“You should come to SEEK. I promise you, it will change your life.” When my friend Michelle (a first year FOCUS missionary) invited me to SEEK, I really did not believe that it would be a life-altering experience. Although I knew FOCUS conferences had radically changed Michelle’s life, I had little hope that Jesus would want anything to do with a sinner like me, even at SEEK. I decided to attend SEEK2017 for all the wrong reasons. First, it would be an opportunity to see Michelle for a few days. The determining factor, however, was the fact that SEEK was in San Antonio, Texas. I have lived in Ohio all 21 years of my existence. Winters are three months of blizzards and trying not to fall on icy sidewalks. Since the conference was during my winter break, I saw it as a great opportunity to get out of the cold for a few days. A week in a warm state with some of my coolest friends? HECK YEAH, I’LL GO TO SEEK. PEACE OUT SNOWY OHIO.
The new year approached and my excitement for the trip dwindled. As I researched the conference more, I realized what I had signed myself up for. I have been Catholic my whole life, but I had been distant from God for a while. Specifically, I had been running from God’s mercy in the sacrament of Confession. It had been three years, and I was wrapped up in sin. I had convinced myself that there was no way God could forgive me for the many terrible things I had done. I was so terrified I actually considered backing out of the conference. However, everything was payed for already. Like it or not, I was going to SEEK2017.
The minute I stepped into the conference center, I was awestruck. Words cannot describe the incredible experiences I encountered at SEEK. I met Paul Darrow and attended two talks given by my favorite priest, Father Mike Schmitz. Each day, I heard multiple speakers share their stories of struggles and brokenness, and how God loves them despite their faults. I was shocked that I could relate to many of the struggles, sins, and fears the speakers had experienced. I met people who were on fire for Christ. It was beautiful and I desperately wanted it.
While everything I was experiencing at SEEK was wonderful, the most profound encounter I had with Jesus was in Confession. For the first time in a very long time, I felt God’s presence with me, calling me to come to Him in the sacrament of Reconciliation. As I walked to the priest, I was TERRIFIED. I was convinced the priest would yell at me and say that God would never forgive me. Instead, he was kind, patient, and listened. He asked me, when you are sinning, what does Jesus say to you? I quickly mumbled, “I don’t know.” Then, I looked the priest in the eye, and said, “Jesus would say I love you Monica.” At that moment, I felt Jesus’ presence more than ever. The reality was because I refused to seek God’s mercy, I was missing infinite love. When you are missing infinite love, you try to numb yourself with earthy pleasures, which only leave you broken and longing for more. I thought God loved me because He HAD too, not because He wanted too. I was a screw up and God had to put up with me for the rest of my life. This Confession experience showed me why I was wrong. As I walked away from that Confession and I gazed up at Jesus in Adoration, I heard God speak in my heart, and He kept saying, “This doesn’t even compare to the joy that is coming.” I experienced the love and peace of Christ in a way I never had before.
Upon returning to school after SEEK, I have continued to encounter Christ. For so long, I felt an absence of infinite love. I was refusing to accept love from God and those around me, and I was not able to give love to others. Now, I have been able to see God’s love working in my life. Specifically, God asked a friend and I to co-lead a freshman girl’s bible study. I almost said no because I was afraid I would fail miserably. But God does not abandon those He calls. God blessed us with very sweet and patient girls who have inspired and provided me with an abundance of blessings this semester. I do not like to say I lead these girls, because they have challenged me and have led me to grow closer in my own relationship with Christ. God strategically places people in our lives to help us grow. He specifically placed Michelle in my life several years ago, and because of her faithfulness in Christ, she has helped me seek Him in my own life.
I never want to act as if I have overcome the struggles in my life since accepting Christ at SEEK. These past few months have been some of the most challenging and trying times of my life, but also the happiest. I have failed many times because I am a sinner, but I do not have to keep running from Jesus. St. John Vianney once said, “Our sins are nothing but a grain of sand alongside the great mountain of the mercy of God.” It is true. Jesus loves us beyond our evilness. Please do not be afraid to go to Confession. Jesus is waiting in the confessional to give you His mercy and love. By accepting the freedom my Jesus gave me through this sacrament, I have allowed Him to love me completely. SEEK and confession has changed my life. It will change your life too.
P.S. The day we left San Antonio, the city was experiencing “unseasonably cold” weather. It was a frigid 29 degrees. God sure does have a wonderful sense of humor :).