SEEK 2023: ‘It is good that you exist’
By Father Mark McCormick
Director, Office of Vocations
The first part of January, I was blessed to travel with thirty-five college students and FOCUS Missionaries from South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (SD Mines, Rapid City) and Black Hills State University (BHSU, Spearfish) to be part of the SEEK 2023 Conference in St. Louis, MO.
The SEEK conference is sponsored by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, who by the way are celebrating their 25th anniversary of vigorously recruiting, training, and sending young Catholic missionaries onto college and university campuses to evangelize and draw their hearts to Christ, by proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus to them, mainly through Bible studies, confession, Eucharist and adoration.
This was the first time that the SEEK Conference was held in person since the Covid 19 pandemic shut down everything in 2020. There were more than 17,000 college students, adults, parishioners, ministry leaders, priests, seminarians and religious sisters and brothers. It was an amazing, awe-inspiring, spirit-filled week, packed with talks, prayer, and fellowship. There were several groups from Canada, Germany, and Austria as well.
The theme for this year’s SEEK conference was “You are called,” taken from the Gospel of Mk 10:49 — “Fear not; rise, he is calling you.” We were challenged to stand up, dust ourselves off, and to thrive in Jesus’ abundant presence in our lives.
St. John Paul the Great was the patron saint of this year’s SEEK conference. We were reminded that 24 years earlier Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass for over 100,000 people in the very dome in which this year’s SEEK conference was being held. As we celebrated Mass every day, I couldn’t help but think of St. John Paul II, knowing that all the altar furnishings were the same ones that he used 24 years earlier. In my prayer and in my imagination, I could see Pope John Paul II with us during the Masses at SEEK. A Holy Spirit moment!
Father Chris Martin, a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, was one of the lucky seminarians, at the time, whose name was drawn out of the hat, to be one of the servers to the papal Mass, in January of 1999. Fr. Martin recalled his experience at SEEK “With John Paul II, he just had this charismatic aura about him, that where he went, there was this energy … and he was really an inspiration to pursue the faith, to love Jesus and to strive for greatness. You saw the courage and faithfulness of him, and it just inspired you in your own life to say, ‘I want to try to become a saint as well.”
Each day we had several amazing keynote speakers including: Paul J. Kim, Chika Anyanwu, Fr. Mike Schmitz, Sr. Bethany Madonna, SV, Hillary Draftz, Sr. Miriam James Heidland, SOLT, Fr. Joshua Johnson, Curtis Marin, Edward Siri, and Jason Evert. My favorite address was by Sr. Miriam James, in which she reminded us repeatedly “It is good that you exist” as she quoted from the late Pope Benedict’s Principles of Catholic Theology.
“If an individual is to accept himself, someone must say to him: ‘It is good that you exist’ — must say it, not with words, but with that act of the entire being that we call love,” said Sr. Miriam. She reminded us of the fact that, “Jesus is not embarrassed of you, he knows you and he sees you and he loves you, and he says that it is good that you exist. No matter what words of despair we might internalize from the world, Jesus is always there to remind us of the truth, she said. This is the good news: That wherever you find yourself this evening, Christ the Bridegroom is singing his song of songs over you, and he is intensely interested in every detail of your life.” I challenge you to say to one another as many times as you can with great love — “it is good that you exist.”
I also enjoyed Fr. Agustino Torres, CFR, one of the speakers for the men’s session. He was speaking about having true freedom in Christ. At one point in his talk, he encouraged all the men, to look around and to find a priest and say to that priest “Lead us to freedom. Lead us to Christ. We will follow you.” I was overwhelmed by these young men looking at me, saying to me with great gusto “Fr. Mark, lead us to freedom. Lead us to Christ. We will follow you.” The next thing I knew I was standing on a chair, instead of a horse like Mel Gibson in “Brave Heart” yelling at the top of my lungs “FREEDOM! FREEDOM! FREEDOM!”
It was a great joy to journey to St. Louis for SEEK 2023 with our college students from BHSU and SD Mines, reminding them that it is good that they exist and that each one of them should fear not, for they are called to thrive in Jesus.