“That’s My Jam!”

by Jen Owens

“What are we singing first, Jen?” Juan* asked as we prepared for Mass.

“It looks like ‘Open the Eyes of My Heart,'” I said.

“That’s my jam!” he responded.

“It’s one of my favorites, too. Can we share it? Can it be both our jams?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said. “We can share it.”

I share this conversation because it is reflective of much of what happened this past weekend on my first retreat in Orange County’s juvenile hall–the young people opening up to share their energy and their interest with the team, the team doing our best to meet the retreatants halfway. Between talks and skits and Mass and time for musical praise and worship, I felt the Holy Spirit moving among these young people and the team that was there to serve them. I found myself forgetting that we were in juvy until the staff walked the retreatants out for bathroom breaks. The library in which we spent our time together was transformed into holy ground by the worship that took place there.

One of the highlights of the retreat came toward the end, when we laid hands on one another in prayer in our small groups. My co-leader had brought holy oil with him to anoint the hands and heads of each of the members of our group, and we took turns blessing one another and praying for the intentions that each of us named. There was something powerful about such a simple action–people coming together, in all our brokenness and vulnerability, and inviting one another into the space we often reserve only for ourselves, being honest with God and one another about our very real needs and the deepest desires of our hearts. As James* anointed my hands and my head, I was overwhelmed with tears of gratitude, for the incredible work that the Holy Spirit did among these young people over the weekend. As is often true in working with teenagers on retreats, when these young men filed into the library on Friday night, conversation was mostly superficial. But as time went on and they grew to trust us, they opened up about their lives–about their joys and their hurts–in ways that honor and humble me.

For the remainder of the weekend, I was on a retreat “high.” I fought back tears at Mass on Sunday, and I continued to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit as I gave my second presentation on From the Pews in the Back on Sunday night. I don’t know how long the young men I met this weekend and I will be in each other’s lives, but my prayer for this week is for them and for me. That they may continue to experience the Spirit with them during this difficult time, that they may have the strength and courage and support that they need to make the changes that they are committed to making. That I may have the wisdom to honor their stories and the fortitude to continue to pray for their intentions in my daily living.

*All names are pseudonyms.

Jen Owens is a co-editor of From the Pews in the Back. She will continue to blog about her experiences with juvenile detention ministry in Orange County for the remainder of the summer.


5 Responses

  1. Hi Jen:

    This is so awesome. I am so fascinated to learn about the people I meet because on the first initial introduction, we tend to visualize what the person is about just by their appearance, clothes. looks, etc. and boy are we usually wrong. I was amazed at Robert’s story and now seeing what you are about is so awesome. It is so true that we can’t judge a book by it’s cover, nor a person by their exterior!! I have been googleing all day looking for other ways to volunteer for Catholic ministries, the retreat just opended my heart once again to wanting to help those less fortunate. My life has been so boring in the sense that by the good grace of God, nothing terrible has ever happened to me or my family, so i really don’t have emany stories to share. I would love to come see you speak, what time? Keep in touch, please, you are a special soul and i want to surround myself with people like you.

    God Bless,


  2. I’m so glad to hear that you connected with this reflection and with the project altogether, Susie! I’d love to recommend places to get involved around the diocese, and it’d be great for you to join us next week. My next talk is on Monday night the 27th at 7 pm at St. Joseph’s in Long Beach. The address is listed on the Calendar page here. Looking forward to seeing you there!

  3. I’m really loving hearing about this experience, Jen… I can’t wait for more stories. 🙂

  4. Thanks so much, Becky! I really appreciate that. Even just the bit of time that I’ve spent getting to know the kids in juvenile hall has been such a gift and a blessing. If you’re looking for a new way to get involved, I think it’d be a great fit for you, too!

  5. Hey Jen, my sister and partner in Christ Jesus. I hope and pray this reaches you in good health and in high spirits. I really enjoyed reading your reflection. I am so glad that our Lord Jesus Christ brought us together to be partners during this retreat. I thank God for your openess and your warm spirit. The Holy Spirit really used you, me and the boys that weekend and will continue to use us. Please continue to pray for me as I daily pray for you. May the Peace of Our Lord Jesus Christ be with you always.

    Your Brother in Christ Jesus — Manuel Venegas, Jr.

    “All for Jesus through Mary!”

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