At the beginning of January (2nd – 6th) I had a great opportunity to spend five action-packed days with over 150 college students from our local area. Throughout the year I spend a lot of my routine time with our college students, but this trip to the National Conference of the Fellowship Of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) was by far one of the most intensive opportunities. Since the National Conference only comes along every two years it was my first opportunity to participate. For a number of years in the past I have regularly heard about and witnessed many good fruits that develop as a result of young adults’ participation in the FOCUS family, and now I can attest to the reputation firsthand.
I joined the four FOCUS young adult lay missionaries and the campus minister from Ball State University for the cross-country trip from Muncie to Orlando. We accompanied over 120 students from Ball State alone, as well as twelve students from Purdue University and eight students from IndianaUniversity. Together we hit the road in a triple-motor-coach-caravan through southern Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida.
With great chauffeurs we rode in style, comfort (relative!) and safety, and our chauffeurs probably learned a few things about our Catholic life along the way! After about twenty-one hours on the road we finally arrived at the Swan & Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Florida, within Disney’s Epcot Center. It was a little home-away-from-home where God’s grace flowed abundantly for four full days within a beautiful, warm and self-contained complex.
When we arrived we were greeted by 6,000 other college students from across the country, as well as by a host of FOCUS staff, a long list of dynamic contemporary Catholic speakers, Bishops, priests, seminarians, men and women in consecrated life, musicians and hallways full of Catholic “vendors!” One of the inspiring elements of this Conference was the practicality of its title and goal: “SEEK What Moves You!” Everyone attending this Conference was seeking something, Someone. Many seek to understand who they are, why they are great and valuable individuals, how they can make significant evangelical contributions to our contemporary post-Christian society. Many seek healing, forgiveness, support and encouragement within an active and lively relationship with God and His Church. Many of the students still face a daily experience of relationships that are not virtuous, God-centered or personally enriching. These are the ones that Jesus and His disciples seek to eat with, walk with and talk with in today’s public ministry.
Throughout the packed four days of our gathering, the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation were constantly humming with activity. We began each day with a beautiful, inspiring, reverent, contemplative and contemporary encounter with the Lord in the celebration of the Mass, followed by perpetual Eucharistic Adoration where there were regularly dozens of students at any given time. The Sacrament of Reconciliation could be found in a few predictable places and times, as well as spontaneously when and where hearts opened and sought out God’s Divine Mercy. One night there was planned Adoration and Confessions, and over 130 priests heard confessions for over four hours as the students encountered, prayed and sang in Jesus’ Eucharistic Presence!
Here is a list of some of the speakers who joined us and encouraged us in various ways:
- Fr. Michael Keating: Associate professor of Catholic Studies at University of Saint Thomas, St. Paul, MN, & Director of Habiger Institute for Catholic Leadership
- Patrick Lencioni: Among Forbes “top ten gurus you should know”, he is internationally renowned for his organizational leadership models at all levels of society
- Matt Fradd: Australian Catholic international missionary to young adults
- Matthew Kelley: Australian internationally professional speaker & writer, speaking to over 4 million in live audiences, encouraging people to become the “best version of themselves” as a message of God’s love for each person
- Dr. Jonathan Reyes: USCCB Executive Director of the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development
- Dr. Edward Sri: Founding member of FOCUS, Chancellor & Professor at The Augustine Institute, and nationally known Catholic speaker and writer
- Leah Darrow: Professional beauty model & reality TV show actress turned honors student & full time apologist with Catholic Answers
By the end of the Conference, the 6,000+ students and leaders were ready to return home and re-engage their daily environments with greater capacity to be disciples of the Lord and to share that life of discipleship with others around them. With lives ahead of them that will demand many things, the students were able to leave with a few concrete goals to continue building in themselves and others what was offered during the Conference. Here are a few:
- Pray Daily: 20-30 minutes. Silent meditation and conversation with Christ.
- Read the Bible: 5-10 minutes a day – Start with the New Testament and the Gospel of Matthew.
- Join a Bible Study: Or start one!
- Share your Story: What is the Lord doing in your life? Who is He calling you to reach out to in your dorms, classes, groups?
- Receive the Sacraments: On a regular basis. How about going to Daily Mass at least once a week, Confession at least once a month – or even bi-weekly!?
- Be a Continuous Learner: Grow in knowledge of your faith. Start reading or listening to great Catholic talks!
- Matthew 7:7: Continue praying this verse!
- Discover the Treasure: Matthew 13:44 – Find it and sell all you have.
- Win. Build. Send.
For myself, I returned home with many great new experiences from the Conference. It proved to be a highly valuable time to be present with the 150+ students in our group. It was time well-spent building relationships with them as a living community of disciples of the Lord, investing in them and their life, as well as assisting them in their efforts to be disciples in the midst of their life experiences. It was yet another concrete experience of the united larger Church outside of our hometowns. I enjoyed witnessing the students’ experience of so many other Catholic college students united with them in life, faith and mission. Our experience together in Orlando and our continuing mission together back here at home reminds me of the words of Blessed John Paul II from twenty years ago:
“It is a taxing mission, today more than ever, to teach men the truth about themselves, about their end, their destiny, and to show faithful souls the unspeakable riches of the love of Christ. Do not be afraid of the radicalness of his demands, because Jesus, who loved us first, is prepared to give himself to you, as well as asking of you. If he asks much from you, it is because he knows you can give much.” Pope John Paul II, Rome, 9/8/92