Indianapolis — Curtis Martin might as well have been Saint Paul here. On the third day of the new year, the Indianapolis Convention Center transformed into a place of worship. Seventeen thousand took over the space in the name of Jesus, on the Christmas-season feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, for the Fellowship of Catholic University Students’ biannual SEEK event, drawing in young people who are seeking something more out of life and even religion than what so many settle for.
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 the Mass before it, might have begun to underscore the point. 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 culture encourages us to identify ourselves 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. Don’t do that. Live the hope and joy you see when you realize that God so loved you, He humbled Himself and suffered and died for you. (That’s where the Christmas story ultimately sees itself play out.) When we see the world through this lens, it changes everything. It changes how we think and move and live. It changes how we look at other people and obviously what we say to them and how we treat them. 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 we have no idea of the reach of another’s burdens and pain.
About Martin and Saint Paul: Although Martin might not have as colorful a past as that of Saint Paul, the most (in)famous of converts, once a chief persecutor of Christians who would eventually die for Christ, he urged the young to live a holy adventure. And the next morning, many 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. All are welcome to. 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 that God has planned out for them. Praying like the sisters or brothers or priests do for a few days starts to give a taste of that option.
And there in Friday-morning prayer was Saint Paul, writing to the Romans (12:1–2):
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.
A canonized saint who is celebrated on January 4 every year is Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton.
The first full day of SEEK began with a Mass celebrated by a bishop from England. He encouraged — clearly as if a miracle — that one can be born an American and be a saint. (He said English can be, too.) These kinds of liturgical calendar dates can help focus lives on what’s truly possible and needed.
SEEK is taking place — I write still only hours in (it spans five days) — and 230 miles away from where the U.S. bishops are currently on retreat at Mundelein Seminary, just outside Chicago (why we had the bishop of Portsmouth on duty). As most of us arrived, 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 in the Church in the world is in no small way these young people, longing for Heaven for themselves and their friends and their family and willing to spend their Christmas break to do something about it – to commit themselves to something more, something greater, to God alone.
This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.