Wednesday, January 26, 2011

FOCUS Conference 2011 - Answering the Call

This past weekend, I attended the FOCUS Conference in Baltimore, MD. For those of you who aren't familiar with FOCUS, it is the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, and it is an organization dedicated to the new evangelization. They send out dynamic teams of missionaries to college campuses throughout the nation to engage students in discussion about faith, start Bible studies, and bring students home to Christ throughout those very difficult and tempting college years.

Someday, I hope to be a diving board model.
There's only one way to describe the conference experience: AMAZING times ten. Really. My personal experience was very introspective, where light was suddenly shed on a lot of things about which I have been praying. No one can doubt the presence of the Holy Spirit at the conference... but what else can you expect when you put about 1500 college students and young adults in the same place to worship Christ? I feel like this always makes God preeeeeeetty happy - to see young people in love with His son.

One of the best parts of the conference was the opportunity to hear so many amazing speakers. They each centered on the theme of "Answering the Call." I got a lot out of each of the talks, although sometimes I think I missed parts of their talks due to something they said that sent me off hurriedly scribbling away in my journal. Like I said, an introspective experience for me in many ways - the Holy Spirit was busy at work!

**Long blog post awaits all ye who enter... ye be warned**


She should wear a superhero cape.
Lila Rose - I was pumped when I found out she was speaking at conference, because I have watched many of her undercover videos on Youtube. Lila is a recent college graduate and convert to Catholicism that has answered the call to pro-life activism through starting Live Action. She goes into Planned Parenthood clinics across the country posing as an underage teenager who has discovered she's pregnant, and the video she's gotten... well, let's just say that people should be getting into WAY more trouble than they are.

She gave a lot of interesting - and frightening - facts about abortion. Like the fact that there's an abortion in our country every 23 seconds. Or the fact that ONE-THIRD of my generation has been the victim of abortion. ONE. THIRD. Can you believe it? I can only begin to imagine the great things that could have been accomplished by now if we didn't live in a culture of death.

One of the most profound things she said was a prayer that she says she prayed many years ago, and still does today. I want to be used by you, Lord. Tell me what you want me to do. Teach me to love you more. Show me what to do and help me act. She admitted that this is a dangerous prayer - look where it's gotten her! - but that it's what we are designed for.

You're gonna wanna buy this album.
Audrey Assad - What a beautiful musician! Audrey Assad was absolutely amazing - it was like an intimate concert despite the fact that our setting was a conference hall in a hotel. Her music was so full of emotion and personality, giving each listener insight into her personal faith journey. She shared with us about her awkward school years, how she was the girl that was way more into band than normal - hello, that was basically me. She worked through her awkwardness and struggles with life, faith, and love through music - so it's something to which we can all relate in some way or another.

After the concert, I was able to buy her album, where I got to tell her thanks for her music as she signed my CD insert! Let's just say that I've pretty much listened to nothing but her album since I got home from conference. My favorite song off of her album is "Restless", which is based on writings by St. Augustine, who said, I am restless 'til I rest in you. The song is simple, but incredibly beautiful.

I think the best thing that I got out of listening to her perform was that while she was singing, my mind started to wander and take off, leading me through thoughts that I've been trying to unlock for months. Thankfully, I had my trusty prayer journal with me... which is probably why I got a couple of strange stares from the people next to me as I furiously wrote before my thoughts got locked up again. Probably the most productive concert I've ever attended in my life.

"I want YOU to answer the call!"
Jeremy Rivera - Jeremy spoke on spiritual gifts and how to discover and use them for what God intends you to do. He said a lot of profound things. One of my favorites was when he asked all the full-time ministers to raise their hands. Priests and the FOCUS missionaries raised their hands. Then he asked everyone to raise their hands, saying that this response was the answer to the next question: Will all the full-time ministers raise their hands? He made the point that we are all in full-time ministry, just some of us are in disguise as teachers, students, construction workers, etc. What a great thing to tell college students - we are ALL full-time ministers! If even half of us go out from that and are even just part-time ministers - think of all the lives that can be touched. Some other great things he brought up:

  • When you're operating within your gifts and passions, weariness is low and effectiveness is high.
  • Where do we begin to answer the call?
    • What are you passionate about? What brings you alive? The word passion means to suffer, so are you willing to suffer for what you think your passions are?
    • What are your spiritual gifts? If we start serving in our communities and churches, our gifts will start to bubble to the surface.
    • What are your previous job experiences? What did you learn from them, and can you answer the call through them?
  • Don't compare yourself to others, because each of us has a place in the Lord's plan. Don't judge others, but don't belittle yourself either.
  • Evangelization is just one bum telling another bum where to find food. We are all broken, in need of a Savior.
Again, the floodgates of my brain and heart were once again opened while he talked. Let the furious scribbling ensue once again.

Jesuits are smart. He's no exception.
Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J. - Fr. Spitzer spoke on the historical proof of Jesus. I think the most interesting part of his talk was how he started - by giving us six questions to ask people who believe in God but question His authority and awesomeness in sending His only son to save us all.

Q: What is the greatest power that you have, a power of human beings that brings good into the world?
A: LOVE! The power of empathy, where doing good for others is easier than doing good for ourselves.

Q: If you have this power, do you think the Creator is devoid of love?
A: NO! God must have at least some love.

Q: Do you just want some love, or do you want infinite, unconditional love?
A: Through our relationships with others here on Earth, we all long for unconditional love from others. We all long to receive it and desire to love in that way as well. Could this be the meaning of life? Intriguing thought...

Q: Do you believe that the Creator could be devoid of unconditional love?
A: No, not if this kind of love is what we all long for.

Q: If God is, or is capable of, unconditional love, what would He be like? Would He want to be with you, not just spiritually, but physically? Would He be Emmanuel, "God with us"?
A: Just like when we love another person unconditionally, we want to be with that person, in his or her presence. This is what God also wants, to be in our presence in a perfect act of humility. Not just spiritually, but physically.

Q: Is Jesus the One?
A: YES! God the Father can seem way up there sometimes - distant - but Jesus is about God having infinite affection, humility, and love for each human being.

Whew! A logical progression of thought can lead to Truth. Good thing God gave us the power to reason as well as to love!

He also brought up the point that Christianity experience geometric growth proportional to the degree in which is was persecuted in the early Church. This growth is different from every other Messianic movement... why? Because the resurrection gave hope to the disciples and because of the Holy Spirit. Would you die for something that was a hoax, that you didn't believe in with your entire being? I wouldn't, and neither would the disciples and the many martyrs throughout history. People look for evidence of Christ's resurrection - you don't really have to look very far.

Whoa. (stupid surfer voice)
Chris Stefanick - This man walked out onto the stage and started playing classic rock licks on his guitar. What are we about to hear...? is what a lot of us were thinking, I'm sure. Well, we were in for a ride - but a good one. He is filled with love for God, but has a way of sharing Truth and catechizing in a very dynamic and hip way. He had the best one-liners, and he had the entire crowd cracking up one second and then "Aww"-ing at a picture of his baby girl the next. Some of the best thoughts and one-liners:
  • Reverence is when you stand back from something and feel WOW. But the closer you get, the more familiar it is. We get used to the most amazing things - i.e. GOD - and then they don't seem so amazing anymore. God is the creator of the universe... we should be saying WOW!
  • "Atheism is dumb... it's like the flea denying that the dog exists."
  • "You're telling me the Big Bang big banged itself billions of years ago?"
  • We need to step back as if we've never heard or seen this before and say, "Whoa." ... like a stupid surfer would say it.
  • The world gets a picture of "Happy Jesus" in their heads, especially with difficult teachings. The world thinks something is harsh and asks WWJD... "Well, have you read the Bible? He made the comfortable very uncomfortable."
  • Jesus taught that he is God. He's either God or had the biggest ego in history.
This guy is a hilarious, rock guitar playing saint! Can you imagine if he were canonized hundreds of years in the future - the card on your refrigerator would be him with his guitar going "ROCK ON!" Here's just a taste of his talk. If you ever get a chance to see him in person - do it.

His Dad-of-8-look: "You better answer the call, or else!"
Curtis Martin - No, I'm not talking about the former NFL running back (thanks Wikipedia!). I'm talking about Curtis Martin, the founder of FOCUS! I've heard him speak on Catholic Answers Live before, and so I was more than excited to hear him speak in person. His talk especially left an impact on me. Again, in the middle of his talk, I went off on a page and a half tirade in my own thoughts. I eventually came back around to catch the rest of his talk.

He told a joke (in a hilarious Italian accent!) that brought up the point that answering the call can be difficult sometimes - we pray for it and ask to know God's will, and then when we get an inkling of it, we blow it away.

Thank God he answered his calling and started FOCUS! He thought, "We live in a great but scary world - how can we solve this problem?" More Catholics! He quoted Pope Benedict XVI, who has said that evangelization serves the end that we address poverty in all forms. I've heard other people say that social justice issues wouldn't be issues if everyone knew Christ. No one would go hungry. No one would be abused. No one would live without a roof over their head.

He said that there are only three things that you need to live:

  1. To know God - to be in a relationship with Him (see CCC 1).
  2. To know God's plan for you - the only way to know His purpose for you is to know God.
  3. To go out and live that plan with zeal and passion.
He recommended that we all join him in the habit of prayer - so that we can become people who don't just walk with Christ every once in a while, but who will always know and walk with God.

What a privilege to hear him speak - you can tell that he is in love with his faith and hopes to spread it to as many people as possible. FOCUS seems to be doing a pretty good job so far - may it continue to grow exponentially!

Well, if you made it through my whole post, congratulations! You get 5,000 bonus points... that go towards something really cool. Trust me.


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