There’s a major challenge facing young seminarians on the path to priesthood: a society that has intentionally rooted out Christianity. The age of Christendom is no more.
Seminarians from across the country attending the SEEK 2023 conference discussed that topic and more in a special programming track designed for them. That included speakers with the Making Missionary Disciples track, as well as special times for seminarians to gather, pray and socialize with one another. Afternoon sessions highlighted the special role of the priesthood in missionary life.
The seminarians heard from Msgr. James Shea, president of the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota, and author of “From Christendom to Apostolic Mission: Pastoral Strategies for an Apostolic Age,” who spoke to them about mission in an Apostolic Age.
Msgr. Shea told the seminarians that the story our culture is telling is unsatisfying, but it’s the one people are talking about: Science is the only thing that gives us the answers we need.
“He encouraged us to push against that current and pointed us toward finding the places where science can’t provide all the answers,” said Samuel Gerbic, a second-year pre-theology seminarian at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary. “And to invite the Lord into those questions of ‘Why? What does it mean? What is death and what is life after death?’”
Msgr. Shea also encouraged them to “tell a better story. The better story being our story of salvation,” said Gerbic, who served as a FOCUS missionary before entering the seminary.
Benjamin Eusterbrock, a freshman at Cardinal Glennon College, said Msgr. Shea told them one of the biggest challenges in Catholicism is being past the age of Christendom, where human societies have been based on Christian worldview.
“Our world has rooted that out very intentionally, so now Christianity is on the outskirts … which brings about a whole new challenge that we haven’t experienced before,” said Eusterbrock, a graduate of St. Dominic High School in O’Fallon.
Eusterbrock said he’s learning the importance of reaching people through matters of the heart moreso than winning people over intellectually.
“The biggest way I am able to evangelize right now is simply showing the joy that I have in my faith and the freedom I am experiencing as I am pursuing Christ.” he said. “I am learning how to have conversations with people, and showing that simple joy. People don’t really know that they’re unsatisfied, but then when they see us with this joy that we have, it’s very attractive.”
Prior to the SEEK conference, Kenrick-Glennon seminarians received a visit from Sister Miriam James Heidland, SOLT, and Father John Burns, who spoke to them about the importance of being extensions of God to others that week. That inspired Eusterbrock to have more than just the mindset of an attendee, but also to reach out to others attending the conference.
“I’ve gone and found people maybe sitting by themselves and asking how they’re doing,” he said. “It’s ministering to them in a simple way, just by getting to know somebody. In doing so, I have received more than just thinking about this conference for myself.”
Gerbic became a FOCUS missionary after his experience as a student at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, where he said he had challenges finding a strong Catholic presence. He wanted to live a holy life in community with other young people striving for holiness, and in doing so discovered a calling to accompany other young people on the same journey in pursuing the Lord through
In his two years as a missionary at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, Gerbic said he learned about the beauty of conversion, which he described as the Lord working in a person’s heart. As a missionary, he had the privilege of extending those invitations to others to become closer to the Lord.
“The Lord has made this invitation, but people haven’t heard it,” Gerbic said. “I get to speak the Lord’s invitation in words they can hear and understand, so they can find in their heart what He has already put there.”