Totally Yours

“Ave Maria, totus tuus ergo sum.” It is Latin for “Hail Mary, I am totally yours,” and it is the phrase that would become the guiding principle behind my life through my work this past summer.  I worked for the Totus Tuus program, a summer catechetical program for grade school through high school students that lasted a week at each parish.  The program is called Totus Tuus because all those involved strive to give themselves entirely to Jesus Christ through the Virgin Mary by the work that they do.  A common understanding of the program is that it is “vacation bible school”, but I believe that leads to an oversimplification of the depth of the program.  Yes, the Totus Tuus program deals extensively with Scripture, but it also delves into the great mysteries and traditions of the Catholic faith that often go unnoticed.  For example, the curriculum for Totus Tuus for the summer of 2015 covered the Cardinal Virtues and Theological Virtues as described by St. Thomas Aquinas.  Additionally, it covered the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, how to pray the Rosary, Mass, Adoration, Confession, vocation talks, and the Liturgy of the Hours.  All of the curriculum is presented in a way that is relatable to the different age groups within the program.  Totus Tuus is administered by an individual diocese and run by teams of four college-age missionaries: two men (normally one is a seminarian from that diocese), and two women.  I was blessed to be one of those missionaries for my home diocese: the Diocese of Birmingham, Alabama.

I had to think long and hard about being a missionary.  It was a summer long commitment which meant giving up many weeks of hanging out with friends, it would prevent me from getting a job at the local sporting goods store, and I might have had to give up my yearly vacation to the beach.  Thankfully, I had a former missionary and a former director of the program both convince me that the alternatives to working for the Totus Tuus program would be a waste of time.  I know now that what they told me was the truth.  I cannot image a more spiritually and emotionally enriching experience than working as a Totus Tuus missionary.

I can clearly remember the days of the program when everything seemed to go wrong, the children wouldn’t cooperate, the information we presented to the teenagers felt like it wasn’t sinking in, the daily schedule was off, and there was no time for naps yet we were all so exhausted.  Regardless of the outcome of one day, the next day would surely come.  When it did, it was never a disappointment.  The children began cooperating in unexpected ways: asking if they could help, engaging in the class material, helping one another, and loving each other in simple ways.  In them, I saw Christ.  Then, the teenagers would come back, and even if it seemed like they weren’t interested, I began to learn that they really were interested in learning more.  In them I saw the Holy Spirit working. Somehow that next day’s schedule would be smoother, and I would have enough energy to get me through the day.  Through all these things I saw the Holy Trinity and the Blessed Mother working to sustain us in our mission.

I feel like God calls all of us to reach out to the young in order to mold them in their faith.  We must be the creators of a strong and true foundation, not one that is watered down nor incomplete.  A young person of the faith cannot build a structure of faith on top of a foundation that is sandy and unstable.  The structure will collapse.  However, if the young person builds their structure on top of a rock, or a solid foundation, then that structure will never collapse.  That is why solid and firm Catholic education is so important, especially through programs like Totus Tuus.  Many of the children and teenagers that I worked with over the summer had little to no experience of religious education, yet I could tell that it was something that they sought with hearts on fire with the love of Christ.

Three of the children that came to Totus Tuus lived in a family that had experienced much hardship and distress.  All three came faithfully each day, eager to learn.  However, due to difficult situations they had only a minimal understanding of their faith.  They had much to learn, but they did well and seemed like they enjoyed the week.  It wasn’t until a few weeks later that their grandmother contacted me.  She told me that one night the whole family was gathered after dinner and was watching TV.  Suddenly, one of the three suggested to the entire family that they pray the rosary together.  Several other members of the family had very little experience of praying the rosary, so the three little ones led the prayer in a small gesture of their newfound love for its beauty.  In that way, God spreads the faith through the devotion of his children.

The more I reflect upon my experiences as a Totus Tuus missionary, the more I realize that it was the most exhausting and fulfilling challenge of my life.  The program gives me a greater appreciation for our obligation to mold young Catholic Christians in their faith.  Also, I will never forget the people that individually reflected the workings of the Holy Spirit, each in a beautifully unique way.  It is in working with those people that we find our fulfillment and great joy.

Written by: Alexander Mingus
Edited by: Barbara Miller