Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
I wish everyone in the Archdiocese could have had the opportunity to experience the SEEK 2015, a national conference for college students organized by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS).
SEEK 2015, attracting more than 9,500 participants, took place in Nashville, Tennessee, during the first days of January.
The founders of FOCUS are Curtis and Michaelann Martin. Curtis was raised Catholic, but fell away from Catholicism while in college, becoming an evangelical Christian. Eventually, rediscovering his Catholic faith, Curtis developed a burning desire not only to protect Catholic college students from losing their faith, but to help young Catholics to become so ardent in their own love for Jesus and his church that they would be motivated to evangelize other young people.
The basic model for FOCUS is to invite recent college graduates to donate two years of their life to be Catholic missionaries on college campuses. FOCUS missionaries are formed first of all to participate in Mass daily and to spend at least one hour in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. In prayer, they ask the Holy Spirit to lead them to those with whom Jesus wants them to share the Gospel.
FOCUS missionaries begin by befriending those that they discern Our Lord is calling them to evangelize. Eventually, they invite their new friends to join them in a Catholic Bible study group.
The missionaries identify one or two members of their Bible study whom they recognize as having a spiritual depth, as well as the potential to become leaders. The missionaries invest a lot of time discipling these student leaders, equipping them to draw others to Jesus and his bride, the church. Eventually, these student leaders begin to pray, asking the Lord to help them to discern those whom he is calling them to befriend and eventually become participants in a new Bible study group.
Curtis Martin has instilled in the philosophy of FOCUS the principle of what he terms “spiritual multiplication.” In other words, the FOCUS Bible studies are not intended to be self-perpetuating support groups for their original members, but always to have this outward impulse to begin new groups that are reaching more and more students.
FOCUS began in 1998 at Benedictine College in Atchison. At the time, there were four missionaries working on this one college campus. Today, there are more than 400 missionaries working on 100 campuses, including Harvard and the University of California in Berkley. The first FOCUS conference was held at Lake Perry with about 20 participants. Now, only 17 years later, there were more than 9,500 participants at SEEK 2015, with the vast majority from secular college campuses across the United States, but some even from Europe and Latin America.
By any measurement, this is extraordinary growth. A significant number of the SEEK 2015 participants were FOCUS missionaries, student leaders or FOCUS Bible study participants. However, many were not directly involved with FOCUS, but were attracted to the conference by friends and classmates who are engaged with FOCUS.
It is not at all surprising that Curtis Martin is a consultant for the Vatican’s commission on the new evangelization. FOCUS represents Catholic evangelization at its best. Curtis Martin’s aim with FOCUS was not just to reinvigorate the church’s presence on college campuses. It was not even just to rescue more young adults from losing their faith during their college years. An essential part of the mission of FOCUS is to develop a group of young Catholics who will be missionary disciples for the rest of their lives.
It is one of my earnest desires to imitate what FOCUS is doing on college campuses in our parishes. At every parish, there are a number of those who attend Mass on any given Sunday who are just marginally engaged with the church. The overcrowded Masses at Christmas and Easter reveal the potential of our parish communities.
It is my desire to empower already active parishioners to reach out effectively to those who are practicing the faith in a very minimalistic manner. Like the FOCUS missionaries, we need parishioners in prayer asking Jesus: Lord, who are you asking me to befriend and lead to a closer relationship with you and your church?
This is already happening in a very small way in a few of our parishes. Remember how small FOCUS was when it began 17 years ago.
It looked like a tiny mustard seed, to borrow an image from Jesus. I was given the privilege to be the principal celebrant for the Epiphany Sunday Mass at SEEK 2015. Looking out at the 9,500- plus participants, I could not help but marvel at what that tiny band of original FOCUS missionaries at Benedictine College had spawned.
FOCUS began right here in Kansas. I believe the Lord wants a new burst of evangelical energy to come forth from America’s Heartland. This new outpouring of the Holy Spirit is not to be restricted to college campuses, but is to penetrate the very core of our Catholic community — our parishes. It is time for a new Pentecost!