CHICAGO — If young adults proclaim the Gospel with clarity and conviction, they can produce spiritual fruits that can reach billions of people, Curtis Martin of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students has said.
“The key there is: Do we have the heart to commit to it?” Martin asked an audience of some 8,000 people Jan. 5.
Martin is the founder and chief evangelization officer of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, a nationwide group of missionaries whose primary aim is to evangelize students on college campuses.
He spoke at the closing keynote at the Student Leadership Summit 2018 (SLS18), a conference the organization hosts every two years to train young adults and other leaders to spread the Gospel effectively. Attendance at this year’s Chicago summit numbered around 8,000 attendees.
“This generation of Catholics is responsible for this generation of people,” Martin said. “Brothers and sisters, dig deep in divine intimacy, gather your friends close to you and love them in a crazy sort of love in authentic friendship, and then go out and reach the world by sharing both faithfulness and fruitfulness.”
“When you do, you set the world on fire,” he said.
“Accept the love and mercy of Jesus Christ,” Martin added. “Stop trying to earn his love. You can’t — he just loves you. Then respond to his love out of thankfulness. But the second part of that is not just to love Jesus and follow him, but to imitate him, to embrace his mission. And his mission was to reach the world.”
He encouraged summit attendees to commit their current energy to spreading the Gospel by investing in others and to take part in “small groups living in authentic friendship that want to pursue Christ radically.”
“Every single person on earth,” he said, “was created to be a canonizable saint. Not necessarily canonized — that’s up to the Church — canonizable, which isn’t actually a word yet, but we’re working on it.”
Martin voiced his desire to “go deeper” in love of Christ with his wife and his colleagues, saying, “I would love to follow Christ big-time. But I’m weak. I need your help.”
In following Jesus, Martin said, there are two important aspects of his life to note: He “made the extraordinary ordinary,” and he encouraged his disciples to be “radically, radically generous.”
More important, however, was that Jesus “rendered the ordinary extraordinary.”
“Jesus loved the few people in his life so amazingly. And everybody in this room can do that.”
For Martin, Mary was the prime example of this. According to the Gospel, when Mary greeted her cousin Elizabeth, simultaneously “Mary and John the Baptist are both filled with the Holy Spirit.”
He pointed to how long Jesus waited to begin his ministry. While an observer knowing he was the Savior of the world might wonder why Jesus took so long, Martin said he was “sharing life every day with the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
“Mary is the most evangelized person in all of history,” Martin said. He invited the crowd to imagine the acts of kindness Jesus and his mother would have performed in their daily lives as Mary raised him.
“Mary was also the first evangelist,” Martin told CNA. “She went and shared Jesus with Elizabeth and John the Baptist with such power that they were filled with the Holy Spirit when they heard her voice.”
In his keynote address, Martin noted that Jesus’ launch of his public ministry included the selection of a small group of 12 as his followers.
“He shared the vision of wanting to change the world with them and invited them to total commitment to him, and to one another, and to the mission,” he said. “This power of divine intimacy, to know God and to share life with others who know God in authentic friendship, this becomes the engine that allows us to reach the world in a single generation and in every generation.”
Both faithfulness and fruitfulness were Martin’s emphasis.
“We started with two part-time staff and 20 students,” Martin told CNA, “and it’s been snowballing every year, because we really believe that God is inviting Christians not just to live faithfulness, but to live fruitfulness. So that fruitfulness has been bearing fruit, obviously, over the last 20 years.”
Martin himself had a conversion experience as a student at Louisiana State University. He was not a practicing Catholic when was invited on a retreat, during which he went to Eucharistic adoration.
“I said, ‘Oh my goodness, if that’s God, everything in my life has to change. And if it’s not God, I should get everybody out of the room because they’re worshipping bread.’ I mean, there really is no middle ground when it comes to the Eucharist.”
Looking to the example of St. John Paul II, Martin reflected on the future Pope who would “love everybody,” but he “also loved a few.” He noted his habit as a priest, begun in the 1940s, of taking small groups of young people out into the mountains.
When the future Pope was a parish priest in Poland, he took 10 families and began teaching them what would become known as theology of the body. From among these small groups, Martin said, came a couple for whom he said the wedding and became godfather for their children, to whom he gave the sacraments. After becoming Pope, John Paul would host them for weeks in the summer at the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo.
“He never stopped loving them,” Martin said. “This one priest, loving a few people, set off a chain reaction.” The future Pope “learned the power of authentic friendship and lived it for the rest of his life, even in the midst of doing extraordinary things.”
He urged those listening to follow the example of deliberate, authentic friendship as a means of evangelization.
“When you begin to pray specifically for guidance,” Martin said, “God will bring names and faces to you, and then you can go and begin praying for them, intentionally, that they’ll become great saints. And then sit with them and talk to them, and share your desire to be a great saint.”
“And if they were to accept the invitation to run with you, then just run,” he told the summit.
The conference brought together well-known speakers, including Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron spoke at the event, who told those gathered that they should remind the world: “Christ is your king. Everything in your life belongs to him.”