Wednesday, June 15, 2011

It's all about Christ

Last week I went to Illinois for a conference with FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students).  Many of us university chaplains who have FOCUS at our schools attended "Chaplains days" which is part of the five week training for new FOCUS missionaries.  First of all, it was held at the Newman Center at the University of Illinois which has been called a "Catholic Disneyland".  It is immense.  Several years ago, they built the Center to consist of a Catholic dorm (for about 600 students), a large Church, cafeteria, courtyards, offices, Institute of Catholic Thought, and a Newman Center.  What a complex!  They have a huge staff which includes seven priests.  Being there was an experience itself.  Here's a pic:

GW Newman Center someday (!)

The conference was a chance for us chaplains to be with each other and the missionaries and to learn current FOCUS philosophy and strategies.  We had to go to "class" several times during the three days (my attendance was not perfect).  I was able to meet two of our three new missionaries who appear to be excellent and cool: Bryce and Julie.  Cassandra is on a FOCUS mission trip in Calcutta and Dan is returning this year.  I think we have another great team, thanks be to God!

Most of you know FOCUS and were involved in one way or another last year with the program.  For those of you who don't, FOCUS is an outreach to Catholic college students at mostly non-Catholic universities like GW.  It is an incredibly fruitful program that is in its 14th year.  FOCUS is now at 60 universities in the U.S. with over 200 missionaries.  Most of the missionaries were there in Illinois.  What an impressive group of young men and women who are just out of college and are giving two years in service to the Church.  The missionaries mainly start up Bible studies with college students in their dorms or elsewhere on campus and work with the chaplain to help bring students to the sacraments and programs of the Newman Center.  Last year, FOCUS helped to double our Mass attendance at Sunday student Masses, increase confessions dramatically, and bring more students to Eucharistic Adoration. 

These missionaries don't just sacrifice two years of their lives.  They sacrifice income.  I don't just mean the money they would have made in the world with a primo job out of college (one of our missionaries last year could have made $60 k on Wall Street).  I mean that they don't get paid by FOCUS.  They have to raise their own income!  This is the biggest challenge for many of them.  God provides for them through generous donations of family members, friends, and supporters of FOCUS.  Pretty radical stuff!

So, while I was with the missionaries in "class", Mass, or Adoration, I was thinking to myself, what motivates them to do all of this?  Why have they given two years of their lives, endured the criticism or mockery of others in doing so, have to fundraise their income, follow the intense structure of FOCUS, put themselves out there in bold and oftentimes zany ways on campus (e.g., last year our missionaries dressed up in a hippo costume on campus to draw the attention of students), and be willing to step onto the front lines to preach the Gospel?  They are so talented and can do pretty much whatever they want to be successful in the world.  So, why are they doing this?

There's really only one answer: Jesus Christ.  They are doing all of this for Christ.  It is such a beautiful witness!  The missionaries that I saw in Illinois are happy, cheerful, kind, and filled with peace and joy.  Christ becomes so visible in and through them.  It is so obvious that He is the reason they are there.  It is so obvious that He is the reason for FOCUS in the first place.  FOCUS is not about a program; it is about a person, Jesus Christ.  I brought them to GW so that more of our students would have a deep relationship with Christ, primarily in the Eucharist.  It is all about Christ for Curtis Martin (the inspiring founder and president of FOCUS) and all of the men and women who work for and with him.  This was the main thing I learned in "class" last week.  It's pretty much the same thing that GW students have taught me these past two years.  Why are such talented young Catholics so generous with their time and gifts?  Jesus Christ.  It's all about Him.

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