FOCUS Holds Biennial Conference for Catholic Students

by Laura McLaughlin

 

SEEK 2015 is a biennial event held for college students looking to deepen their faith by FOCUS, fellowship of Catholic University Students. The organization sends modern day missionaries, recent college graduates, to one of what are now 100 campuses in their network. FOCUS began in 1998 at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas in response to Pope John Paul II’s call for a new Evangelization. The first SEEK conference was held sixteen years ago and had twenty-four attendees. This year in Nashville almost 10,000 people came to hear speakers on various topics concerning faith, to pray, and to meet other Catholics from around the country. The event, mostly attended by college students, was energetic despite many of them have had traveled as much as 30 hours by bus. On the first night, keynote speaker Matt Fradd, a Catholic apologist, kicked off SEEK with an animated and relatable talk on his own faith journey and existential preoccupations. From the beginning of the event it was clear that it was aimed at the young, not in a diminutive or silly pop-culture focused way, but in a way that recognizes the unique position of people who are in the process of questioning and having their beliefs questioned in the college environment.

 

Over the next three days, attendees started off the day with the Mass and then specific talks on the unique roles of men and women in relationships catering to participants of each respective gender. Some of the most inspiring moments to young people sometimes overwhelmingly concerned with their futures, were the words of Sister Mary Gabriel of the Sisters of Life, and former atheist Jennifer Fulwiler. The first exposed the harsh but simple truth that the world “promises everything but delivers nothing,” and so we cannot fall into settling for something inauthentic simply because we are afraid of what our lives would look like without the façade of happiness. Despite the fact that college is a place where one is supposed to be focused on how they can improve themselves and grow intellectually and spiritually, it often becomes one in which young adults accept the view that their worth is derived from their material acquisitions and achievements—and even worse that this is what will bring them happiness. Fulwiler expanded on this idea by sharing her transformation from someone obsessed with looking the part of a successful modern woman, to a newly converted Catholic obsessed with looking the part of Catholic womanhood, to finally accepting herself as a unique member of the faith whose devotion was not based on habits or personality but on what was in her heart.

 

Keynote speaker Helen Alvare, associate professor of Law at George Mason University and former Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities at NCCB, spoke about her systematic detachment from material desire, starting with taking pay cuts in her work as a lawyer in order to do what she found meaningful and helpful to clients. Even today she does not concern herself with the conditions of the furniture in her house, because it is inexpensive and not worth crying over when a drink is spilled on it. She explained that this lifestyle of not having an excess of material possessions is freeing because it translated into less worry, and more ability to focus ont the important things in life.

 

After hearing so many wonderful speakers and engaging with their faith, the attendees of SEEK 2015 left with a sense of renewed commitment to living authentically despite returning on an unchanged society. However, even if the world continues to say that what is important is the fleeting pleasure found in materialism, physical contentment, and mindless entertainment, young people can endeavor to change this and dictate what worthy pursuits are. SEEK was beginning of this process, as in order to change the external, we must first change in internal.

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