Ten Things to be Sought
In the New Year’s first weekend, I attended the mega conference put on by FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) called SEEK2015 and it was undoubtedly impressive. Held at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee, the five day event drew nearly 10,000 attendees. Students hailed from the 100 colleges and universities that have a FOCUS program, as well as more than 50 other schools.
SEEK2015 also drew archbishops, chaplains, vocations directors, religious sisters, seminarians, representatives from many Catholic groups and a troop of well-known Catholic speakers and entertainers such as: Chris Stefanick, Jason Evert, Leah Darrow, Abby Johnson, Father Michael Schmitz, Matt Maher and Jim Gaffigan.
Going along with the theme, I asked a smattering of folks what college students seek or should seek to build up their faith lives. I asked them to name a tangible thing and it is indeed pretty amazing how the Holy Spirit works! Here is the first segment of ten things to be sought.
Part I: Seeking Relief
Good friendships. The importance of solid friends came up more than once as I conducted my interviews throughout the Opryland compound. But what is a truly a good friend? Curtis Martin, who along with his wife Michaelann, founded FOCUS in 1998, broke it down really well.
First of all, he said relationship is what college students seek “more than anything,” but pointed out that in our culture friendship is a lost art. He mentioned Facebook friends and friends whom you would have fun together with, but when the pleasure is done “the friendship has very little meaning.”
He contrasted this mentality with what the ancients spoke about friendship.
“Friendship was a relationship between people who were perusing something greater than themselves, that’s a virtuous friendship. We become like what we love. If we love things that are smaller than us: video games, extra-marital sex, [then] we become small. If we love things that are greater than us: God, the Church, [then] we become greater. A friendship is a group of people gathered together in love, but not just love for one another, love for a greater good.”
I talked to comedian Jim Gaffigan before his headlining show on Sunday night and he spoke of being a product of your environment and the idea of hanging around people whom “you aspire to have what they have.”
“So if you have friends that are, you know, driven by their faith that’s going to rub off when you have those moments of doubt. Maybe. I don’t know. I’m a comedian, what do I know?” said Gaffigan.
A student from the University of Kansas recalled the verse in Proverbs about iron sharpening iron. I looked it up and it continues, “so man sharpens his fellow man.” That conversation reminded me of another verse in the Old Testament: Sirach 6:14 “A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; he who finds one finds a treasure.”
As Curtis Martin told me, everyone seeks relationship. We should seek and be friends with people who give authentic human fellowship, who pull up and not drag down.
Guidance from a priest or faith leader. Being a former FOCUS missionary, I chatted with many familiar faces from the organization and also people from Boston where I have lived most of the last seven years. From the latter, I was fortunate to run into Father Jeremy Paulin, who is the vocations director for the Oblates of the Virgin Mary.
He said students should seek out a priest on campus that can help with “difficult questions, with their falls, with their desires, to help them sort things out, spiritual direction.”
Getting advice from our own peers is helpful but “sometimes it’s better to ask somebody who’s more experienced, [with] wisdom of life, wisdom of holiness,” and a priest should be able to offer that to students, Father Jeremy told me.
One could also turn to a religious sister, campus minister, FOCUS missionary or other elder of the faith who can provide a listening ear and a guiding next step. But of course it is our priests who offer us Christ’s mercy in the sacrament of confession and nourishment in the Body and Blood of Christ.
Speaking of priests, I also met up with Father Peter Musset of the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center in Boulder, Colorado. This affable, young pastor is considered the first priestly vocation to come from FOCUS. He was involved as a student early on in the group’s history at the University of Northern Colorado. His answer to question what do students seek was bold.
“To be free from the moral corruption in their own lives.” That’s straight talk and he was just getting started.
He spoke of men “trying to get free of pornography and masturbation.” Other’s “trying to get free from the party culture, the hook-up culture.”
“So they’re seeking big things like chastity, sobriety,” he said and mentioned marijuana usage and a desire to be free from that lifestyle with building faith.
He said that students are trying to understand “the positive faith that they’ve received” and that the new evangelization “is about catechizing and evangelizing those ... who never had an encounter [with Christ].” He said the foundation message is that through Christ “you have the opportunity to be able to be free of [those] things where you’ve let the world into your own heart.”
Father Peter’s words remind me of the power of confession and SEEK2015 certainly offered this sacrament— through a battalion of gentle priests ready to offer Christ’s mercy and healing— throughout the weekend.
Hope brings relief. I am going to step away from my role as reporter for a moment and make my own case for hope as a major thing students seek. The college campus can be a dark place for a multitude of reasons and students can fall into despair.
While local, national and global circumstances can spread serious gloom, students who absorb the true hope of God will be revitalized. Good friends, priests, religious and other faith leaders can transmit hope. So too can God’s Word in Sacred Scripture. The Word is a powerful light and has a way of giving us what we need, when we need it. In my morning prayer, the day I started writing this piece, I didn’t have to look any further than my copy of Magnificat to encounter some truly hopeful verses.
“In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79)
“Those who love me I also love and those who seek me find me.” (Proverbs 8:17)