I was given the opportunity to attend FOCUS Conference my freshman year, exactly 3 years ago, and it essentially sealed the deal on my conversion, not only to Jesus, but to the Catholic faith. It all seemed to come down to two major points:
1. I got to hear the Church’s take on all of the hot-topic issues. Some of the most renowned Catholic names in the English language were there, from Matthew Kelly to Dr. Edward Sri, Curtis Martin to Fr. Benedict Groeschel. Theologically, everything was there. There was the Jewish convert, the Protestant convert, the atheist convert, and anything else that you could think of. I was able to hear so many different conversion stories and reasons for converting that a few really hit home with me. More than anything else, I never before had made the connection that Dr. Edward Sri made for me- if Jesus founded the Catholic Church, why would anyone want to be in any other church? It was as if a light bulb turned on above my head at that moment.
2. Perhaps the more moving part of FOCUS conference was the witness of thousands of college students on fire for Jesus. The conference actually took place over New Years Eve, and I remember us all kidding with each other of how much of a “rowdy” bunch we would be at this hotel. The next morning the staff of the hotel literally thanked us and told us that that was perhaps the easiest New Years Eve that they’ve ever had at the hotel. But don’t get me wrong, we had fun. We played so many ridiculous games, stayed up ridiculously late talking, randomly started beat boxing and rapping uber nerdy stuff, and got to meet other Catholic college students from all over the country and listen to their stories.
As us Illinois students gathered together for prayer at the end of a night, I remember a handful actually crying. I was pretty confused, shouldn’t they be happy? But I soon realized why they were crying: these were tears of joy. A few of my fellow participants had never experienced the love of God in such a tangible way before, and it was overpowering for them. The Holy Spirit was moving so powerfully during that conference, opening up hearts and renewing them. We had a wonderful opportunity for confession, and I remember the line going as far as I could see in the conference center. And this wasn’t a line of grandparents, this was a group of THOUSANDS of COLLEGE KIDS in line for confession. #mindblown It was such a powerful witness to see that we all struggle with similar issues, and only Jesus has the power to forgive and renew us. We learned how much Jesus desires to offer us forgiveness, just like the woman caught in adultery story (John 8:1-11). So confession isn’t a guilt trip, but rather an opportunity for forgiveness: freely and willingly given.
Recently, CatholicVote named the growth of FOCUS the one of their Top 10 Reasons for Hope in 2012. I can see why. There is a significant movement of young Catholics who are devoted to their faith and put God before everything else. FOCUS bible studies reach about 10,000 students on college campuses across the USA, and its only growing. The powerful combination of following the great commission, staying faithful to the Church, joyful and authentic Christian lives and friendships will continue to change lives like mine, especially this week. This year, over 6,000 students will be at conference, our biggest one yet! Please keep us all in your prayers, especially those attending for their first time!