By Ann Schneible
DUBLIN, JUNE 16, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The ministry of leading young people to an encounter with Christ through music has been an integral part of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress’ youth program, which is taking place this week in Dublin.
The mission of Elation Ministries is to proclaim the Gospel to young people through music and song. The group has been providing worship services for the young people participating in this week’s Congress, one of their main events being an evening of reconciliation on Thursday, where the program included music, testimonies, Eucharistic Adoration, and the opportunity for to receive the sacrament of reconciliation.
Paul Keogh, who is the lead singer and worship leader of Elation Ministries, spoke with ZENIT about the ministry, his own journey towards Christ, and the role of music in proclaiming the Gospel to the youth.
ZENIT: What are the origins of Elation Ministries?
Keogh: It started a number of years ago when a few friends, who had a very powerful experience on pilgrimage; they came back, and were part of a prayer group, and the prayer group itself had quite a vibrant music group in it. That music ministry team used to play at the different retreats and conferences around the country. After that then, the people who were involved in that music group started getting a bit older, getting married, and moving on. Two or three people who were part of that initial group were very good friends, and they were asked to play at those retreats and conferences. After that, it has grown to a team of currently over thirty people.
I suppose even the name itself suggests what it’s about: it’s Elation Ministries, which is “ministries” – to serve – and “elation” – with joy. It’s always kept that charism of friendship, and unity, and prayer in the Lord. It’s very much people who have experienced the transforming power of Christ in their lives, and feel this desire, this calling to minister to others. It’s developed and evolved really from the point of view that it’s not just music ministry, but we provide a lot of retreats for dioceses and parishes around the country along with a very vibrant music workshop as well. People just see the music end of it, and don’t maybe realize that there’s so much more that’s to the ministry itself.
ZENIT: What is the history of your own personal journey towards becoming involved in this ministry?
Keogh: I would have grown up in a very Catholic family, beautiful family, very blessed upbringing. I would’ve known about God, known about Jesus, and the normal penny catechism. I never had experienced the Lord until at a very young age. Experiences in life beg us to ask questions about life, and why are we here, and what’s the point. I had a very good relationship with a cousin of mine, and at the age of thirteen, when he was the same age as me, he died suddenly and tragically. That forced me to ask serious questions at a very young age. Naturally enough, being the teenager that I was, I went to play football, tried to be cool, tried to be the fun guy, but at the same time I was masking this complete emptiness. I was very much lost, and very much searching.
I just happened by pure chance to hear this guy talking about his experience of pilgrimage. It wasn’t even what he said, but it was the way that he said it; it wasn’t even the place that he went to, it was the way he described “pilgrimage” and the people that he’d gone with. So I said, “I want that, whatever he has.” Now I know it to be the Holy Spirit, definitely; I was on fire for God. It was from this invitation to “come and see” that I went along on the pilgrimage, and that was where the music ministry started as such.
I really experienced, then, God’s love present and active in life through the Church, through the people of God. I developed a real recognition of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist in a very deep and profound way. When I came back from that, it was no bed of roses; we experienced an awful lot of bereavement and tragedy in our family. Two years after I returned from that pilgrimage, my dad died suddenly; I was only 19 at the time, and he was 49. But it’s that initial experience of God and the sacraments in my teenage years, through meeting other people, and them nicely directing me on my path. And that’s what’s led me to be involved in this ministry.
With music linked in with that: when I came back from the pilgrimage, I couldn’t play, and I couldn’t sing at all. I wasn’t involved in any group like that at all. When I went to my first retreat, and I heard the music, and I thought: “wow, that is class. God, I have received so much from You, this is how I want to respond to what has happened to me.”
ZENIT: Can you speak about the role that music has in evangelization, especially in the evangelization of the youth?
Keogh: I think everyone would agree that music has the power to transport us; you hear a song, and you think of a loved one, or you hear a song and you think of a time in your life, whether it be good, bad, or indifferent. Music and songs can make that connection.
Music, in the context of worship music, has the ability to transcend all. It has the ability to transport us, or help us engage and become present in the present moment, and it’s in the present moment, really, that we truly meet God.
What I love about music ministry, it’s not actually about the music ministry itself: it’s actually where it leads to. The most powerful moment I’ve ever had in ministry was seven, eight years ago. We played this brilliant session for an hour, and at the very end, there was just the sacred silence. You know, when you get that moment, you really know God and fell God’s presence there: that’s what it was. It was that realization, that this is where music ministry leads.
In regards to young people: they love music. I’ve always loved music. I think music has a way of making us connect. It breaks down barriers. I heard a beautiful expression before, especially in regards to praise and worship music: it helps us to rush into God’s presence, I think more so than in other forms. It’s just another medium by way of opening to the Word.
ZENIT: You’ve been performing throughout the Eucharistic Congress this week, for instance the other night at the evening of reconciliation held at the Youth Space. How has this Congress been received by the young people participating, do you think?
Keogh: I think their perception of what the Church is, or how faith can be expressed, has been very much changed. And I think that there’s even an inclination of going: “You know actually, this isn’t too bad! This is quite cool!” and they’re going: “If this is kind of cool, what is actually going on here?” And I think [the evening of reconciliation the other night] was the culmination in the sense that. They are wondering what all this joy is about, and they realize that these people have a relationship with Somebody; if I want to have a relationship with somebody I have to go and talk to them, and what more powerful way than in the sacrament of the Eucharist and Reconciliation? To have the combination of both last night is just giving them the tools for life, with two of the most powerful sacraments we have. I think what was beautiful about last night, about that style of service, is that everything was focused on the Lord in both Sacraments. For the young people, I think, they realized that it all started to make sense, that all of this was pointing to Jesus. It wasn’t about the music, the lights, the screens. It was about the Blessed Sacrament. It was about meeting Jesus there. I think that’s why it was such a powerful night.
ZENIT: This Eucharistic Congress has been a time to learn about and reflect upon the Eucharist. What is the Eucharist for you, in your life?
Keogh: The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. For me, it’s the culmination of everything. Even our theme here at the Congress, “Communion with Christ and with one another.” What a powerful theme!
For me, the Eucharist is the whole idea of gathering with my fellow brothers and sisters and the Lord, and breaking bread, not only at the altar, but the sense of even breaking bread at the table afterwards. You’re encountering Christ in that as well. That’s Eucharist as well.
Our celebration of the Eucharist has everything, and the responsibility of the mission comes with that. Even if we were to relate to back to last night, encountering the Risen Christ in the Eucharist – how are you going to respond to that? Every time we’re at the Eucharist, that’s what we’re asked to do. That’s what the Eucharist is for me. It’s an encounter with Christ, and it always calls me to a mission: how am I going to respond to this gift? How am I going to increase my communion with Christ and with one another?