I had no idea what I was getting myself into, the second day of the new year, when I set off from Gainesville in a car full of crazy people. As soon as we began our journey to San Antonio, they deliberated, then informed me that I had four hours (from the sixteen-hour trip) to “break out of my cocoon.” Imagine yourself surrounded by strangers, completely new among a group of friends, and confused at 5:30 in the morning. I was a little uncomfortable, but to where could I run? I was effectively trapped in that packed minivan flying down I-10. Disorientation and unfamiliarity nonetheless, I was laughing along and enjoying myself with these perfectly sane, awesome people in what I like to think was less than four hours.
I was headed towards SEEK, a major conference hosted by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. What did SEEK mean to me? As a cradle Catholic, uninvolved with the Catholic Gators, and whose faith was lukewarm and cooling, SEEK 2017 was a barrage of learning, of emotion, and of faith. SEEK was the spark that I needed to make faith a major part of my life as a college student, a life which before was glaringly missing something. When I’ve spoken to others about my experience at SEEK, I’ve found myself ill-equipped to properly capture the child-like wonder and awe-inspiring beauty of my experience, and have each time found myself praying that I could better portray how inspiring and moving the conference was. How could one distill into a few words the uplifting and amazing feeling of drawing closer to the Lord, through the gorgeous celebration of daily Mass, the glorious gift of reconciliation, and unfettered adoration of the Blessed Sacrament? I am inexpressibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to witness thirteen thousand Catholic youths worship under one roof, and to have had offered to me, as well as beauty and inspiration, learning—I’d be sincerely sorry to have missed the lessons that I’ve taken from my week in San Antonio.
My position as a relatively uninvolved Catholic was far from unique among thirteen thousand but, just as there were numerous SEEKers in my position, there were far more at entirely different levels of faith. SEEKers ranged from ‘atheists,’ turning for the first time towards God, all the way to FOCUS missionaries and seminarians—and just as there was an enormous variation in the disposition of the SEEKers, it seemed to me that there was as great a variation in personal experiences and revelations. It was encouraging to hear from Catholic Gators far senior to me that, for all their experience, they had taken so much from SEEK 2017—that their passion for Christ was renewed, or that they felt that they grew this week just as they had during their first SEEK.
While I am embarrassed to admit that tagging along, without expectation or thought to SEEK, was my first real experience with Catholic Gators, I would never trade it. I was so entirely moved, by the lessons I learned, the friends I made, and the love that I felt, and can see myself living and thinking differently thus. I could never have imagined myself changing in this way, but am so thankful that the Lord has led me on this path. I put forth so little effort, yet I was found; imagine what might happen when one truly does seek.
Written by: Alex Esperanza
Photos by: David Barreto and Elena Castello, Restless Heart Communications