There is a desire as old as Adam in the human heart: We all hunger for something real. We want to know what is true. To embrace what is good. To behold what is beautiful. We want to hold it in our hands, touch it with our senses, carry it in our souls.
But that desire isn’t easy to satisfy today. Through virtual exchanges and experiences, we often trade away connection for convenience, authenticity for artificiality. We don’t want to miss out on anything, and yet as a result we only have time for passing interactions with others. All the while, we long for deeper friendship, for relationship, for community.
As Catholics, we hunger more than anything to have a true, profound intimacy with Christ — to encounter the beauty and goodness found only in his church — to be united in prayer and mission as one body.
This past January, I received a taste of the good, beautiful, and very real unity of the Body of Christ when I attended my first FOCUS conference (Fellowship of Catholic University Students). I am excited to attend their upcoming SLS20 event in Phoenix Dec. 30 to Jan. 3, along with others from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Rewind a few years to 2013. I had just moved to Nashville for my graduate program at Vanderbilt University. When I encountered the Catholic community on campus, I met four missionaries from FOCUS. (Prior to this, I didn’t know FOCUS even existed.)
That same year, I experienced what I would call an “invasion of grace,” a profound encounter with God in prayer and a deep experience of his love and presence in my life. I felt a strong call of faith and a desire to give my life to Christ, however he called me.
Two years later, I left my program at Vanderbilt and entered the seminary to discern a call to the priesthood. This past January, just about four years into my studies at the seminary, I decided to attend my first FOCUS event, SEEK2019 — and while I was there, I witnessed a tangible, authentic expression of the Body of Christ, alive and well.
As I reflect on my experience at SEEK2019, three distinct parts of my experience still move me today:
The vibrant witness to the Body of Christ. The universality and goodness of the church was on display at SEEK2019 in a magnificent way. I was inspired by the witness of so many families, religious communities of men and women, college students and parishioners on fire with the faith. They came from all over the country and from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds, but the diversity was not an obstacle to our unity. Instead, in a beautiful way, there was a visible fellowship and sense of belonging among all the attendees. Everyone had a place. It struck me clearly as an authentic expression of the Body of Christ, especially as we came together for the Holy Mass and adoration.
The moving testimony of the speakers. The sessions and keynotes gave greater substance and depth to my faith from an intellectual and spiritual perspective. I was deeply affected by the presence, the power and the witness of the speakers, especially the women who spoke throughout the event, including Sister Miriam James Heidland and Sister Bethany Madonna. Following Leah Darrow’s keynote on the first night, I was so moved that I made sure to attend her morning session on the second day. Even though that talk was directed toward college girls, I went to her talk anyway simply because I wanted to hear her speak again. It was refreshing and inspiring to see the power of women authentically living their feminine dignity in service to Christ.
The true heart of the conference. It was clear Jesus Christ was at the very center of the entire conference, through adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the emphasis on the sacrament of confession and the preaching of the saving truth of the Gospel. The beautiful liturgies were enriching and nourishing, and they connected me to the heavenly liturgy. The Blessed Sacrament was also exposed throughout the week. In a spectacular way, Adoration and Confession Night on Saturday evening brought me into a deeper relationship with Jesus. There was absolutely no mistaking what — or rather, who — was the source of the event’s blessings, and toward whom the entire event was directed.
Because of my experience at SEEK, I am even more excited to attend FOCUS’ upcoming leadership conference, SLS20, in Phoenix this December. This event is for any Catholic who wants to share the truth of Christ and live as a missionary disciple in today’s world. At SLS20, I am looking forward to gaining a deeper understanding and comfort with different methods of evangelization. Not only do I want to become a more authentic disciple of Jesus Christ, but I also want to learn how to assist others along a similar path.
If you are looking for something real — if you hope to see yourself, your family, your parish and your community once again on fire with the Catholic faith — then I would highly recommend joining me at SLS20. You will learn so much, and you will also receive so many graces and blessings from the Father. You will leave the conference changed.
Ultimately, the Bride of Christ, the Catholic Church, will be radiating her beauty and goodness in a marvelous way — and you wouldn’t want to miss that, would you?
If you’re interested in attending SLS20, visit sls20.org for full details and to register. If you would like to connect with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s group while you are at the conference, send an email to Meghan Cokeley, director of the Office for the New Evangelization (email@example.com), who will keep you informed about ArchPhilly group plans.
Christopher Massaro is a Second Theology seminarian for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Wynnewood.
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