In December 2015 in my senior year at Roman Catholic High School, I was the student leader of the school’s Kairos retreat, and I felt that I had the God part of my life all figured out. Eight months later I arrived at Temple University. I had 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 that God was calling me to, calling any Catholic to?
When the opportunity arose for me to go on the FOCUS national conference, SEEK2017, I gladly took it. I had Church, I had the sacraments, but I didn’t have the fire.
Aside from becoming airsick on the nightmarish flight down to San Antonio, SEEK began with a bang. From the opening keynote talk 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 storm that the world was hurling at them.
In some ways, college has been a real test to 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 for me has been fought off and on in my life. At times I have been on fire for Jesus, and at other times I have been overtaken by apathy and vices. But there was simply an infectious joy that permeated everyone and everything at SEEK.
This led me to finally figure out that I needed to surround myself with companions that are willing to hold each other accountable and to be supportive of one another as Catholics. And, of course we also have an army of priests and religious whose strong presence was felt at SEEK. Without them we would be totally lost. They are little pieces of heaven in our lives, and God works miracles through them.
In terms of the opportunities that were presented to the attendees of SEEK, there were many wonderful things. The keynote talks were moving and inspiring, and the impact sessions provided me with valuable insight into many issues that make our faith more complicated today such as the hookup culture and religious freedom. The men’s talks spurred me to put vices behind and take on the role as a spiritual leader and protector. Adoration and confession might’ve been the most beautiful thing I have ever been a part of.
However, the major part of SEEK that struck me the most, and I wish to share with you, is a call to greatness, and the breaking down of walls. From fantastic individuals like John O’Leary, who miraculously suffered an accident at age 9; or Lou Holtz, the former Notre Dame football coach; or Sister Bethany Madonna, a Sister of Life, I learned that being great as a Catholic didn’t necessarily mean being noticed.
It meant living for a cause greater than oneself, making sacrifices to build up others and not tear them down. It meant having the courage to walk in the footsteps of Christ, and it meant humbling myself enough to trust God’s will.
In the final keynote talk, Father Mike Schmitz spoke about how the time is now for Catholics to make a stand in a culture which is constantly trying to push religion out the window. This was convincing, and it finally hit me that it is 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 and darkest secrets. I was able to punch a gaping hole in the walls I had constructed that would keep me safe from ridicule.
One day, I hope to become a special agent for the FBI. I may save many lives and vanquish evil, but without love, without a strong relationship with Jesus Christ, I can never reach true greatness, or all that God has planned for me.
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 I have been inspired with a passion to become a great witness to Jesus Christ in today’s world.
Matt Vanderveer is a freshman at Temple University in Philadelphia. FOCUS is Fellowship of Catholic University Students.