Teens at Black Youth Conference asked to reject culture’s ‘virtual realities’ for ‘virtue-al’ behavior
Any teenagers gathered for a conference at 9 on a Saturday morning might find their minds drifting toward sleep.
So Sister Oralisa Martin, the leader of the daylong diocesan youth conference, “Black, Catholic & Proud,” Sept. 24 at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Bear, fired off a series of “wake up” questions to her young audience.
The group had read St. Matthew’s account of Jesus asking his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
“Jesus was asking what’s the word out on him,” Sister Oralisa said. “But what’s the word out on you?
“When was the last time you told somebody about Jesus Christ? Can Jesus Christ be a part of your life? Can Jesus Christ be on the basketball court, the volleyball court? … Can Jesus Christ be in your business? Can he be in your love life?
“How many of your friends know you pray? Or do you pray?”
The vibrant Sister Oralisa’s rapid-fire questions would wake up any Catholic with a call to examine their consciences on how they incorporate their faith into their lives.
Sister Oralisa is a longtime youth minister, retreat director and evangelist from the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., who has a master’s degree in religious education from Loyola University in New Orleans, a master’s in theology from Xavier University in New Orleans and a doctorate of ministry from Howard University in Washington, D.C.
After guiding her audience through methods of prayer, she addressed the challenges youth face in today’s society.
“You are in the in-between stage,” Sister Oralisa said, “not an adult, not a child, groping to find out who you are.”
When young people see themselves reflected in the culture, their image is distorted, she said.
“Society, television, mass media, Twitter, Facebook” are a distorted mirror that “says to you, ‘these are your values.’ It says to you that anything goes, that there are no parameters.”
The distorted mirror of the culture has presented boys with the image of “pants down on the butt” and encouraged girls to think “the more you have hanging out and exposed, the more attention you’re going to get.
“You look at that and you think, ‘that’s who I am,’” Sister Oralisa warned. “You internalized that, and you began acting out on it.”
Those virtual images of youth presented by the culture, need to be replaced by “virtue-al” behavior, she said.
Speaking of acting out, the teens also heard a thoughtful perspective on premarital sex from Sister Oralisa that they might not have heard before.
She described a teen being told in a frantic phone call that her mother had been killed in a car accident. The feelings of horror and despair the teen feels are very real experiences until the caller tells her, “I was just joking.”
“That’s premarital sex,” Sister Oralisa said. “It’s going through an experience as if it were real.”
Premarital sex isn’t an expression of love, she said. “But when you are married and literally in love, the person gives himself, herself in a covenant relationship. The sex is to seal the love. You can’t give yourself to somebody else because you haven’t even become yet. You can’t give who you’re not.
“This is what society has done to you. It has reduced you to the lowest common denominator as if you were animals who can’t go into relationships, and can’t be loved for who we are. … There is a difference between having sex and sealing a commitment forever.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful it somebody loved you for being yourself,” Sister Oralisa asked. “I don’t want to be anybody’s first lady. Because if there’s a first, there’s a second and third and a fourth. I don’t think so.”
Reminding the teens that Jesus gave his life for others, Sister Oralisa said, “The greatest love you can offer another human being is that you’re willing to lay your life down. You need a woman who is willing to lay her life down for you. You’ve got to lay your life down for her. You’ve got to know Jesus and have your home with Jesus Christ.”
Sister Oralisa urged the teens to look into their mirrors until they can find Jesus.
“Go into his word and into his sacraments. Walk with him; talk with him; eat with him. Cry with him; laugh with him. Bring him into your social gatherings and shift the atmosphere. You’ve got just power by virtue of your baptism in Jesus Christ, you can shift the atmosphere.”
Sister Oralisa traveled to Bear from St. Teresa of Avila Parish in Washington, D.C., where she serves as the liturgist.
Additional presenters from the same parish at the youth conference included Father Raymond G. East, the pastor there, and Pat Waddell, a nurse, who talked about pregnancy and other pro-life issues in an afternoon session.
Father East gave a workshop on African Genesis that revealed the rich African heritage found in the Bible. He noted that the first five books of the Old Testament contain more than 800 references to locations in Africa.
The youth conference was sponsored by the diocesan Ministry for Black Catholics office, led by Father Paul M. Williams.