It was December 2015: I was the student leader of my Catholic high school’s Kairos retreat my senior year, and I thought that I had the God part of my life all figured out. Eight months later, I arrived at Temple University, where I planned to get involved at the Newman Center and live a good, moral life.
And yet, all this time, I was never challenged to become more. Was this really the life to which God was calling me? When the opportunity arose for me to go to the FOCUS national conference, SEEK2017, I gladly took it. I had the Church, I had the sacraments, but I didn’t have the fire.
For me, SEEK began with a bang (and I’m not talking about the airsickness I got on the nightmarish flight down to San Antonio). From the opening keynote onward, I knew I was part of something special. I was simply blown away by the thousands of young Catholics, just like me, who were trying to weather the storms raging in our world. In some ways, college has been a real test of my faith, but when I see that kind of commitment and passion, it makes me realize that nobody is alone in this fight—a fight that I’ve fought off and on my entire life. At times I’ve been on fire for Jesus, and other times I’ve been overtaken by apathy and vice. But there was simply an infectious joy that permeated everyone and everything at SEEK. It made me realize that I need to surround myself with companions who are willing to hold me accountable and be supportive of one another as Catholics. Of course, we also had an army of priests and religious who made their strong presence known at SEEK. Without them, we would be totally lost. They are little windows to heaven in our lives, and God works miracles through them.
There were other amazing opportunities for the SEEK crowd: The keynote talks were moving and inspiring, and the impact sessions gave me valuable insight into many issues that make our faith more complicated today, from the hookup culture to religious freedom. The men’s talks spurred me to put vices behind and take on the role of a spiritual leader and protector. The opportunities for adoration and confession were profoundly beautiful.
But what most struck me at SEEK—and what I most want to share with you—was what we learned about the call to greatness, and breaking down our walls. Fantastic individuals like John O’Leary, who miraculously survived an accident at age 9; Lou Holtz, the legendary former Notre Dame football coach; and Sr. Bethany Madonna, a Sister of Life, all showed me that being great as a Catholic doesn’t necessarily mean being noticed. It means living for a cause greater than oneself, making sacrifices to build others up instead of tearing them down. It means having the courage to walk in the footsteps of Christ, humbling myself enough to trust God’s will.
In the final keynote talk, Father Mike Schmitz said that the time is now for Catholics to make a stand in a culture that is constantly trying to push religion out the window. It finally hit me: It’s up to young Catholics like myself to rise above the norm. From that point on, I was no longer afraid of singing with all my heart at Holy Mass, raising my hands in praise during adoration, or confessing my deepest sins; I was able to break down the walls I had built to protect myself from ridicule, but which only kept me from truly giving my heart to Christ.
On the flight back to Philadelphia (on which I did not get airsick!), I felt a peace and grace I have never felt before. I could finally say that I have been unleashed in my faith and inspired with a passion to become a great witness to Jesus Christ in today’s world.