Matthias, has started the Hasmonean Revolt against the Greeks who were looking to completely destroy any and all foreign cultures within the empire, including Judaism. Judas became the revolt's greatest and first general who not just fought the Greek armies but recaptured Jerusalem and fixed up the temple after it had been desecrated. In my mind, I saw our secular society as much against both our Catholic Identity and against classical masculinity. I was seeing this in wedding preparations with overgrown boys and the women who were settling for them, in annulment proceedings where the couple found out the wedding wasn't a magic wand that made immaturity disappear, and it seminary recruitment and seeing just the overall lack of maturity. Something had to change and our young men needed a way to understand the call God gives us as men. The name Camp Maccabee and its mission were fully born.
Both Fr Joe and I had read John Eldridge's books (Wild at Heart) and thought that we could surely give it a Catholic flavor and run with its themes. IN the first two years we focused on the 4 cardinal virtues. This year we focused on honor, respect, self-control and holiness as the essential traits of a good Catholic man. The days were to be filled with outdoor activities and the nights with a retreat aspect. The campers go to Mass, the summit of our grace and strength, every day. We pray the Liturgy of the Hours (Morning and Evening Prayer, Compline). They have a holy hour in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament with Confessions available. They learn that to be a true man is to be a man of God and a man of prayer.
I have just returned from our third summer of this camp. It was awesome. WE changed the venues. The young men went on a float trip, learned to tie flies and fly fish, went to Camp Windmere ( a Baptist Camp that is awesome...why can't we have something like that?) and did exercises in trust and zip-lining. They heard talks on the four above mentioned topics and also on Christian Courtship and Theology of the Body. The staff and campers bonded well; all in all a great experience. But as we were out in 100+ degree heat at times, it is a bit exhausting. Today I am feeling that happy kind of tired; the kind that comes from seeing God's Spirit powerfully in play and allowing myself to be challenged by the talks as well. I am already looking forward to next year!