One of the best aspects of my position as vocation director is the opportunity to meet so many different people who are dedicated to the Church and her mission throughout the United States. Earlier this year, I attended the biannual SEEK Conference held in Indianapolis. SEEK is the convention for the FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) missionaries who are on campuses in colleges and universities. Every two years, they gather with many of those students who are involved with their mission. About 17,000 people attended the conference. Daily Mass, perpetual adoration and inspiring talks by eminent Catholic theologians and speakers were the highlights of the five-day event.
A personal blessing was to be with nearly 400 priests from all over the country. The conversations with my brothers after Mass or before listening to one of the speakers were such an edifying part of my time there and a reminder of the universal brotherhood we priests share. It was wonderful being with so many seminarians as well. On Sunday, a seminarian from Baton Rouge pulled me aside and asked if I could bring Communion to one of his classmates who was sick and could not make it to Mass. I arranged with the sacristans to get the Blessed Sacrament, and accompanied by a few other seminarians, brought it to the young man. It was a surreal experience carefully carrying the Eucharist through the convention center and then to his room. I never expected to be presiding at a Communion service in a hotel room, but there I was. You never know as a priest from one day or one moment to the next how the Lord is going to use you to bring His grace and Presence to those in need of it.
The daily liturgies were reverent and beautiful. With so many priests in attendance, the opening procession would take nearly 15 minutes. It was extraordinary to hear all of us with one voice echo the words of Jesus during the Eucharistic Prayer. Equally impressive was the silence observed during the Mass. During periods of quiet, the only thing that could be heard was the ventilation system. The experience of thousands of college students devoutly praying was both uplifting and encouraging. During the recessional at the end of Mass one morning, I noticed that Dr. Scott Hahn, who gave one of the keynotes, had positioned himself near the aisle where the priests were so that he could record on his cellphone all of us walking out. I thought to myself, “Here is one of the most famous and brilliant Catholic scholars in the world recording us!”
It was a good thing there were so many priests in attendance at the conference because the next-to-last night the Sacrament of Confession was made available to all those in attendance. There had been confessions heard throughout the week, but that night, like the 3,000 on Pentecost Sunday who rose to get baptized, thousands of these young people approached the mercy of the Lord to receive grace and forgiveness. It seemed like the stream of students entering the large area designated for the sacrament would never end. All week these young people had their consciences more perfectly formed and their hearts opened to the Truth of the faith, and now they were approaching the Throne of Grace to encounter the One they had been learning about all week.
There are many today who think the Church is in decline or that young people are no longer interested in faith or religion. No one at SEEK would have thought that. One of the incredible blessings there was that in the large space dedicated for adoration was the relic of the heart of St. John Vianney, patron saint of parish priests. With the prayers of saints like him to inspire us, and the wisdom of today’s great theologians to teach us, there will always be guiding lights for those who seek the Truth.