It is good that you exist.
Quoting the late Pope Benedict XVI, Sister Miriam James Heidland, SOLT, repeated those words again and again during her Wednesday evening keynote talk on day three of the SEEK 2023 conference. “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,” she read from Pope Benedict’s “Principles of Catholic Theology.”
Tonight, and every day, Jesus wants to love us exactly as we are, Sister Miriam said.
“Jesus is not embarrassed of you,” she said. “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,” she said.
Father Josh Johnson, vocation director for the Diocese of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, continued the keynote by asking how each of us will respond to Jesus’ love.
“To be saints — that is the invitation from Jesus to every single one of us in this room,” Father Josh said.
Recounting the journey of St. Peter in the Gospels, no matter how many times we walk away from Jesus, He always seeks us out to call us back, Father Josh said. And if we are willing to make our hearts open and vulnerable to Jesus, He will walk with us as we draw ever closer to Him.
“If we can give our heart to Jesus, our wounds to Jesus, our sins to Jesus, we too can become the saints Jesus invites us to be,” Father Josh said.
In addition to the 17,000 SEEK participants, about 2,000 more people from the Archdiocese of St. Louis joined the conference for Wednesday’s evening keynotes and eucharistic adoration. Parishioners from the archdiocese were invited to spend Wednesday night at SEEK as part of the ongoing Eucharistic Revival, a three-year grassroots revival of devotion and belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
Co-workers in the Lord
Prior to the Wednesday evening keynotes, 500 people from the archdiocese gathered for fellowship at a reception hosted by the Office of Evangelization and Discipleship.
Evangelization is the mission shared not just by bishops, priests or missionaries, but by every member of the body of Christ, Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanksi told those gathered. Especially as the archdiocese continues in the All Things New pastoral planning process, the Lord “always gives us the grace to be able to do the ministry and mission that we’re called to do,” he said.
“We are truly co-workers in the Lord,” he said. “Evangelization happens because of all of us, loving our faith and sharing our faith.”
Participating in the SEEK conference is a wonderful “mountaintop” experience, he said. But like the apostles, after witnessing the Transfiguration of the Lord, we must return to our daily lives to share what we’ve learned.
“Each one of us, we might have to come down from Mount Tabor at the end of the SEEK conference,” Archbishop Rozanksi said. “And Jesus reminds us, that’s where the real work of evangelization is done.”
Thahn Nguyen attended the Wednesday evening reception. It was her first evening at SEEK, and she wanted to come to hear the keynote speakers and participate in eucharistic adoration.
Nguyen attends Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in New Melle and is going through the archdiocese’s Lay Formation Program. She said she would like to put her gifts to use teaching young people and adults about the Catholic faith.
“I want to teach kids and adults who want to become Catholic,” she said. “I really like studying the catechism and the Bible. The lay formation is so useful for me.”
Ngozi Ufochukwu of Immaculate Conception Parish in Dardenne Prairie learned about SEEK through her parish. “I saw that, and I thought, ‘OK I think I have to be here,’” she said. Evangelization means “telling people about God, and trying to bring them closer to God by our way of life. I have to be an example for people if I want to evangelize.”
A group of Lindenwood University students who attended the archdiocese’s reception said the conference was a motivator to keep evangelizing on campus and beyond. Grace Marshall, a senior and president of the Catholic Newman Center at Lindenwood, said evangelization includes being able to have a conversation with someone and ask questions about what they believe in order to find common ground.
“If you don’t know where you’re starting from … you have to have that foundation,” Marshall said.
High school teens, youth ministers and alumni attended a reception Wednesday evening hosted by Life Teen before attending the keynote speakers and eucharistic adoration. Earlier in the day, Mark Hart, Catholic speaker and chief innovation officer with Life Teen International, gave a talk to SEEK participants on the top five secrets of effective evangelization.
Ethan Hulte, a high school senior who attends Immaculate Conception in Dardenne Prairie, has been involved with Life Teen at his parish since middle school. He was eager to attend adoration at SEEK, thinking about a similar experience at the Steubenville youth conference. Growing closer to the Lord through the Eucharist, he said, is one way in which he plans to sustain his faith as he enters adulthood.
Nina Fanara, a senior at Fort Zumwalt West, became involved in Life Teen at Immaculate Conception in middle school, too. She described an experience at a Luke 18 retreat as an impactful moment and fell in love with the faith community she found there. Last summer, she attended a Life Teen leadership program.
“I ventured out more and learned through Life Teen … how I can pray more to myself and how to trust myself,” she said. “I’m leaving for college next year, and knowing I can go to the chapel anytime I want that sense of home.”
Holy friendships are another way to sustain his faith, Ethan noted. “That is a really big part of my life right now,” he said. “Having those deep, faith-based friendships you can always rely on. And growing closer to the Lord through the Eucharist. Trying to love Him through everything that you do.”
Cathy Pescarino, who joined Immaculate Conception as director of youth ministry last year, said she is blown away by the courageousness of the teens she has encountered through ministry.
There is a great “love for the Lord, and their courageousness through all they have been through … the pandemic and coming out of that,” said Pecscarino, who returned to youth ministry after several years of a hiatus. “There’s such a difference in our young people and all they are shouldering. They are fierce. They’re like hey, let’s go to Mass every day at a different church this week — this was in the summer. They were the ones asking me to do that.”
>> Evangelization 101 Workshops
The archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Discipleship is hosting free Evangelization 101 workshops throughout the archdiocese this spring. This workshop will help parishioners learn the basic skills often associated with evangelization and the confidence to accompany others and proclaim the Good News.
The workshop will be held in each of the 15 planning areas from 9 a.m.-noon on Saturday mornings. The content will be the same at each workshop, so plan to attend just one. For more information and to register, visit archstl.org/evangelization.
Feb. 11: Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis
Feb. 11: St. Joseph in Cottleville
Feb. 25: St. James in Potosi
March 4: St. Joseph in Imperial
March 4: St. Cletus in St. Charles
March 18: St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in south St. Louis County
March 18: Holy Spirit in Maryland Heights
March 18: Sacred Heart in Troy
March 25: St. Gerard Majella in Kirkwood
March 25: Immaculate Conception in Union
April 1: Ste. Genevieve in Ste. Genevieve
April 1: St. Francis Xavier “College” Church
April 15: Holy Infant in Ballwin
April 15: St. Raphael the Archangel in south St. Louis
April 22: Sacred Heart in Florissant
Catholic speaker and author Mark Hart of Life Teen International gave his top five tips for evangelization during an impact session Jan. 4 at the SEEK conference.
1. Be bold: Have you been bold with others beyond your closest friends and family? Are you bold about your faith with the bus driver, or the flight attendant or the server at the restaurant? “It is pre-eminent and necessary,” said Hart. “We need this in our culture.”
2. Be joyful: It’s easy to not have a sense of joy. Joy is a calling card, a billboard for Catholicism. We have to live our lives, but we need to place a priority on exuding joy to others.
3. Be submissive: In Acts, the Holy Spirit prevented St. Paul and Silas from preaching in Asia. Are you so in tune with the Holy Spirit that we allow Him to blow up our best-laid plans? A sign of health is a willingness to be submissive to the will of the Holy Spirit. This comes through a well-developed prayer life, Hart said.
4. Be aware: It’s easy to check out. Hart shared a scenario in which he noticed many people at an airport focusing on their phones. “We used to have conversations and now it’s silence,” he said. We need to be aware that God is putting people in our paths all the time. Use that awareness to make connections with others.
5. Be proactive: If you woke up with air in your lungs today, that means God is not finished with you yet. The cross teaches us to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. It all begins with a daily examen. Ask God: How did I do today? And God, give me the grace to be better tomorrow. “You have a mission today,” he said. “When you wake up with that mission mindset, that mission focus, and whoever God is putting in my path today, whatever their belief system … you are called to be Christ.”
>> SEEK 2024:
SEEK24 will take place January 1 – 5, 2024 in St. Louis. To register, visit: https://seek.focus.org/seek24/#register