Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Cafetorium Catholics

Today, I gave more talks than I've ever given in one day—four talks at two high schools in London, Ontario. As I wrote earlier, this is my first-ever high-school tour, as I usually speak to noncaptive audiences.

The day went phenomenally well, and for that, I thank everyone who was with me and all the friends, family, and readers who were supporting me through prayer. Jason Evert's advice for chastity speakers is largely about getting "prayed up," and I didn't realize until this tour just how important that is. Speaking about Christian spirituality, and particularly sexuality, in a high school, one really does feel that it is a spiritual battle. To speak effectively and lovingly, help is required from all the angels and saints. On this trip, I have been blessed to have great prayer backup from members of one of the groups sponsoring my tour, London Area Right to Life Association.

Yesterday, the lay ministry leader [or "chaplain," as they call them here, though not ordained] at Regina Mundi, the first school where I spoke, gave me a box of about 40 string necklaces with wooden cross pendants, to distribute to students after my talks. Since I didn't have enough for all 2,500 students who heard me that day, I planned to give them just to those who came up to me after my talks.

Today, since only a handful of students had come up to me yesterday, I decided to announce to the students at the end of my first talk of the morning, at Mother Teresa Catholic Secondary School, that they could come up and receive wooden crosses from me while supplies lasted.

The school was not a particularly religious one as Catholic schools go; like all the Catholic schools here, they are state-funded and have a large non-Catholic population (perhaps 25% of the student body). Moreover, I am told that, of the Catholic students, only a minority go to Mass. Add to that the fact that the students come from the wealthiest area of the district, and that, as a vice principal told me, they have a (well deserved) reputation for wearing the shortest skirts, and I wasn't expecting the mob scene that occurred after I wrapped up my talk. I gave out all the crosses in a matter of seconds. One Grade 11 boy said endearingly, "Give me one of those sexy crosses!"

It wasn't just that they wanted freebies, either. The students had a strong devotional sense that was deeply touching, and I think surprised even the school staff and the talks' sponsors. As I walked out of the cafetorium following that first talk of the day, the chaplain approached me with four girls who wanted to know if I had any crosses left. I didn't, but I arranged to get them some prayer cards, which I did after one one of the sponsors made an emergency run to the local Catholic shop in time for my second talk at the school.

The prayer cards likewise flew away at the end of my second talk. A boy and girl who did not appear to be together cornered me after that one to talk more about chastity and I wound up digging in my purse to find my scapular medal for the girl and my Miraculous Medal for the boy. The girl was interested in making a kind of consecration to acknowledge her commitment to saving sex for marriage, so I suggested she buy a Brown Scapular from a Catholic shop and have her priest enroll her in the devotion, as chastity is a requirement for wearing the scapular. I also gave her the URL for Marytown, the Web site of the U.S. home of St. Maximilian Kolbe's Militia Immaculata, where she could learn about consecrating herself to Mary, and I gave her and the boy the URL for Evert's Pure Love Club as well. All along, I was kicking myself for not having thought of bringing Miraculous Medals as I had done when I was invited by Catholic groups to attend the University of Illinois' "Sex Out Loud" fair last year.

At every talk, I said a few words in support of the virgins in the audience—or, as I put it in one of my talks, the "intentional virgins" who were saving themselves for marriage. It was enormously affecting to see how someone would always cheer and wave when I would say I knew there were virgins present. The cheers were especially loud once I changed my wording—as I did in my second or third talk of the day—to say, "I want to give a shout-out to those of you who still have your V-card!"

I realize that language may sound shocking to readers who have not spent time in high schools. It shocks me. But the kids hear about sex all day from their peers who are putting forth the idea that everybody's doing it—a message that their schools' staff do not always attempt to dispel.

One school where I spoke yesterday, likewise Catholic and state-funded, had a display table on testicular cancer just inside the front door. Now, I realize it's important for young men to learn about such things—but it was disconcerting to walk into a Catholic school and be greeted with a sign shouting, "MY LEFT NUT."

Getting the students to see that not everybody was in fact doing it—and that some of their peers were actually proud of saving themselves—was exhilarating, as was the opportunity to share with all the students, virgins and nonvirgins, the truth about God's mercy and renewal in Christ.

* * *

The first time I can remember hearing the word "virgin" was when, at the age of 10, I was taken by my mother along with my sister and her friends to see the R-rated "Rocky Horror Picture Show"—a treat for my sister's Sweet 16 birthday. The MC for the "floor show" that accompanied the cult classic—where audience participation is the rule—asked if there were any "virgins" present—the universal term for those who have never seen the film.

I could not have imagined that nearly 30 years later, I would be standing in front of 750-odd teenagers telling them that virginity is the true rebellion—and hearing some of them cheer. It never ceases to amaze me how God is capable of taking the seemingly least godly experiences of my life and turning them into reminders of His saving grace.

This kind of apostolate is challenging, but it is so rewarding. I am so very thankful to the sponsors for giving me the opportunity to do this tour. Please keep up the prayers as I prepare for my third and last day of high-school talks before heading home.

* * *

How short were the skirts? Don't get me started. I can't say what it's like at Catholic schools in the States, but the state-funded schools here do not appear to police the uniforms, though at least one of the schools where I spoke is planning to tighten its restrictions in coming years (requiring girls to wear tights and dress shoes, and to pin their kilts). Honestly, these girls were walking around (and sitting on the floor) in hemlines that would make a Ziegfeld girl blush. It amazed me that the boys in the audience could pay any attention to me at all with the epidermis buffet going on all around them.