Jacqueline Burkepile is an award-winning journalist who writes for several publications in addition to the Register. She writes for the The North Texas Catholic and the The Texas Catholic, and has blogged for Johnnette Benkovic’s Women of Grace, as well as Leah Darrow. Jacqueline is also a Catholic Campus Minister at Texas Woman’s University with St. John Paul II University Parish in Denton, Texas. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism News (with a broadcast emphasis) from the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas in 2011. She and her husband had their first child in January 2015.
Last week, I attended the Fellowship of Catholic University Students’ SEEK Conference for the first time. It was a truly amazing experience! Approximately 13,000 young people attended, filling the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio, Texas. There were wall-to-wall people everywhere. What a wonderful problem to have, especially in the name of Jesus!
My last day at the conference was Friday, Jan. 6. I met and interviewed Emotional Virtue author Sarah Swafford, as well as Sister Bethany Madonna of the Sisters of Life. I also heard Fr. Mike Schmitz speak during the Friday Keynote.
Sarah Swafford presented two talks and emceed the conference with Steve Pries. Both talks were based off of her book, Emotional Virtue. During our interview, she explained some of the experiences she had with college students throughout the week.
"It was really fun to hear guys say, 'That talk just completely changed the way I view women, helped make sense of some of my past realtionships, helps make sense of some of my female friends.' That's really powerful because the joke is that guys don’t care about anything, but they do. The hard part is they don’t know what they’re supposed to care about, and I don’t think they know what we want them to care about. So to have an older sister, a 33-year-old mom/sister come in and say, 'Okay, this is what women need from you and how you can protect women and respect women.' I think they are motivated...It’s an encouraging thing, and the guys come away with clarity."
"The women get excited about the talk because I think a lot of them are kind of drowning in this worldly perfectionism of looking a certain way, and feeling like they have to be with someone. But I told them you’ve got to get yourself, your relationship with Jesus, and your friendships figured out before you date anybody. And I think it takes that pressure of “I’m going to be whole when I meet someone.” It backs it up like 10 steps and says, “I’m going to be whole when I find my relationship with Jesus and I take care of and foster that. I’m going to be whole when I take care of myself and I learn what I need to do and how I need to strive for virtue and what I need to fix and change and take to confession. I’m going to be whole when I good girlfriends, and then relationships will happen.”
I also met with Sister Bethany Madonna, who had some excellent words of hope and encouragement. She discussed how much each person is loved by both the Blessed Mother and the Heavenly Father.
I asked her: If there was one thing you hoped these students take away from the conference, what would it be?
She said, that "They are loved—deeply, deeply loved. Loved by the Father who sent Jesus to them-- to be present to them, to nourish them with His body and blood in the Eucharist, to cleanse them in his mercy, to give them new life and strength, the love of the spirit who comes to dwell in them and lead them and guide them. I would just want them to know the love of the family of the Church—that they have a home, they have a place. They are accepted and we need them."
I then asked her if she had anything else to say that I didn't ask. This was her response:
"We have a good, good Mother...the Blessed Mother takes us very seriously. She desires to allow us an opportunity to be in her embrace. I think about her words at Guadalupe “are you not in the crossing of my arms? You’re in my mantle. Is there anything else you need? Am I not here who am your mother? I am your mother.” I want [the students] to know that you have a family. You have a father. You have a good mother. You have brothers and sisters in the Church. You have a place and you belong and we need you. We need your yes, and we need your no—no to any temptation that would lead you away. Or that would be less than what you deserve."
Sister Bethany Madonna is such a beautiful soul. God speaks and radiates through her being. It was such an honor and blessing to be with her.
I spent my last moments of SEEK listening to Fr. Mike Schmitz's Friday keynote address entitled, "More than Words." Having suffered with a cold all week, I wanted to go back to my hotel room and sleep. However, I did not want to miss the opportunity to hear this man speak. He never fails to challenge and inspire me in my faith. Not to mention, he is an incredible speaker! If you haven't heard him before, here are links to his YouTube Channel and homily archive.
He challenged his listeners to "not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your minds.” (Romans 12:2) He explained that we should work to look, act, and be like Jesus. He said we should not allow ouside influences to conform us, but to invite and allow Jesus to transform us.
"We have to realize, if Jesus is who He says He is, you are who he says you are. What does He call us to be? He calls us to be His. Not just to believe in Him. That’s the thing, crazy thing. We have too many Catholics who believe in Jesus but don’t belong to Jesus," Fr. Schmitz said. "Realize this: It’s not enough to believe in Jesus, we have to belong to Jesus. We have to let Him change our lives. He says, you’ll be my witnesses. The truth of the matter is, every one of us witnesses to something. Every one of us witnesses to someone. Who does your life witness to?"
He explained that everything we absorb influences us, particularly with what consume in the media.
"Many of us look at Christianity like behavior modification...'Change me where I want you to change me, but not in the deep, dark parts of myself. I don’t want to be transformed, I just want to be a little bit different.' But if that’s how we live our Christianity, we’ll never be fully transformed...the things I think about, the things I choose, the things I grow to love, are going to have to be transformed…what are the things you think about? What’s the entertainment you feed yourself with? Is it like everyone else? If someone looks back at your Netflix history, will they say, 'Oh, that’s a Catholic.'? How do you feed yourself? Because we’re going to be conformed to whatever we inform ourselves with, and if I feed myself with garbage, what I’m going to have is just garbage."
He continued, "Imagine how different our lives would be if we looked like Jesus, if we put our heads through the yolk, and looked at other people—looked at the Father and talked to Him looked like Jesus. Things would be transformed."
Fr. Schmitz's words reached thousands, including my 20 year-old younger brother, Kevin Flusche, who also attended the SEEK Conference with me. I was so grateful to spend this time with him. There was such excitement and joy in his spirit as he listened to Fr. Schmitz. I'm sure like many other students, he couldn't wait to meet Fr. Schmitz!
Kevin told me that "anytime I'm bored or feel like there is a lul in my faith, I just put in my earbuds and listen to his podcasts. I was praying that I'd meet him at SEEK, and luckily, I did. And in the most random way--out in the street."
Fr. Schmitz's words really struck me as well, especially this particular quote:
"Our goal is to look like Jesus, but also our goal is to look like Jesus. But also our call is to live like Jesus. In fact, this is what it is to be a Christian. …Our goal as Christians is not behavior modification, it is to look like Jesus, is to live like Jesus, it is to live so transformed, so free and so courageous that it changes the world."
I pray that all who attended the SEEK conference will carry these words with them out into the world!