February 2, 2017
Starting the morning of January 1, 2017, I began the 1,250 mile drive (yes, drive) from the Twin Cities to San Antonio, Texas for the FOCUS SEEK Conference. I wasn’t sure what to expect exactly, but I was hoping for three things: 1.) Fresh ideas and best practices from FOCUS, one of the preeminent Catholic ministry organizations; 2.) Renewed energy in my work for the Church; and 3.) Warm weather. And while I found enough of each to make the trip worthwhile in its own right, the greatest benefit of the trip wasn’t altogether different (sunshine notwithstanding), but ultimately much more meaningful and beneficial.
In case you were wondering why I was yelling (or concerned for my caps lock), FOCUS is an acronym for Fellowship of Catholic University Students, while SEEK is apparently just Seek with more gusto (and/or branding). And in case you were wondering if I’m too old to be hanging around a bunch of college students, well, the answer is yes. In fact, that was one of my first impressions of the conference when my buddy Gerriet and I first arrived in the city: boy, there are a lot of college students here (13,000 of them in fact). And they seem younger than I remember, either because I’m getting older (true) and/or because my memory is getting worse (no comment).
The funny thing about college students--to which I’m sure their parents can attest--is that while they are very much adult-sized and adult-aged, many of them haven’t quite exhibited all the qualities you’d come to expect in a fully mature adult. And yet at the same time, they’re making important decisions about how they plan to live out their lives, particularly their spiritual lives. According to a 2009 Pew study, 79% of those who leave the Catholic Church do so by age 23.
The 13,000 students at SEEK apparently didn’t get the memo. Imagine Williams Arena packed full of college students, and instead of cheering on the U of M Men’s basketball team, they’re belting out mass responses and praise songs and giving thanks to God. That’s not to say that they are ignorant to the overall faith crises on American campuses, however. Over 500 men and women are currently serving as FOCUS missionaries for that very reason: they know their peers are leaving the Church, and they want to give them a reason to stick around. In fact, these missionaries feel so strongly about their Catholic faith that they each pledge to work for at least two full years in colleges nationwide—and raise money to fully finance their own salaries—to “win the hearts of college students, build them in the faith, and send them to the world.”
I’ve had plenty of experience with FOCUS and the good work they do, from my time living in Mankato with a missionary as a roommate, to attending a previous FOCUS conference back in 2010, to helping raise support for the ministry at NDSU in Fargo. So I thought I had a decent idea about what to expect.
And while I anticipated that the conference would benefit me in my professional work here at Nativity, I wasn’t prepared for what would become my real takeaway from the week: a greater sense of what God wants for me. Sure, God wants me to be good at my job and enjoy doing it. But much more than that, I was reminded that he wants a relationship with me, first and foremost. He has plans for me, and he has a future for me.
Of course, I already *knew* that. After all, I learned it in Sunday School and was reminded time and again in Catholic school K-8 and again at the University of St. Thomas. Heck, I taught it to middle schoolers and high schoolers during my five years as a Catholic school religion teacher, and it informs my work here at Nativity in communications as well as in my work with the youth and young adults.
But just like those many Catholic college students who end up leaving the church, just knowing something isn’t always enough. In my case, attending the SEEK conference and being inspired by thousands of fellow young adults, learning from great Catholic presenters and celebrating mass and confession with hundreds of priests, my faith came alive again in a way that it hasn’t seemed to be in a while.
It’s for that reason I’d like to encourage you, the good people of Nativity, young and old, to seek out ways to help the faith come more alive in your own lives. Fortunately for you, you don’t have to drive to Texas to do so. From movements like Perpetual Adoration, Catholic Watchmen, Urban Catholic, the NCCW and Moms’ Club, and many more here at Nativity, to the many great ministries locally at the Archdiocesan and parish level, there are opportunities for spiritual growth for everyone--and accessible to even the busiest of schedules.
The theme for the 2017 SEEK Conference was “Find Your True North.” As the native (and prideful) Minnesotan I am, I walked into the conference thinking that I had already found my true north in more than one sense: I’m already a faithful Catholic, and one who lives in the North Star State to boot. That week in San Antonio, however, what I found was both something old and something new: whether you’re closer in age to a college student or their grandparents, we all can benefit greatly from drawing nearer to God, our one true source of direction.
This article originally appeared in the bulletin on Sunday, January 29, 2017.