Dear Parishioners of St. John the Evangelist Parish,

A few weeks ago, we hosted local participants of the international SEEK conference—usually people come from all over the country and the world to this conference. This year, the conference came to all parts of the country and to the world, including to over 100 of us here in Jackson.

I’d like to take just a few minutes to share some of the graces I received from that weekend:

The first grace was that it happened. In seven homes, our parish center, over Zoom, and on people’s own, the people of Jackson were hearing talks from some of the best Catholic speakers in the country. I never could have gotten all of those speakers to appear for real here in Jackson, and I doubt as many folks would have come to St. Louis with me, where it was originally planned to be. Because we had to get creative in adversity, more people came.

Another grace for me was the hospitality I received. I got to visit most of the host-homes for SEEK and, after the year of people being afraid of their neighbors, it was a gift to come to people’s doors and be welcomed in!

Speaking of the hospitality I received, another grace was seeing homes put to their highest use. St. Ignatius of Loyola writes as the first principle and foundation of the spiritual life that everything was created to be used for the salvation of souls. I got to see people’s living rooms, dining rooms, viewing rooms, and kitchens put to use to help the hosts and guests be better disposed to hear the gospel and respond. I got to see the parish center, long empty, being used and busy again.

I don’t want to go overlong in my listing of graces, so I’ll focus the end of this on the impact a particular talk had on me. Monsignor James Shea, president of the University of Mary in North Dakota, gave a talk on having a deeper conversion. For those of us who hear Catholic talks often, the beginning was pretty similar to many other talks you may have heard, but with more gravitas. But the end. The end, my fellow parishioners, wrecked me. I won’t spoil what he said, in case you get the chance to hear the talk for yourself,* but I will say where it touched me.

My wife and I have had three miscarriages throughout the course of our marriage. Each one took me by surprise, and each one left me sad, confused, hurt, and sometimes doubtful. My sole solace was a line from the Catechism: “As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them” (1261). And so when I would get sad, I would say a prayer entrusting the children I never met to God. And then say the prayer again. And again. It was something to do. For the first time while listening to this talk, a horizon opened to me where maybe, just maybe, I might believe what I’ve been saying, and live in hope that the God I entrusted my babies to might have received them. It might be a truth I could receive.

About a month ago, I was with some men, discussing 2 Samuel 12—the death of Bathsheba and David’s firstborn son (the one before Solomon). David fasted and prayed before the baby died, but when he died, David got up and dressed and ate. It always bothered me that David got over his son’s death so soon. Monsignor Shea pointed out the key for me, when David says, “Now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me” (v. 12). I shall go to him, but he will not return to me. These are the words I’d been afraid to say in mourning my children. I shall go to them, but they will not return to me. Hearing Monsignor Shea, I’m beginning to be able to say it. I shall go to them. What hope in those words! And so, my greatest grace of SEEK hit me in one of my lowest points. Funny how God works, eh?

Joseph Gruber

Parish FOCUS Missionary

*For those interested in hearing the talk, or any of the other speakers, talk to someone who went to SEEK—they will have access to all of the talks for the next six months. Arrange a viewing party!