After 5 days in Nashville, Tennessee (Jan. 1-5), Br. Maximilian and I returned to the monastery very late at night, or very early in the morning- depending upon how you look at it. It was 2:45am, so either way, we were completely exhausted and ready for sleep, but incredibly grateful for the past few days.
We departed on a bus filled with college students from Northwest Missouri State, destined for the FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) Conference, called “SEEK 2015”. Our mission was to serve as a religious presence for the NWMSU students and promote vocations to Conception Abbey to all gathered at the conference. There were approximately 9,500 college age students from all over the country. The conference was at the Gaylord Opryland hotel, a ridiculously huge place whose pathways, gardens, atriums, and long hallways took several days to learn how to navigate efficiently and better resembled a maze.
We saw many people we knew from all over the place: Men and Women religious, seminarians, and other Catholic young people we have met over the years. There were quality Catholic speakers like Chris Stefanick, Matt Fradd, Fr. Mike Schmitz, and Dr. Tim Gray, along with amazing entertainment like Matt Maher and comedian Jim Gaffigan.
The daily schedule included daily Mass with various bishops and close to 200 concelebrating priests, keynote speakers and other smaller “impact” sessions. Our group from Northwest Missouri State would sit together at the talks, which often resemble more of a rock concert before the talks began, with loud music and plenty of youthful energy.
Without going into excessive detail regarding each day, I note a few highlights. The daily Masses were definitely a powerful experience. I have never been to Mass with that many Catholics nor that many priests before. Saturday evening we had Adoration and the opportunity for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Along with hundreds of priests, I heard confessions for 3 hours straight. Many young people had serious faith conversions, which affirmed that the Holy Spirit was powerfully at work. Additionally, it was simply good to catch up with old friends, finding time to chat about life, and meet new friends. The speakers were dynamic, entertaining, and a strong witness to the joy of following Christ.
Above: On the bus ride to Nashville, we passed through St. Louis. You can see the Gateway Arch in the middle of the picture from a distance.
Above and Below: Lucky for us, the Opryland Hotel still had its Christmas decorations on display. Fortunately, they knew that the Christmas season was still going on.
Above: The band pumps up the crowd before the Keynote address, as the lights flash on stage (we had really good seats). The main gathering space resembled a large parking garage.
Above: Br. Maximilian and I pause to take a picture with my classmate and friend, Fr. Kerry Wakulich (center). Fr. Kerry celebrated his birthday on January 2.
Above: Br. Maximilian and I pose with the SEEK 2015 sign. They did an amazing job with their logos and displays.
Above: The hotel was a pretty amazing place- water, rivers, fountains, and beautiful views from the hotel balconies.
Above: Archbishop Naumann (Kansas City, KS) celebrated Mass on Saturday. The perk of being a priest: I had a front row seat that day.Above: Me in front of the Grand Ole Opry (one of the few times I actually went outside- there was no need to, the hotel had everything).