Really the new year couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. From Jan. 1-5, FOCUS hosted their national conference, SEEK, in Nashville, Tennessee. The tagline for the conference was “What Moves You?,” and the 107 students who attended from the University of Texas were moved in a mighty way.
SEEK’s purpose is to bring any sort of student to encounter Jesus Christ. Some students who attend are faithful Catholics who lead bible studies, are in discipleship, have a regular prayer life, etc. Other students who attend don’t even believe God exists. So every person’s experience at SEEK is different, because students are coming from vastly different places in their faith lives. A typical day at SEEK went like so:
9 a.m. – Mass
11 a.m. – Men’s and Women’s sessions. Obviously I wasn’t at the women’s sessions, so I don’t know what those were like, but the men’s sessions were very powerful. The first day, Dr. Jonathan Reyes spoke to the men about what true manhood is, about sacrifice, and being willing to lay down our lives to serve and protect others. He told us being a man means willing to be uncomfortable. The second day, Jason Evert spoke about chastity, and how the way we act now is training us for how we’ll act when we’re married or in a relationship. One of his best points was when he said that once we’re married, or once we enter into a relationship, we don’t just flip a switch and automatically become great boyfriends, husbands, or fathers. The habits we’re developing now will still be with us later. We can’t just wish them away. The final full day, Pat Lencioni, a prominent businessmen, spoke about living a faithful Catholic lifestyle in a secular world.
12:30 p.m. – Lunch and free time. We’d also have Greek-specific lunches, athlete-specific lunches, etc.
2:30 p.m. – First Impact session. Each of the three full days at SEEK, students had 8-10 different speakers to choose from when attending an impact session, and they were different each day. Topics ranged from what the Church teaches about drunkenness and marijuana use, to the problem of relativism, to the Biblical basis for the Mass, and many other topics in between.
4 p.m. – Second Impact Session.
5 p.m. – Dinner and free time.
7 p.m. – Keynote speaker. Fr. Mike Schmitz blew everyone’s mind the third night with his talk about John 6 (The Bread of Life Discourse), the apostles’ response to the Eucharist, and the impact of that chapter on the rest of Jesus’ ministry. The link to the talk is at the end of this post if you’d like to watch it.
9/10 p.m. – Entertainment. Christian singer Matt Maher and comedian Jim Gaffigan both performed, and another night’s entertainment was a country music dancing night with dance lessons. The third night of the conference, instead of entertainment, we had Eucharistic adoration and Reconciliation for 2 and a half hours following Fr. Mike’s keynote.
Adoration was awesome, and so many of the Texas students were profoundly moved by Jesus and the Holy Spirit during adoration. It was incredible for me to get to pray with all of them and see them being impacted to tears right there. My favorite part of SEEK was how I felt like a dad, in a very good way. During the agony in the garden in John 17, Jesus is praying and he says to God “Father, they (the apostles) are your gift to me.” That’s how I feel about the students at UT. Even the ones I don’t know that well, I still have a very deep love for them, because I really understood during adoration how they are God’s gift to me, and it was a greater gift than one I could have chosen on my own. How incredible it is that He decided to entrust these students to us five missionaries.
Another fantastic part about SEEK was the Masses. Everyday, between 50-100 priests and a few archbishops celebrated Mass, and I always get goosebumps watching that many priests processing in to celebrate Mass. The beauty of the Mass was so apparent at SEEK, especially in the music. Cellos, violins, and a beautiful choir moved many to tears. And guess who celebrated Sunday Mass? Kansas City’s very own Archbishop Naumann!
Thank you to everyone who prayed for the students going on SEEK, and thank you for your support of this mission. I hope y’all enjoyed your Christmas, and as always, know I am praying for you.
http://vimeo.com/115924659 (Fr. Mike’s talk)
Dear friends, family, mission partners, supporters, random people who stumbled upon this blog, welcome. As many of you know, I’m serving at the University of Texas (UT) as a missionary with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). So much is going to happen this year (so much already has happened), that I want this to be one of the places where I can share what I (and more importantly, God) have been doing down in Austin, Texas.
One of my favorite parts of the school year so far happened a couple weekends ago. UT, Texas State, and the University of Texas at Tyler hosted a Spiritual Impact Bootcamp at a lake house in Austin for about 50 students total from the three schools (about half of the students were from UT). The retreat is designed to bring retreatants healing from past sins or wounds that still affect them, help them encounter and learn more about the Holy Spirit, and allow them to begin to discover the gifts the Holy Spirit wants to give them.
Because this retreat is unlike most retreats any of the students had attended, not many of them knew what to expect, and some were pretty apprehensive. But on Saturday, we spent around five hours in adoration, students had the opportunity to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation, and they had the choice to be prayed with by members of the prayer team (of which I was a part of). It was extremely energizing for me to see how the Holy Spirit used me as a channel to send His grace and healing to the students.
Of course, that’s not the only highlight to share from my first few weeks in Austin. One of the most enjoyable times was before the school year began, when we had a team offsite retreat to the beach near Corpus Christi. In case you don’t know, I love the beach, and I was never typically able to get my fill of it when I was in Kansas.
Once school began, so did Fall Outreach. We’re blessed at Texas to have a large contingent of students involved at the University Catholic Center and that want to be active in outreach and evangelization to other students. Texas has about 50,000 students on campus, so there’s no way the five of us missionaries would be able to do all the outreach on our own. A few days before school began, we had a workshop at the Catholic Center for all returning students who were involved in FOCUS last year, and after we had a cookout at the female missionaries’ house. About 50 students came to the workshop, and it was invigorating to me to be able to see the number of students who were already on board with their faith and excited to continue to share it this year. It also meant I made about 50 new friends in one day, so that was pretty awesome.
During Fall Outreach, we also took the Catholic Center’s cardboard cutout of Pope Francis onto campus and invited students to take #popeselfies that we then posted on Instagram. It allowed for some great conversation that otherwise probably wouldn’t have happened, and so many students, whether they are Catholic or not, are really interested in the Pope. One other way we met students during the first week of school was by hosting a concert at one of the main spots on campus. The group was called Adam and I (their music is kind of in the same vein as Mumford and Sons), and so students who were walking by after class who we didn’t even know would stop and listen for a while.
One of our main outreach efforts was setting up tables on campus during the week and at the Catholic Center after Mass and inviting students to sign up for Bible studies. It was the first time our students had the opportunity to help us with our outreach efforts, and I was amazed by how enthusiastically they stepped up to help us out by tabling, inviting their friends, and talking with random students on campus. We didn’t have to plead with them to do it, they just did it with joy and by their own accord. About 350 new people signed up as being interested in a Bible study, and by now, most of those studies are up and running. I currently lead three Bible studies – one in Kappa Sigma Fraternity, one comprising a variety of Greek guys from a few different houses, and one for the guys whom I’m investing in and are leading Bible studies of their own.
But leading Bible studies isn’t the entirety of my job. I invest in what we call disciples, men who are looking to go deeper in their relationship with God. I want to help them develop their prayer life, so they can really know God on a personal level, and I want them to grow in their ability and confidence to share their Catholic faith with others. Right now, I’m going over intercessory prayer with a few of my disciples, and helping show them the power of praying for others. I’m helping prepare some of my other disciples to lead Bible study for the first time, while some of the other disciples I’m preparing to go deeper in their outreach beyond the Catholic center. Many students take on disciples of their own, and I’m challenging men to step up and be leaders in their faith, both now and in the future when they have a family, hold a job, have children, etc. I’m currently discipling six men (four of whom lead their own Bible studies), and also investing intentional time with a couple other students. One of the most rewarding parts of my job has been when two of those disciples went out of their way to call me and tell me how much they appreciate how I’ve helped challenge them to grow, confront their fears about living their faith, and they thanked me for being their friend and investing my time in them.
We’ve also had plenty of time for fun. Myself and the other first-year missionary at UT, Margaret, were invited by a couple of grad students to attend the first UT football game against North Texas in box seats. It was by far the largest stadium I’ve ever been in, as it’s about 20,000 seats bigger than Arrowhead. The city of Austin itself is massive. There’s a couple of lakes we’ve been out to, there’s so many food options (Mexican and Tex-Mex galore), and there’s always something you can find to do or a place you can go explore. Everyone says 6th St. in Austin is like Mass St. in Lawrence, but Rainey St. has been our favorite stretch of bars to go to. Each one has a different theme, and they all have their own unique atmosphere.
For those of you who are wondering what the day in the life of a missionary looks like, I’ll try to give you the outline of what my schedule looks like most days. Typically, we start with an hour of Eucharistic Adoration at 9 a.m., and the rest of the morning is for team meetings, having team breakfast, taking care of administrative business, etc., depending on the day. Mass is during the noon hour, and the afternoons are wide open for us to meet with our disciples, plan Bible studies, go out on campus (sometimes with our disciples) and strike up conversations with strangers, meet with students who might be interested in knowing more about the faith, and basically just being present to the students. Evenings are for Bible studies and taking time to relax or finish up any work we want to get to.
It’s hard for me to condense everything that’s happened so far into one reasonably-sized blog post, but hopefully this is a good start to knowing more about what my life in Austin looks like. To all of my family members, friends, mission partners or students, please know that I’m praying for all of you, and thank you for reading.