God has work to do right here, right now — and He doesn’t want to do it without you, Father Mike Schmitz told about 900 people gathered for the SEEK First event Oct. 1 at Vianney High School.
SEEK First previewed the Fellowship of Catholic University Students’ (FOCUS) upcoming national conference, SEEK 2023, which will be held in St. Louis from Jan. 2-6. Father Mike, the director of youth and young adult ministry in the Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota, and the host of the popular “Bible in a Year” podcast, gave the keynote talk at the Oct. 1 event and will return for the conference in January.
In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 5, Jesus is both patient and pushy as He calls Simon Peter to follow Him, Father Mike said. First, Jesus simply asks if He can get into Simon’s boat.
“For some of us this afternoon, that’s all Jesus is asking — can I get in your boat? Are you willing to take me with you into your day?” Father Mike said.
Next, Jesus asks Simon to push off from shore; then, He tells Simon to cast his fishing nets into the water again, despite having caught nothing for the past several hours.
“When Jesus says, ‘Lower your nets into the deep,’ He’s not asking Simon to do anything he doesn’t already know how to do,” Father Mike said.
Simon’s nets fill with so many fish that his boat is in danger of sinking under the weight. He falls to his knees, calls Jesus “Lord,” and tells Jesus to depart because he is not worthy. Instead, Jesus tells Simon to follow Him.
“Sometimes the thing that we think disqualifies us from Jesus is actually the thing that has paved the way for Jesus to be able to speak to our hearts. Our failures don’t disqualify us — in so many ways, our failures open the way for Jesus to say, ‘Let me step in,’” Father Mike said. “This day is not just an invitation to an event — it’s an invitation to the rest of your life. And no one here is disqualified.”
While the SEEK conference started as a national gathering for college students, it has since expanded to include the “Making Missionary Disciples” track for any adults and a Ministry Track for campus and parish ministry leaders. This year will be the first in-person SEEK Conference since 2019; in 2021 and 2022, the conference was virtual, offering the chance for campuses and parishes to host local gatherings and view livestreamed talks.
The Making Missionary Disciples track is designed for anyone who wants to learn how to be a witness of the Gospel in everyday life, said Eileen Piper, FOCUS vice president of lifelong mission.
The track “is not theoretical; it is practical,” Piper said. “It’s not just more information about what the vision is for being a missionary disciple; it’s really rolling up our sleeves and saying, ‘This is how you do it.’”
Tammy Chumley, associate director of evangelization and discipleship for the archdiocese, attended a SEEK Conference with Father Anthony Yates when she was coordinator of evangelization at St. Francis of Assisi Parish. After the conference, they used what they learned about accompaniment and the power of personal relationships and invitations to start small groups at the parish, with the goal of each person in turn inviting more in.
“(We saw) the power of one person, how the ripple effect starts with one person discipling another, and then another after another,” Chumley said. “It’s not just about this one event — it’s about providing an encounter with the Lord. And as we share these encounters, the goal is to disciple people and bring them into the mission, too.”
Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski encouraged those gathered at SEEK First to continue to look for ways to live as true disciples of Jesus. Personal, face-to-face connections are especially important in our age of technology and isolation, he said.
“We’re here today because we love the faith that God has planted in our hearts,” Archbishop Rozanski said. “We love the faith that animates us and fills us with the Holy Spirit. And that’s not something we keep to ourselves — it’s something that we share.”
>> SEEK 2023
The national SEEK Conference, presented by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, will be held Jan. 2-6 at America’s Center Convention Complex in downtown St. Louis. The conference includes tracks for college students, ministry leaders and parishioners and will feature Catholic speakers, dedicated prayer time, fellowship and entertainment.
Participants in the Archdiocese of St. Louis can receive a discount of $260 on a full event pass, bringing the cost to $349 for the five-day conference. Use code ARCHSTL23 when registering. Individual day passes are also available.
To learn more about the event schedule and speakers, and to register, visit seek.focus.org.