by Gordon Nary
Gordon: What initially interested you in serving as a Campus Minister and where did you initially serve?
Cody: I currently serve as the Campus Minister & High School Outreach Coordinator for Christ the King Catholic Parish in Sioux Falls, South Dakota! While this is my first go as an official Campus Minister, I am by no means new to the field of on-campus evangelization. In fact, I have served the past six years as a missionary with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). My work in FOCUS allowed me, for years at a time, to further the mission of Jesus Christ and His Catholic Church at West Virginia University, Ball State University (Indiana), and Drake University (Iowa).
As my wife and I were looking to relocate for her school - and to be closer to family - however, we found out we would end up in a city without FOCUS present on a university campus. I knew that whatever step I took next, I wanted to continue to be a boots-on-the-ground ministry like I was accustomed to in FOCUS, and so I leaped at the opportunity when I heard a Catholic parish in Sioux Falls – near two private universities – was looking to broaden their campus ministry outreach with a new, full-time position. I was graced to hear about this position from the former assistant football coach at one of my previous universities. God, it seems, is always drawing connections and sending us toward our next missions!
Gordon: When did you begin serving as Campus Minister & High School Outreach Coordinator at Christ the King Catholic Parish and what are your primary responsibilities?
Cody: After my six-year tenure with FOCUS came to a close, I began my new work with Christ the King Campus Ministry this past July. I am currently five months in and have loved encountering students at Augustana University and the University of Sioux Falls (among other colleges scattered throughout the area). When I was interviewing for this position, the hiring priests emphasized they did not simply want an event planner; they wanted someone who would go out and evangelically encounter students on their turf as did Jesus with His apostles and disciples.
My primary responsibilities, if I had to summarize, would include:
encountering new students at on-campus events and inviting them into a deeper relationship with myself, our campus ministry, and, of course, Jesus Christ and His Church;
meeting regularly with students to help guide them in human, intellectual, spiritual, and apostolic formation; the most important thing is that they love Jesus, know He loves them first, turn to Him in daily prayer, and serve Him as He calls;
building community with students through shared meals, bonfires, retreats or conferences, and sporting activities (like pickleball or a recent kayak trip);
help coordinate weekly Bible studies and small groups for students looking to make friends and learn more about their Catholic faith;
help maintain a social media presence to connect with the younger generation;
work with a student board to coordinate service opportunities, plan our weekly student Mass, etc.
I am used to working with a team of four missionaries, and so, I admittedly find myself unable to do everything I want to do and meet everyone I want to meet. One of my goals is to invest heavily in student leaders who can then help me share the Good News with their peers!
Additionally, while my time leans heavily toward the college campus ministry, I dedicate a night a week to high school outreach and currently have around 13 students from public and Catholic schools involved in youth groups!
Gordon: A few years ago, the National Catholic Register published a study that shows young adults leaving church start down that path at age 13. What are the principal challenges to faith in young people and how should we address them?
Cody: St. Peter said it best when he said our enemy the devil prowls about like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Long story short, I believe the evil one is using everything he can get his paws on to rip at the flesh of our society’s collective faith. Young people are growing up, now more than ever bombarded with all sorts of distractions and lies. To name just a few:
Noise is everywhere. Young people grow up with their faces on their phones. There is always another person to compare yourself to on social media, another string of pornographic images to devour, and another video/podcast/series to binge. The less quiet time we have to spend in contemplation with God, the harder it will be to hear his voice.
What started decades ago with the Sexual Revolution is, I would say, spiraling out of control. What started as casual hookups with anyone and everyone has – as predicted in Humanae Vitae – led to the near destruction of marriage; rampant disregard for the procreative aspect of sex (replacing it with a shallow and recreational definition) leading to the loss of millions of innocent lives; and now a tearing apart of the Theology of the Body/Sexuality/Masculinity/Femininity.
The list could go on.
As far as how to address some of these problems, I will continue to echo this sentiment.
Young people need to authentically encounter Jesus Christ in the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Reconciliation, and Eucharist (again and again where possible); in the Sacred Scriptures; in transformed peers and role models; in joy-filled, fun-loving community. We need to model for them authentic life by living authentic lives. We have to trust this joy and encounter will speak to their hearts through the gunk of this world.
The earlier this process starts (i.e. childhood, guided by their parents) and the more they can be protected from the dangers of our culture (before I get accused of sheltering kids, there are obviously lots of nuances I cannot get into now) and immersed in the love of Christ, the better. I repeat: THIS WILL IDEALLY START IN THE DOMESTIC CHURCH WITH THE PARENTS!
Gordon: Approximately what percentage of the young people that you serve have been vaccinated for COVID -19?
Cody: This is, of course, a timely topic with the pandemic that has riddled our country and world for the last year and a half. The pandemic and ensuing safety measures have indeed been a source of constant humility and learning for myself.
Personally, there have been times where I was likely too strident in my going out and not prioritizing the health and safety of others. On the other hand, there have been times when the virus had me playing it too safe and not continuing to reach out (while mitigating risks) as did the great missionaries of the past. (I look at St. Damien, for instance, who loved the lepers of Molokai so much that he became one and died one, taking on the ailment of their flesh as Christ took on the ailment of our sin and death.) It certainly is a hard challenge for us all, and I pray the questions it makes us ask to bring us, ultimately, closer to Jesus Christ.
While it does by no means come up regularly in conversation, I would estimate that around 80% of the students I serve have been vaccinated. There is great pressure (and at times financial incentive) to do so from the universities themselves as well as social media. While this issue has certainly become politicized (and certain questions continue to float around), I know and hope these students are choosing to do so because of a genuine desire to love others as Christ would have us do. My hope is that these vaccinated individuals will be able to go out, safely and boldly, to preach the Gospel to their friends and family.
Gordon: What, in your opinion, is the responsibility of parishes to address the faith challenges of young people?
Cody: I think Christ the King Parish (and other parishes I have recently experienced in the Sioux Falls Diocese – as well as the diocese proper) are doing a great job of modeling what this should look like.
What I mean is they are showing a willingness to sacrifice financially to hire the right people for these crucial jobs. I say all the time how blessed I feel to be doing full-time ministry that allows me to support my wife and daughter.
For so long, to work for the Church meant to work for scraps, but I think the Church is starting to realize that the issue of young people is important enough to invest serious time, talent, and treasure into. While I absolutely love the coming together of young people and other generations, the truth of the matter is our churches have been graying (as in hair) for decades.
As the world around us shifts, we need to invest heavily into the youth to make sure that we still have lots of gray hair in our pews 50 and 100 years from now. If youth are not raised to love Jesus and His Catholic Church, they will not marry sacramentally, baptize their kids, or raise them in the faith; future generations of gray and not-so-gray hair start now. Parishes need to engage young people and their parents now or else watch the Church they love wither away (not to discount the verse where Jesus says the gates of Hell will not prevail against His Church).
A topic for another day would be what it looks like to make the Church relevant to today’s youth. To be brief, what we need is not necessarily flashy lights, fresh architecture, and funky music; what we need is Christian-Catholics praying, living out of their relationship with Jesus, and being salt and light for the world/youth to see. The revival must be born of an authentic encounter with the person of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!
Gordon: Thank you for an exceptional and incisive interview.