January 1st- 5th over 9 thousand college students from around the United States attended SEEK 2015 Conference in Nashville, TN. This event is sponsored by one of the fastest growing Catholic organization in America, Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). The conference was a truly powerful and life changing experience for all those present.
It is impossible to do justice to a conference with over 50 talks given by some of the biggest names in the Catholic Church. Yet as one man journeys through the weekend he can recognize some themes.
Coming into the miniature city which is the Gaylord Opryland Resort, these college students were leaving a university life commonly seen as the center of secular thought. That which is taught at most colleges is based on a fundamentally different world view than our Catholic tradition. These principles have to do with the definition of "the good" and the nature of the human person. With the denial of objective truth the emphasis in many Universities is put on placed solely on the individual. This is why our culture seeks fulfillment in pleasure, materialism, and obsession with appearances.
As Dr. Jonathan Reyes said in his Impact talk "unexamined assumptions shape our worldview". Many of us, especially young adults, are so overly occupied with work, studies, and technology that we do not examine those concepts learned from a non-Christian culture. These thoughts become beliefs which determine how we live. In our society we are taught, even subconsciously, to live by our emotions or desires rather than reason.
It can be scary to examine our behaviors and recognize that we may be living in a very self-centered way. This is the typical experience of so many of the young adults when they attend a conference or retreat. Coming out of the "fog" of the technology saturated culture, they are brought face to face with themselves. One can be quite overwhelmed by the whole experience. How can I ever overcome these habits? I am not strong enough to overcome these things and "swim against the tide" of the college culture.
This legitimate fear which must be faced. Many of the conferences speakers gave these courageous young men and women a road map based on 2 thousand years of faith and tradition.
The first thing is to grow in self-knowledge through prayer and study. We can learn so much from the long tradition of the Church. Saints such as John Paul II have given us a deep understanding of the dignity of the human person created in the Image of God.
This is particularly important in the area of sexuality. In opposition to common thought, our recognition of beauty and desire for intimacy is a profound call to holiness. As Jason Evert says, "what we experience as lust is meant to lead us to seek true beauty." We must know our desires which lead to sin, but see them as a call to something greater.
Once we come to understand ourselves we are called to respond to God's grace which leads us to freedom. Bad habits or vices are only overcome by growing in and supporting good habits or virtues. Any of the 7 traditional virtues can help a person, but some specific ones were emphasized at the conference. Dr. Reyes encouraged the young men to foster perseverance in even the small things. As the habit grows, they will find it easier to make commitments and be men of their word. Secondly, the college man can pray for and work toward magnanimity or greatness of heart. Dr Reyes encouraged them to "do great things...do hard things". Men should face their fears particularly as they strive for authentic masculinity.
All of these efforts are based on Judeo-Christian world-view which presumes the existence of objective truth. God is Truth and has placed the desire for this within our hearts. We need not be governed by our emotions; tossed from one thing to another with no hope. The human person is called to holiness by using their mind, heart and soul to become all that they were created to be or holy.
Time and again during the conference, we were reminded of our call to greatness. This is best summed up by Curtis Martin who quoted St Catharine of Siena. This courageous 14th century Saint may be best known for her quote, "Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire". With these words over 9 thousand college students were sent out to live the abundant life (Jn. 10:10); the freedom promised by the Savior. To be no longer be ruled by their emotions, but instead to order these toward what is true, beautiful, and good.
May God be with them as they go forth set free and aflame with God's love! Let us pray for each of these students that they may persevere in the commitments they have made to life for Christ.