17,000 Students Gather for FOCUS Conference
From the opening Mass concelebrated by hundreds of priests to the 17,000 college students gathered to pray together, SEEK 2019 connected attendees to the beauty of the Church. The conference represented a young Church, a vibrant Church, a Church striving for more than this world offers. A group of about 80 Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s, and Holy Cross students attended the event, which was presented by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) in Indianapolis, Indiana from January 3-7.
Each day of SEEK began with Mass and followed with men’s and women’s concurrent sessions. Following a lunch break, the afternoon was filled with two rounds of “impact sessions.” In these sessions, students selected talks given by speakers presenting on diverse topics. Topics ranged from overcoming distraction, doubt, and dryness in prayer to how to better understand gender and sex through the lens of Pope Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. Two evening keynote addresses discussing a central daily theme capped off each day.
The diverse background of the speakers—single, married, religious sisters, priests, deacons—was a witness to God’s personal call to discern each of our vocations. While each talk focused on the missionary call and entering into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ, they were able to utilize their gifts, talents, and environments to pursue holiness in distinct ways and provide concrete plans of action.
I love the Communion of Saints, especially Saints Maximilian Kolbe, Pope John Paul II, Gianna Beretta Molla, and Mother Teresa, yet I grow discouraged and even feel inadequate when I directly compare my life and actions to theirs. How could I give myself so completely to Jesus through Mary like St. Maximilian Kolbe or Pope St. John Paul II? How could I be a wife and mother who puts my child’s life above my own like St. Gianna? How could I serve the poorest of the poor with a smile during the throes of a dark night of the soul like Mother Teresa? I realized during SEEK that though these goals were admirable and these saints are inspiring examples of holiness, I was missing the full picture. Not one of them did it alone. They conformed themselves completely to Christ and let Him mold their unique personalities to serve Him and His Church. All of us are called to their same trust and abandonment.
Senior Grace McCormick shared similar thoughts and was also challenged to rethink her call to sainthood as a result of SEEK. “I dreamt of being a saint when I was a little girl. I remember feeling beloved as a child, as I was God’s and as He were calling me to live the life of a saint, but I don’t think I ever believed that would be a reality. A saintly, holy life was a beautiful ideal, but it was not the way the world worked. It wasn’t how my life looked, and, honestly, there weren’t many people telling me it could be, or ought to be, different. The models of a radical life I knew were running away from home, falling madly in love with a perfect man who could ‘fix me,’ or quitting school to become a hippie and an artist. You see, radicality of the secular culture is about giving up everything to follow your one desire; Christian radicality is about giving up everything to follow God’s call.”
The speakers reminded us of our need for the graces received in the sacraments in order to answer the call to pursue holiness. Besides daily Mass each morning, there were also daily opportunities for Confession and Adoration during conference breaks. On the third night, there was Adoration and Confession for all of the conference participants. The confession line wrapped around nearly the entire conference center and was packed with college students seeking God’s mercy. There were hundreds of priests available hearing confessions. The line was so long that I had prayed an entire Rosary before I was halfway through the line. However, the wait in line was not a detriment at all because it was incredible to see so many peers going to Confession and so many priests administering the sacrament and willing to serve as vessels of God’s Mercy!
Father Mike Schmitz, who serves as the chaplain of the Newman Catholic Campus Ministry at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, concluded the conference by challenging us to resist the urge to fall into indifference. He encouraged us to remain vibrant and engaged in living out our faith and fulfilling our missionary calls discovered for the first time or rediscovered through such powerful encounters with Christ throughout the conference. He described this indifference as being moved by something or someone, even Christ, but failing to move in response.
As Fr. Schmitz shared with brutal honesty how he has failed in this way, he encouraged us to fight this tendency by reevaluating how we spend our time and resisting the urge to overschedule ourselves into a forced indifference of “not having time for each other.” He explained how this bottom-up approach to rebuilding a culture of true friendship and concern for each other in the midst of one where everyone is seemingly trapped in the frenetic rat race of college will be a source of healing for our society and ultimately draw us and all those around us closer to Christ. May we soften our hearts to be moved by love as we continually seek to respond more fully to the love of God outpoured for us and so proclaim the light of the Gospel in both word and deed to a world waiting to encounter love!
Mackenzie Kraker is a senior studying biochemistry and theology living in McGlinn Hall. She enjoys listening to the podcasts produced by Fr. Mike Schmitz while she runs and then telling her three roommates about how great they are. To receive an extensive list of her favorite podcasts email her at email@example.com.