INDIANA-POLIS – On the third day of the new year, the Indianapolis Convention Center transformed into a place of worship. Seventeen thousand people took over the space in the name of Jesus, gathering for the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) biannual SEEK event, drawing in young people who are searching for something more out of life.
Curtis Martin, founder and CEO of FOCUS, talked about how life is meant to be a great adventure, a drama that’s continually unfolding. It’s not meant to be safe or comfortable. The presence of young mothers and fathers, many of them FOCUS staffers and alumni, trying to keep young children content during the talk and during the Mass before it, might have begun to underscore the point. The message was clear: Your life isn’t your own; it’s a gift from God, to be given back to him. Serving him is praising him. But first you have to be grateful, and before that you have to be able to see what there is to give thanks for in the first place.
That can be hard when the current culture encourages us to identify by our sins and weaknesses, as the second speaker, Leah Darrow, a former fashion model, acknowledged. We lock ourselves away in tombs before we even begin to live, sometimes. But we need to realize that God so loved us that he suffered and died for us. Seeing the world through this lens changes everything.
It changes how we think and move and live. It changes how we look at other people. We reach beyond ourselves when we know our suffering isn’t all that different from someone else’s. It makes us sensitive enough, too, to realize that we often have no idea of the magnitude of another’s burdens and pain.
The next morning, many attendees woke up early to pray, privately or in community, the morning prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours, the prayer of the Church. Priests and other consecrated men and woman pray it daily, throughout the day. Here, as you might expect, high on the list of what young people are seeking is a vocation – marriage or the priesthood or religious life or whatever it is God has planned out for them. Praying like the sisters or brothers or priests do for a few days starts to help the process along.
The words of St. Paul writing to the Romans (12:1-2) were particularly appropriate for that Friday morning prayer: “Brothers, I beg you through the mercy of God to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may judge what is God’s will, what is good, pleasing and perfect.”
That was Martin’s point. That is the point of the Christian life – to give everything to God. And yet how many in the world see this from Christians? Perhaps you are a lucky one with an obvious saint next door. Too many of us Christians aren’t obvious saints – as you probably know quite well.
SEEK is taking place – I write still only hours in (it spans five days) – 230 miles away from where the U.S. bishops are currently on retreat in Chicago. As most of us arrived here, a letter to U.S. bishops from Pope Francis was released, which talked about the necessity of being “a new presence in the world, conformed to the cross of Christ, one that takes concrete shape in service to the men and women of our time.”
This is not just the stuff of bishops. This is what Martin and Darrow were talking about. This is what these kids are here for.
And with U.S. bishops absent from this gathering, it allows for this emphasis: The presence of the Church in the world is in no small way these young people, willing to spend their Christmas breaks to commit themselves to something more, something greater, to God alone.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She can be contacted at [email protected]