Franciscan University of Steubenville is hosting the Encounter Young Adult Conference in St. Louis (May 30-June 1) this year. The CatholicMatch Institute spoke with Fr. Christopher Martin who will be speaking at the conference. Father Martin, the vocations director for the Archdiocese of Saint Louis shared tips for discernment, his own vocation story, and what Catholic young men and women will learn during the Encounter Young Adult Conference.
I think the first and fundamental thing that we all need to do is to be young people of prayer. Very often we can be searching for outward signs of the way God is directing us, but we can only interpret and discern God’s work in our lives when we make time for quiet, intimate prayer with the Lord every day. The Good Lord does speak to us. Obviously, primarily in prayer, through the sacraments and scripture, but also through others and the circumstances of our lives. It’s important that we have that time for quality prayer, so that we can actually discern and sift through all the different ways God speaks to us. In this way, we can come to a peace and understanding of where He’s leading us.
Would you like to share your vocation story with our readers?
I’m the youngest of five, I was an altar server at Sunday Mass, and I was blest enough to go to Catholic grade school and high school. However, I didn’t really consider the priesthood that much until I was a junior in high school. While at youth group, I met a priest who asked me if I had thought about the priesthood. I kind of told him no, but that I would start thinking about it. But I was your typical high school guy: playing sports and dating. I thought that I wanted to be a doctor, so I started college as a pre-med student. It was during that time that the thoughts about the priesthood grew stronger and stronger to the point where I knew that I couldn’t ignore them anymore. I remember one time in prayer saying out loud, “Fine, I’ll go. Just leave me alone.”
So I transferred into the seminary, but I had different ups and downs. I actually stepped out of the seminary for a little bit and then came back. Through all those ups and downs, I really just needed to have the inward peace of knowing what God was calling me to do. Once I gained that peace, I’ve been happy ever since.
There’s this misconception that only priests and nuns can have a close relationship with Christ. What do you say to that?
Nothing can be further from the truth. We’re all called to have a personal relationship with Christ. Obviously, priests and religious have an outward witness that’s very evident to the world, but we’re all called to bear witness to Christ. In the sense of having a deep spiritual relationship with our Lord, we’re all called to be mystics, and we need to allow the rest of our lives to bear witness to that fundamental relationship that we have. Nobody is exempt from holiness. Sainthood is a prerequisite for Heaven, and we’re all trying to get that same spot. Again, we’re all called to have a deep, personal relationship with Christ.
You will be giving a talk at the Encounter Young Adult Conference this year. Can we get a sneak peak of what you will be talking about?
The main session talk that I am giving is about encountering God in mystery. What I’ll be talking about is that even if something is a mystery, it doesn’t mean we cannot understand it. In fact, it is something that can never be exhausted. Our Lord reveals Himself to us through His actions. In coming to receive that relationship through the Church and the sacraments, we start to understand the Lord even more—the Lord invites us into His own mystery of love. We’re called to bear witness to that mystery in our daily lives. So I’ll be talking about how the Eucharist and the sacraments are pathways to and from God’s mystery in our own lives.
What do you hope young Catholics will take home from your talk?
I really hope that they will embrace, in a more total way, the great truth and beauty of the faith that Our Lord has given to us. I hope that they realize that this is their time to bear witness to Catholicism. Great saints have come before us in ages past, and this is the time that they are called to be saints in today’s world. Our society desperately needs the witness of many holy young men and women bearing testimony to the Truth.
How can Catholics better “encounter” Christ and what do you recommend that they do practically to continue to grow closer to God after the conference?
A phrase that is used often in the Church is that we’re called to be in the world and not of the world. Certainly, we’re not called to retreat from the world or put our heads in the sand, but we do definitely need to make sure that our hearts and our minds are not guided by the secular society. They need to be guided by Our Lord in prayer and by the truth He reveals to us through His Church. I think what we need to do is to make sure that we strengthen each other as brothers and sisters in faith. We need to give each other encouragement because it’s difficult to be good and holy in today’s society.
We have to be ready to embrace martyrdoms big and small in knowing that we’re not going to play by the world’s rules as far as success, popularity, and fulfillment. We’re going to encounter difficulties and struggles when we say, “No. I’m defining myself by the beatitudes and by the way that God defines beauty.” It’s a two-fold thing; we need to have that interior strength of our own personal relationship with God, but we also need to strengthen one another as we go out from the conference.
What would you say to a young Catholic who is considering coming to the conference, but needs some encouragement?
I would always say that God is never outdone in generosity. Most young people in today’s society are all searching. We’re searching for God, we’re searching for fulfillment, truth about who we were created to be, and the meaning of our lives. Encounter Young Adult Conference is a great opportunity to take some time with other young people who are on the same journey that you are on and that are asking the same questions. Hopefully, not only will you encounter God in a new way during this weekend, but you will also have the joy of the community of other young Catholics who are on the same journey. Hopefully it will be the beginning of new friendships that will bear fruit in your life.
For more information on the conference, which will be held in St. Charles, Missouri on May 30-June 1 visit Encounter’s website.