by John Heuertz
Special to The Leaven
ATCHISON — “As St. Benedict evangelized his culture in the world he lived in, as Pope Benedict XVI took his name to evangelize his culture, so you must do likewise.
“Go set the world on fire!” urged Curtis Martin in his Nov. 1 address to a large audience of Benedictine College students at St. Benedict’s Abbey church in Atchison.
In his speech, entitled “Go Set the World on Fire,” Martin explored the idea that God’s love is like a fire that can spread from God to those who love him, and then from those people to other people — an insight into God’s providence with very deep roots in Catholic tradition.
He mentioned the Desert Fathers’ analogy of God’s love to a fire and the soul to a cold, hard iron beam that the fire can make so hot it can spread fire itself.
In the 14th century, the great Dominican mystic and doctor of the church St. Catherine of Siena taught: “If you are as you are meant to be, you will set the world on fire,” Martin continued.
And in the 16th century, St. Ignatius of Loyola talked to his followers about what it meant to be a soldier for Christ, and sent them forth to “go set the world on fire.”
“The world is waiting for you to become what God has intended you to be from before the beginning of the world,” Martin concluded. “There is no backup plan for you.”
The means he proposed is called FOCUS — the Fellowship of Catholic University Students.
Martin is co-founder and the guiding spirit behind FOCUS, a Catholic college campus outreach program that first saw the light of day at Benedictine in 1998.
After several years of prayer and study, Martin concluded by the late 1990s that Catholic outreach by and to American Catholic college students was a practical answer to Pope John Paul II’s call to a new evangelization of the world.
Dr. Edward Sri, a friend and like-minded Catholic intellectual teaching at Benedictine, invited Martin to present his ideas at Benedictine in 1997.
Martin was enthusiastically received, and he and his wife Michaelann, along with Sri, established FOCUS’ pilot program at Benedictine the following January with two staff members and 24 students.
The following April, Martin got to meet Pope John Paul II in person and describe his hope and vision for FOCUS.
Perhaps befitting an army officer’s son, the Holy Father told Martin, “Be soldiers!”
That autumn, FOCUS was established at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley at the invitation of then-Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver.
“No one does a more dynamic job of reaching college students for Christ than FOCUS,” the archbishop said.
Using Campus Crusade for Christ as a model, FOCUS sends missionary teams to campuses around the country to lead Bible studies and help local student leaders develop discipleship relationships among students.
A missionary team is usually comprised of at least two men and two women who volunteer to work full time for two years at a university.
Teams operate at the invitation of the local bishop and with the support of the local pastor.
FOCUS now serves over 2,000 students on 58 U.S. college and university campuses in 22 states, including Benedictine and the University of Kansas in Lawrence.
Martin concluded his remarks by observing: “The Catholic Church has never shrunk in any century, although it has been pruned dramatically in your lifetime.”
“But pruning always comes before an explosion of growth,” he said. “Let’s pray for one another that we will be zealous.”