Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Why Camp Maccabee?

In 2009, I and few other founded a camp for teen boys.  The camp was a result of years of observations about young men from the work I did as a priest.  My thought was this: we are failing them.  This failure was bearing fruit and that fruit was detrimental to all parties involved.  I noticed in priestly vocation recruitment that there were many good young men out there, but the mere mention of priesthood freaked them out.  I saw a lack of the virtue of faith and hope.  Even among those who went into the seminary, I saw a hedging of bets and the melancholy I started referring to as the "Hamlet Syndrome" .  In marriage preparation the prospects were not much better.  I saw many men largely disinterested in faith and whose maturity levels left much to be desired. They were not auditioning to be the spiritual head of the home which marriage calls them to be.  In either case, and in so many other instances of priestly ministry I didn't see what we needed: warriors.

It is easy to fault the young men and their parents for this.  In fact, most priests do.  It is easy.  I got into that trap but starting asking myself what we as a Church were doing about it.  I had read the exhortations that Pope St John Paul II and Pope Benedict had given at World Youth Days.  They were pointed.  But they seemed to dissipate as the crowds dispersed to go home.  I started to look at what we as a church were doing in the training of our young men.   I didn't like what I saw.

We had fallen into the societal trap of training our boys to be nice or to be thugs.  On the one hand, they were to be still, quiet, submissive, and ultimately melancholic; a wimp.  The other choice was to be a thug: a promiscuous sexists who focused on the accrual of wealth and respect (fear).  Most churches fell in the former categories.  Most of our schools did.  Worse yet, we portrayed Jesus as the tragic hippie.  We were not serving our young men well as we gave them no reason to see Jesus as a man, a role model, and a warrior.  The young men left in one time I did too.

It is said that it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.  I was unsure of what to do.  I prayed.  The task seemed monumental.  I knew this: these young men needed to hear and experience something different.  They needed to know the truth.  They needed to know they were called to be warriors and not passive couch potatoes.  But how?

The first spark came from reading John Eldredge's "Wild at Heart" in which he states that part of the development of a boy into a Christian young man was by tapping into his need for adventure, exploration, and fellowship.  Organized sports were the only outlet left for young men to experience this.  The church was failing them.  Since, I have tapped into the writings of Fr. Larry Richards and have connected with other men, both lay and clergy, who were looking for the same answers I was. We needed something from our churches that tapped into these things and told these young men what we need to tell them: We, your church, need you to be a warrior...and that will not happen without God in your life.

The camp took its name from Judas Maccabeus (the Hammer) and his clan.  Those unfamiliar with his story: Judas' father, Matthias, was  a town elder of the town of Modien.  Alexander the Great had conquered the territory but died and left no heirs.  The empire was split between his generals.  Initially, the land of Israel fell under the rule of the Ptolemys of Egypt.  The Jews were allowed to keep their faith.  However the Seleucids of the north conquered them. Their leader Antiochus Epiphanes wanted union in his lands and decreed  that all peoples in his realm were to abandon their religions, languages, and cultures in favor of the Greek.  Many in Israel readily apostatized.  Failure to do so incurred the death sentence.  When the representatives of the king came to Modien it was to convert the people.  They went to town elder, Matthais, promising great reward if he would convert.  Instead, he revolted.  Being old, he soon died and left his son, Judas...called the lead the rebellion against one of the most powerful armies the world had seen to that point.  Judas, like his father, knew this could only be accomplished with God.  In the end, Judas (though he fell in battle) won the day and Judaism was not exterminated as Antiochus had hoped.

This was the image I wanted.  Our Christian faith is less and less welcome in this society.  Since the formation of the camp, we have seen marriage and gender redefined into the unrecognizable.  We have seen freedom of religion reduced to freedom of worship.  We needed warriors.   But to train a warrior means showing them their armaments and how the use them with accuracy.  Our weapons are the virtues, the disciplines necessary to stand one's ground and be a rock for others.  Our weapons depend upon a virile relationship with God.  The core of the camp surrounds this.

Hence, we have lot of bonding activities.  They have as their philosophical center  Navy Seal training: individual glory means bind together and find your strength in God and your brothers in arms.  We pray as a group of men: Mass, Divine Office, Rosary, Eucharistic Adoration.  We do this to show both fellowship and God are needed to be men.  The camp is not easy nor is it for every young man.  We designed it to be physically grueling and intense.  It is we as a church making a strong manly plea for these young men to rise up and be warriors!

Why?  Because we need them.. The foundation of virtue and discipline to cultivate it are essential to all walks of life.  Most of the young men who go through this are called to the vocation of marriage.  Their wives and children will need them to be warriors who stand in that breach between them and those who would prey on them. They need them to claim the mantle of spiritual head of the home.  Their parishes need them to be leaders and forthright.  Some of these young men will be called to be priests.  If there is anyplace the Church needs the heart of a Judas Maccabeus strongly beating. it in the hearts of her clergy!  We need men who will step into the breach without hesitation or fear, who take up the mantle and bring the fight to a hostile world and to the devil himself.  We can ill afford boys as husbands, dads, and priests anymore...we need men!  We need warriors!

More information on the camp, its times,its applications, and its need for funds can be found at the camp website  Your young men need to hear the call to arms we are trying to give.  Give it some thought and prayer.

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