I started my New Year off with a bang: learning, praising, and praying with almost 13,000 college students at SEEK2017, a national conference put on by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). The biannual conference was held in San Antonio, TX, January 3-7. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette has worked with FOCUS since 2011. FOCUS is a national organization that takes recent college graduates, forms them into missionaries, and sends them back to college campuses to start bible studies, create authentic relationships with students, and teach those students what it means to a be disciple of Jesus Christ and how to evangelize their classmates and friends. And it works! We have experienced exponential growth in our bible study and daily mass participation since partnering with FOCUS (5 missionaries + 1 campus minister = 5xs more potential!).
This year ULL took a group of 125 Ragin’ Cajun Catholics to SEEK2017. The theme or tagline every year for SEEK is “What Moves You?” These students are challenged to think about what motivates, animates, or drives the direction of their young lives. Think of college you for a minute–go ahead, open that pandora’s box of regret. Can you imagine being challenged to answer the question “What moves you?” What a pivotal question that can be!
It is hard to put my SEEK2017 experience into words… 13,000 college students spending four days hearing excellent talks that were inspirational, orthodox, intellectually challenging, interesting, practical, and authentic; 13,000 college students coming together to celebrate daily mass with hundreds of priests, sisters, and a handful of bishops; 13,000 college students kneeling together in adoration… there just aren’t words to describe it. They estimate over 4,800 confessions were heard over 3 hours on the Thursday night of the conference. So much healing, so much renewal, so much community, so much discovery… I asked my students to share some of their experiences with me: what struck them, what they felt like God was speaking to their hearts. Here are some of their reactions:
“That I’m worthy of true friendship.”
“We should start looking at one another through Jesus’ eyes!”
“Be patient and trust His timing. I am usually extremely impatient and want to do things in my own time and not God’s. As you can expect, that usually doesn’t work out very well.”
“Amazing experience! I am so grateful for this trip and everything I have learned about God’s unconditional love for us.”
“Tonight I experienced something bigger than myself. I knelt down with almost 13,000 other college students praising our Lord. I realized in that moment of pure joy that Jesus was in front of me, not as a powerful judging king… he looked at me and said ‘I’m here for you. I am the bread that will give you nourishment, I am here to give you life because that’s how much I love you.’ As the priest walked out carrying my Jesus away from me, I wanted to keep following him. That’s what the disciples must have felt. They saw him in his beauty and holiness and didn’t want to watch it walk away so they followed him. I have decided to follow Jesus. Every day of my life. … Please continue to pray for me and the rest of my 13,000 brothers and sisters in Christ! #seek2017 #geauxjesus”
“My biggest take away so far has been going to confession Thursday night for the first time in a long time.”
“That God has a plan far greater than I could imagine and that He loves me more than I could ever fully grasp regardless of what I’ve done and where I’ve been and the sins I’ve committed.”
“I rediscovered God’s love in a profound way and have been reminded that it doesn’t matter if society or other people don’t think I’m pretty enough or good enough–I am enough for God and I am His daughter and loved by Him.”
“To wake up with an eager yes to an intimate relationship with Him. All I need is to surrender and put everything in his hands.”
“With Him there is unrelenting peace.”
“Prayer is the most important thing for the Christian life, and that it is the only thing that can grow your faith and help any decision you make for God.”
“That He’s proud of us.”
Loved. Worthy. Mercy. Relationship. These few responses revealed a few things to me… to feel that you learned God loves you and is proud of you implies that you doubted that reality before. The same goes for his mercy, desire for a personal relationship, and our own worthiness. These students are active at the Catholic Student Center, most frequent the sacraments, and yet they found themselves in awe of God’s love for them. God loves you. Do you know that?
You are reading a blog from a site called The Catholic Outpost. I don’t know much about you, but I do know you have an interest in Catholic things or reading or you are friends with someone who is and shared this post. Do you know that God loves you? Because He does. More than you can imagine. And I’m sure these students knew Jesus loved them… for the Bible tells us so. We learn this as children, and hopefully we come to a mature understanding of this as adults, but does this Truth animate my very life every day–as it should? Do I wake up knowing one truth? God loves me.
In meditating on why these encounters with Truth were different, I keep coming back to the reality that these students did not encounter an idea, they encountered a Person. How do we experience this truth daily? Where do we find this encounter in our lives? Prayer, relationship, connection. How do we cultivate a habit of remembering? Prayer, relationship, connection. So often we’ve become crucifix-blind in our own homes, zoned out in Mass, and caught up in our heads–our sinfulness, selfishness, netflix-addiction, social media-depression serving as a block to reality. We are heart-broken, exhausted, perfectionists, unworthy, angry, tired, weak, beaten-down, over-achieving, lazy, and forgetful. We forget the first Truth: God loves us. So much.
Now that we are well into January, and you may find yourself reassessing those 2017 #goals… maybe the gym 5 days a week was too much, or perhaps that daily holy hour is going to need to be weekly, or meal prep has turned into pizza ordering. Let’s make simple yet profound goal to recollect daily the simple yet profound truth that God loves you. Resolve this year to #neverforget.
Watching my students encounter Jesus in such a profound way moves me. What moves you?
Dear Jesus, I pray for all of those who attended this year’s SEEK2017–they will be returning home to the same struggles, disfunction, drama, roommates, parents, and temptations that they left on January 3rd. Give them strength, and hope, and resolve. Breakthrough the doubt and fear that always manages to creep in after spiritual mountain top experiences. Open the hearts and minds of their loved ones, that have been following their excited posts on social media and hearing their stories of Your triumph over death. Use these students’ experiences to change the world. Lord, make it impossible for us to forget you, impossible for us to doubt your love. Stir up in a us a new hope, a new flame, a new joy. Show us the people in our lives that need to hear about your love. Help us to be quiet and still and to just sit in awe of You. Amen.