"It's going to more than a quarter mile from the entrance to the altar."
That was my introduction to what Mass with 17,000 Catholic university students from all over the country (and even the world) would be like at SEEK2019, presented by FOCUS.
The scale of a conference like SEEK -- 17,000+ people, 90+ students from my own campus, 500 priests, thousands of Confessions -- is both remarkable and nearly incomprehensible. At a time when we are constantly being told young people have no time for or interest in God and witnessing so many departures from the faith (especially the Catholic Church), FOCUS continues to grow and our ministry to IU students has increased almost exponentially the last few years. Moreover, the sheer scale of SEEK witnesses to the thirst every soul, even those confused, ashamed, and scared, have for God and His Church.
At this year's conference, the tagline was "Encounter Something More." For every attendee, this line had limitless meaning. Encounter something more in the Eucharist... in your campus community ... in God... in Confession... in a conversion of heart and mind... the list goes on.
Therein lies the beauty of the conference and our Catholic faith: God, in His infinitude, has something for each of us uniquely. There is a love, a unique act of love, and it is me. For each of us, no matter where we have been or what we have done, God loves you, embraces you as His beloved, and calls you to more.
On a practical level, this means our response to God's love is as simple and individual as His love is for us. My encounter with something more leads me to more -- one more, in fact. As impressive as the 17,000 is, the Church started with 12. The 12 encountered something more in Christ Jesus then went about sharing it with others, often one at a time.
In Acts 8, Philip encounters an Ethiopian eunuch along the side of the road reading from the prophet Isaiah. He sits with him, explains to him how all that was prophesied was realized in Jesus Christ, baptizes him, then sends him on his way. That one man went home and converted a nation.
During SEEK, I was truly impressed how, especially at all of the keynote talks, the importance of one-on-one, personal ministry and authentic friendship is the foundation of all we do in mission. We are sent by a person, Jesus Christ, to a person, whoever that may be. It reminds me (as so many things in ministry do) of the priest who told me years ago, "I became a priest to help one person." To college me, it seemed pathetic. To Dominican priest and campus minister me, it seems incredibly ambitious and perfect.
Christ invites us everyday in the Eucharist, in Confession, in prayer, in our every day lives to encounter something more and to share it in an intimate, personal way; just as He has shared Himself with me.
I don't know how SEEK2019 will impact our ministry and our campus. I do know, though, so many of our students have, in fact, encountered more, have done so in a community ready to walk with them, and now have the opportunity to take the next step.
For the one, it was all worth it.
Fr. Patrick is a Dominican priest and the Campus Minister.