Food for the Way

Brianna Casey, Senior Anchor Intern

I think a lot about God. I talk about Him a lot, too. But sometimes, I feel that I forget to spend enough time praying with God.

When it comes to ministry, I would say that my approach is primarily a relational one—I try to have conversations with people that may help them to see God in light of their own experiences, in terms that make sense to them. This comes pretty naturally thanks to my tendency to search for connections between everything, including seemingly opposing modes of belief. Similarly, the way I approach my faith is intensely holistic. I feel the need to be able to connect what I read in Scripture with what I’m learning in my biology and neuroscience classes, and to let what I learn from traveling and having conversations with others inspire my prayers.

Most of the time, this approach to faith and ministry proves itself to be extremely fulfilling. Guided by the belief that God is found anywhere there is truth, I have been able to find what connects me to others and what connects us all to Christ. Still, sometimes conversations and internal dialogue like this can leave me feeling mentally and spiritually drained. Inevitably, there are times when the constant questioning and casting my beliefs in new light in search of deeper truth will overwhelm me with how little I really understand. Oddly enough, sometimes my efforts to increase my faith will leave me with more questions and doubts than when I started. However, maybe these feelings are more related to how fatigue at the end of a workout is a precursor to growing stronger, rather than a sign of getting weaker.

Still, at times I think I make the mistake of doing too much talking about God and not enough praying. It makes sense that despite the time I spend learning about God, I can still feel distant if I fail to spend time with Him. The beautiful thing is that once I realize this, all it takes is to spend time with God to intentionally slow down, thank God for what He’s shown me, and ask Him to fill me with His peace. Whenever I am surprised by feelings of spiritual exhaustion, I try to determine if my prayer life has fallen short, and I renew my conviction to spend more time in intentional prayer.

This is also why the Eucharist has been so important in my journey with Christ. Coming to Mass and receiving the Eucharist makes me whole when I feel like I’ve been spread too thin, and centers me back on what is most important. The spiritual filling I’ve experienced through Mass serves as a reminder that, for me, it’s not enough to know about God; I need His presence in order to be refueled and renewed.

While one’s faith journey may be marked by a series of “landmarks”—significant moments of clarity and encounter with Christ that are easy to look back on as shaping one’s relationship with Him—I have learned that the small moments with God are no less important. It is for this reason that Mass and consistent prayer are essential for the active Christian life—for when we encounter Christ in this way, He offers us food to sustain us on our way, allowing us to continue His work on Earth and ensure that we always remain close to Him.

Hope to Bring

Adam Wood, Senior

“We must be men [and women] with hope to bring.”

I think about these words from Constitution 8 of the Congregation of Holy Cross every day as I drive onto campus and begin my search for a parking spot. Statistically speaking, there won’t be an open spot for me at the front-most part of the lot.  Considering it’s already 1 p.m. and I’m just getting to campus for my first class, I probably don’t deserve one. But this is a Holy Cross institution, and I’m a man of hope! So you better believe I make a pass through the section with the best spots, even if prior experience says I’m wasting my time.

As Notre Dame students, we hope for a wide variety of things. We hope for a seat near an outlet at the library, we hope the line at Starbucks is short, and we hope to win a coveted RecSports championship tee shirt. We hope that we can score a ticket to the Keenan Revue, a date to a Dome Dance, or a part in the PEMCo show. We hope that our duct tape and plywood vessels don’t sink in the middle of the Fisher Regatta. We hope that the Irish will do better than 4-8 next season. We hope we can manage to finish two problem sets, an essay, and an exam by the end of the week. We hope for good grades, good internships, and good jobs when we graduate. We hope that we can find the time to enjoy all of the things this great university has to offer us.

But sometimes, I think, I have hoped for so many things at once that I started to lose hope altogether. I allowed my hopes to transform into stress, and forgot to have hope in the most important thing, or rather, person. All these things that a Notre Dame student hopes for are good things, but the men who wrote the Constitutions of Holy Cross weren’t talking about hope in tee shirts or tickets or even parking spots. They were speaking of hope in the person, Jesus Christ, who transcends and fulfills all of our hopes.

The Cross and Anchors is the symbol of the Congregation of Holy Cross. It represents hope in the Cross of Jesus Christ as our one true hope.

Many times in my four years here I have let stress overwhelm me to a point of despair. Over time, however, I learned to cultivate hope in Christ and his love for me. I invited him into these moments, and was able to see my burdens more as opportunities for victory. I came to see more of what the Congregation of Holy Cross means by finding hope in the Cross, both the Cross of Christ and the smaller crosses that I bear in my own life. In a student’s life, stressful times are all but guaranteed. We can’t avoid them.  Most importantly, we can respond in the best way possible by having hope in the great gifts we have been given. Take a little inspiration from Constitution 8 of the Congregation that founded Notre Dame:

“There is no failure the Lord’s love cannot reverse, no humiliation He cannot exchange for blessing, no anger He cannot dissolve, no routine He cannot transfigure. All is swallowed up in victory.”

I’ll put my hope in that!

 

With God, There is Peace

Imanne Mondane, Senior, Anthopology major and African Studies minor

In deciding how to center this blog post, I found myself torn between many different topics. However, after debating with myself for long hours, I realized that as a student at Notre Dame (as rewarding as it may be) I am well-versed on a familiar topic: struggle. Most – if not all – Notre Dame students have experienced the universal hardships of living and studying at this top tier university. Whether a failed exam, empty pockets, financial struggles, familial issues, social awkwardness, depression, racism, roommate quarrels, lack of a social life, endless drama, lack of motivation, illness or health issues, we have each been blessed with our own, unique cross to bear. Notice that I said BLESSED. Yes, as hard as it may seem, struggle, strain, tears, hardship, pain, and storms are a part of our life’s blessings. Such moments of great challenge present us with the opportunity to obtain and share our testimony. In these occurrences we experience God’s love, grace, and mercy the most.  Through the storms he is already pulling us out of, we should give him the honor and glory he deserves.

Barbara Johnston/University of Notre Dame

A friend of mine gave me a brief, priceless piece of advice, which motivated me throughout what I consider to be the most difficult week of my entire 21 years of life. After facing disappointment and heartbreak, and shedding a countless amount of tears, I felt that I was in an eternal place of darkness.  I had lost hope for change and deliverance. As I shared this news with my friend, she told me the following: “Christ bore the cross for us. And although things may be hard now and the pain seems endless, there is still beauty in suffering. We cannot reject the tests and trials that God blesses us with. We have to embrace them just as Christ did. We have to embrace our cross because once we embrace it, we are also acknowledging that God is still in control and that our faith and trust in him enables us to hold out hope for the light that always follows darkness.” These words meant the world to me. They not only enlightened me, but they reminded me of the ways in which I had given up on God’s authority and mercy. I had forgotten that his will is greater than anything I can will for myself. Although the situations and feelings of sorrow that I was facing did not end immediately, this reminded me that God is Lord over my life and was enough to fill me with hope and faith in my Savior.  I could worship him through the rough times just as I worship him through my triumphs. Hearing this from my friend, as well as words from my mother reminding me of the victories that God has declared over my life, encouraged me that day and every day to come, and I hope they are able to do the same for you.

Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

Always remember that we serve a God who has already declared victory over our lives. There is no mountain that he has not conquered, and no obstacle that he has not overcome. He placed within each of us the will to fight, to persevere, and the strength to defeat the enemy. He has equipped us with the tools to tackle each test and turn it into a testimony. We serve a God who has conquered the world; thus, when you’ve reached your lowest of lows, and the stream of darkness seems never ending, I encourage you to remind yourselves of the following:

“We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5: 2-5).

Cultivating an Intense Look

Brigid Smith, Senior

Excitement was not necessarily bubbling up within me as I ventured down to the lower level of the Snite Museum to “get to know” a piece of art. With each step I took towards the Medieval Gallery, the silence got deeper and the lights became dimmer giving me a simultaneous feeling of sophisticated studiousness and an inward longing to take a nap. I set up my artist’s stool, opened my notebook, and perched myself expectantly in front of a painting titled, Madonna and Child with a Pomegranate from the Italian School of Botticelli. With wide and intent eyes I looked at the painting and said, “Now, please do tell me all about yourself.” For the next three hours, I “intensely looked” (as my professor called it) at the painting trying to become acquainted, to begin to see it, to allow the image to tell me its story and make its mark on my own.

Jul. 2, 2014; Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame. Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame
Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

Realizing it probably wouldn’t tell me anything unless I at least became more open and engaged, I turned my passive gaze into an active inquiry. I looked at the colors, the objects, and the basic elements of the piece. I noted the use of light, the incorporation of symbols, the postures of the subjects. I squinted painstakingly at each fold of fabric, wrinkle of skin, and strand of hair until I was sure I hadn’t missed a detail. After a considerable amount of this closed off, surface level, viewing, I began to notice what the painting was actually depicting: Mother Mary and the Christ Child. Suddenly, the particular details I had spent time taking in didn’t seem meaningless. Rather, I realized that they contributed to a story; they helped me form an image of Mary and Jesus in their ordinary life, and I began to reflect on how this might relate to or effect my own. Contrary to my initial expectations, I found myself completely engrossed in the contemplation of the Holy Family and almost excited about what I might see or think about next.

As I look forward to Advent this year, I am reminded of my “intense look” assignment and how it’s a little like Mother Mary and a mindset that can help me approach Advent more intentionally.

When Gabriel came to Mary and told her she would bear Christ in her womb, she didn’t receive all of the answers right away. I can imagine there were times throughout her pregnancy and even Jesus’s childhood when she wondered what was to come or questioned the details and simply had to wait with openness and trust to see what God would bring. She, in a sense, with her incredible Fiat, placed herself permanently at the feet of the Lord, even on the Cross, looking at Him with love and expectantly waiting to see how He would manifest His love for the world. We are told Mary observed, listened, and received all while continuing to “ponder these things in her heart”. Patiently, humbly, and with great perseverance, Mary believed that “nothing would be impossible with God” if she continued to be present and say yes.

Though I wish I could say I always responded to the Lord like Mary, more often than not I don’t. Maybe you’ve felt the way I felt in front of the Botticelli masterpiece about Advent, or Adoration, or even prayer in general. Maybe it seems like you go into a chapel and you just sit and wait and nothing seems to happen. Maybe you’ve had times when you’re down on your knees waiting and all that seems to change is the increasing awareness of how much they hurt. In this season of Advent, we are reminded with Mary that such expectant waiting and availability is not useless, it’s not for nothing but it’s preparing and shaping us for something far beyond our wildest imaginings. Though it might seem slow and at times “pointless,” the process of returning to the Lord, of sitting at His feet and looking at Him expectantly, inevitably transforms us, strengthens us, and makes us ever more ready to receive Him.

Dec. 6, 2015; Advent Lessons and Carols in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. (Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame)
Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

I did not leave the Snite equipped with all of the answers or in perfect knowledge of my painting, I didn’t feel like I had conquered my fear of encountering something unknown, nor did I think it was an exercise I would want to do again. But, I did leave more at peace than when I arrived. I did find the time of expectant waiting important and necessary and strangely fulfilling because it prepared me to receive and appreciate more from the painting than I ever could have at first.

I invite you this Advent to take the opportunity to, with Mary, cultivate an “intense look” mindset. Embrace the active waiting, the journey, the small steps and tasks that lead us closer to becoming who we were created to be. Take note of the details, the smallest movements of your heart – both those that bring you joy and those that might ask you to grow – and just spend time sitting with the Lord. Then, allow yourself to be changed by the intense look of love with which Christ looks at you. Ask Jesus to reveal Himself to you in this time of hopeful waiting. For Christ too is waiting. He wants to enter into our lives and help us see more clearly the way of peace, of love, of hope. If we truly begin to adopt this posture of receptivity and openness like Mary did, a posture I learned just a little bit more from my lovely homework assignment, we will not be disappointed for Christ is Emmanuel, He is always with us.

 

Seeing Christ in Our Division

Ben Swanson, Senior

On Wednesday, November 9 I walked into the chapel of the Coleman Morse Center and sat down for the adoration slot I had signed up for months before. I had gone to adoration at this time every week before that day and I will continue to go at this time for the rest of the semester. This time, however, meant just a bit more. I had spent the day watching people make their way around campus as if there was a great weight on their shoulders. Some were talking; some couldn’t find the words to say anything at all. I realized that regardless of the results of Tuesday’s election, people in this country were divided and many were feeling broken.

Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame
Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

I went around campus trying to look beyond the division to see if Christ was still on the fringes, but people were just too divided to see Him. I went to adoration to ask Him where he had gone and to rise above all the brokenness. I stepped into the chapel, grabbed the Bible from the table, and sat down. This semester I have been working through the gospel of Luke, so I flipped, and read from the next passage:

“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!
There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!

Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three;
father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

This is not what I was hoping to hear. I wanted the Bible to tell me everything was going to be alright and all divisions would soon fade. Instead, Jesus tells us our houses will be divided. Our families will be split. Sound familiar?

 My fault had been trying to look beyond the division as if somehow Jesus couldn’t exist in that context. Jesus tells us the exact opposite: the division is exactly where Jesus is. Jesus works in our brokenness because it is in times of brokenness and division we turn to Him and to the Father. We cry out as a lost child, “Where are you?” and he responds with the tenderness and care of a parent by scooping us up and holding us tight. We didn’t see Him because we didn’t expect Him to be there with us. We think God is too good and too pure to dirty his hands in the broken lives of humanity. All I had to do was look up and I would have seen how wrong this mindset is. There at the end of the chapel was Jesus hanging, crucified. On that cross is brokenness and division. On that cross is everything we would never want God to see. God entered fully into the darkest places of human existence because every bit of us is worth saving.

Photo by Matt Cashore
Photo by Matt Cashore

As I have walked around campus since that day, I have not tried to look beyond the division. Instead, I look closely at it and see that Jesus is there waiting for us to turn to Him. We must be willing to let Jesus be with us in our fear and brokenness for we cannot get to Him on our own. Jesus has come to us where we are and he wants to hold us in His arms for he loves us dearly. He is our source of hope and the only way we can fix the brokenness. Jesus will carry us close to his heart. We must only have the trust to let Him see us as we are.  

 

Finding Discipline

Adam Wood, Senior

I am not the most disciplined individual. In fact, I’m a pretty heavy procrastinator. I think the thing my mom was most excited about when I left for college was not having to watch me get stressed because I put off homework until the night before. Out of sight, out of mind. These days, when I am home on breaks, I intentionally don’t tell her the things I want to get done while I’m home because I know she’ll ask how they’re going, and I’ll feel stressed because they usually aren’t going at all. Even still, when I was home for a few days over fall break, keeping my to-do list secret didn’t stop her from saying, “You must not have had anything to get done while you were home because I don’t see when you possibly would have done it.”

November 1, 2016; A student studies on a bench in front of St. Mary's Lake. (Photo by Barbara Johnston/University of Notre Dame)
Barbara Johnston/University of Notre Dame

Unfortunately, my lack of discipline tends to spill into other parts of my life, like not exercising and, more importantly, not devoting myself to regular prayer. I know that conversing with God on a regular basis is a good thing to do. It’s easy for me to connect the most joyful and peaceful times in my life with those times when I had the most consistent prayer life. That is why I find it so frustrating that I struggle time and time again to have ongoing conversations with God. Now I know this is easier said than done. With the steady flow of exams and projects, extracurricular activities, and the ever-present stress involved with finding an answer to the “what are your plans for next year?” question, it is definitely difficult to find time to hit pause on the day and just sit with the Lord for a few moments.

Something that has always helped me with my struggle is being part of a supportive Christian community. This is why I am so glad I chose to come to a school where the opportunities for being a part of such communities are plentiful. From my dorm brotherhood in Fisher Hall, to the Compass groups I lead, to the Notre Dame Vision mentor community, and the friends I have through Campus Ministry, I have been able to connect with individuals who challenge me to strengthen my connection to the living God through prayer. For someone like myself who often struggles with having the discipline to develop my own prayer routine, it is a blessing to have the encouragement of others that share the common goal of growing in faith.

Jul. 15, 2015; ND Vision students walk on campus, Summer 2015. (Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame)
Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

When I am able to interact with these small groups, it serves as a wonderful reminder of the beauty within the worldwide community of the Church. It is a reminder that our Christian faith is first and foremost a communal endeavor, and that my motivation for cultivating personal prayer shouldn’t be to feel better about myself, but to be strengthened by God and to be a witness to others. After all, the goal of my life as a member of the Church should not simply be to get myself to Heaven, but to get everyone else there, too. In addition to not being a particularly disciplined person, I also don’t consider myself much of a writer. So I perused the YOUCAT in search of a quote by someone who could say what I am trying to say about Christian community. Before long, I stumbled upon this gem by the French poet Charles Péguy: “We must be saved together. We must come to God together. Together, we must present ourselves before him. What would God say to us if some of us were to return without the others?”

The point of this meandering blog is to say that in my desire to become a more disciplined person of prayer, I don’t need to rely wholly on myself. I should continue to draw strength from others, so that I can, in turn, provide strength for them.

My Way

Jessica Pedroza, Senior

During a recent pilgrimage to Mexico City, Father Joe (famous for Spanish and milkshake Mass) said the language in which you pray and do math is your primary language. I suppose this makes me bilingual. Just as I don’t think twice about breathing, I don’t hesitate to address God in Spanish or reason through the steps of a math problem in English. I’ve always grown up around two languages and two cultures, but my spiritual identity resonates more clearly within my Mexican/Latina culture.

jess-1
In front of the old Basilica; Mexico City.

I remember those weeknights as a young girl when my mom, sister, and I would kneel while my dad and brother stood – all of us praying el Santo Rosario (the Holy Rosary) as a family. In the silence of my heart, I would pray for my dad to stop drinking. 

I remember those Friday nights when we’d go to the casa de oracion (prayer house) and worship God through song, clapping and shouting “Gloria a Dios!” (Glory to God).

I remember the day of my Quinceañera and how, in the midst of the princess dress and the big cake, we made sure to stop and celebrate Mass before the party to give thanks to God and leave some roses for la Virgen de Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico.

At some point, the prayer house stopped running. My Sunday parish switched from celebratory, upbeat songs in Spanish to solemn hymns in Latin. I began attending a Catholic high school where the monthly Mass and prayers were in English. But I couldn’t connect with “Our Father, who art in heaven” as much as I could with “Padre Nuestro que estás en el cielo.” I started, for the first time, to study theology and I had so many doubts. And I had forgotten to pray every night because God had already helped my dad to get sober. I didn’t need to ask for much else. 

I didn’t come to Notre Dame to better connect to my Catholic identity. Little did I know, my faith would become an integral part of my experience here.

You can’t imagine…

The love I felt that first night freshman year when Father Joe, knowing I had arrived without my parents, came to visit me in my dorm and left me a note;

The joy I felt when I first went to Spanish Mass and heard the same worship songs I had heard as a child, and recited the Spanish prayers that seem to roll easier off my tongue;

The awe I felt when I saw the impact La Basilica de Guadalupe in Mexico City had on my friend as he kneeled and cried in front of Nuestra Señora (Our Lady); 

The ache I felt placing a picture of the grandparents I never met on the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) Altar at an Institute of Latino Studies celebration; and

The peace I felt spending time alone at the Grotto one Thanksgiving when I couldn’t make it back home to my family. 

After nearly three and a half years, Notre Dame feels more like home than home now, and I think the opportunity for me to worship in both languages has a lot to do with it. I’d love for people to understand that sometimes we seek spaces where we can be completely ourselves. It’s not that I don’t want to participate in my dorm community. Rather, Spanish Mass is the best way I can let God work through me. It is because my culture is full of traditions, like Posadas, when we walk with candles through campus, remembering Mary and Joseph trying to find shelter and Dia de Los Muertos, where we construct altars to remember our dead family members and friends and celebrate life… 

Dec. 3, 2015; Las Posadas walk from the Grotto to Farley Hall. (Photo by Barbara Johnston/University of Notre Dame)
Las Posadas walk from the Grotto to Farley Hall. (Barbara Johnston/University of Notre Dame)

I thought that, in college, I’d get so wrapped up and busy in other things that I would continue to lose that child-like faith I once had. I still fall and I still question, but what a beautiful blessing it is to be able to continue to grow in my faith and experience God at Notre Dame – de mi manera (in my own way).

Come Holy Spirit

Kate Morgan, Associate Director of Communications, Office of Campus Ministry

On the seventh day of our nine-day pilgrimage to France, I had hit a wall. I was physically and emotionally drained and ready to make the journey home to my husband and my four-year-old son. I had nothing left to give. I was void of sympathy for anyone other than myself, including the students I was chaperoning, and unappreciative toward the beauty of the place we were visiting. I was done. Just done.

paris-1

The Holy Cross priest who was tasked with meeting us in LeMans had the flu and was unable to join us, and I, as a communications professional and first-time traveler to France, felt ill equipped to provide the guidance and pastoral care our students likely needed. With too many road blocks to navigate, I decided no longer to bother. There was no point. In my mind, it was time to go home.

I lagged behind the first part of the day, fussing and willing it to end. I slept on the bus on the way to Ahuille, the hometown of Fr. Edward Sorin, C.S.C., and sulked into the church, built on the site where our University’s founder had been baptized. Since our priest was ill and unable to join us, we were forced to cancel Mass. In an effort to make our time as prayerful as possible, our seminarian, Cathal Kelleher, C.S.C., asked each of us to share a prayer, hymn, song or other reflection that we used in our own lives to better connect with God. I went first and read from the book of James:

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith, but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food? If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds and I will show you my faith by my deeds.”

I love this passage. In fact, I keep a copy of it on the bulletin board in my office above my computer. In my day-to-day life as a Campus Ministry communications specialist, I’m not as interruptible as I should be, so I like to look up and read it when I’m working and someone comes in my office to chat. It reminds me to put down what I’m doing and make time for the people who need me.

Reading James aloud to my fellow pilgrims reminded me that I was not in fact living out my faith through my deeds. I was doing the day all wrong.

I sat in the pew and thought about what I could do to make the day right. In that moment, it was to listen to the students; it was to give them my time.

One by one, each of the 20 students walked to the front of the church to share their prayers. They sang, they talked, they rapped, they read, they shared intimate stories and they brought with them the Holy Spirit. It was palpable. So infectious, in fact, that three French parishioners who were in the church (who didn’t speak any English), asked if they could sing their own song to give thanks to Our Lady.

Since then, I’ve tried to imagine a time when I felt as full with the Holy Spirit as I had in that moment. I cannot. Not when my son was baptized. Not at any Mass. Not in Rome. Not at the Grotto. Not even in Dublin on Palm Sunday when a church full of Irish children read the Passion of Christ. Not any time. Not anywhere.

Tears streamed down my face then just as they do now as I attempt to recount this moment. It was then I understood the true purpose of a pilgrimage: to encounter God during our most difficult, uncomfortable, unfamiliar times. It’s to see him through the things that go wrong. It’s to feel him when we feel hopeless and alone. It’s to rely upon one another for support, courage and strength. It’s to be together in prayer, and to share what makes our inner love lights shine.

I saw God in myself that day, as well as in my colleagues and in our bold, brave, beautiful students. I understood what it means to let go and let the Holy Spirit carry you through, and I witnessed what it means to have and to SHOW faith.

God is with us when it’s ugly; when WE’RE ugly. He manifests himself inside us and inside those who give us strength. The students didn’t need me nearly as much as I needed them that day and God knew it. They broke down my wall and showed me their faith through their deeds. I’m forever grateful to them for their openness and their willingness to share themselves with me. The Holy Spirit was with us all that day just as he’s with us every day. And through him, we all became true pilgrims, and I became a better version of myself.

paris-2

Finding Peace in Uncertainty

Brianna Casey, Senior

One Sunday evening early this semester, after a particularly demanding week, I stepped into the Lewis chapel to join my community for mass. I felt emotionally and spiritually drained, which was probably much of the reason I felt that my heart wasn’t fully “with” what was happening in front of me. Over the past several days, I had been struggling with intensified feelings of uncertainty regarding my faith. As I listened to the scripture passages, I began to feel the all-too familiar pangs of doubt. What if we’re wrong? How can I be certain what I believe is actually true? I was frustrated—somehow, the reasons and experiences I had previously used to give rationale to my faith seemed suddenly insufficient, and at that moment I didn’t know what I believed. Still, I dropped to my knees during the Preparation hymn, and I prayed—not to be given the answers, but for God to free me from my anxiety and reaffirm my trust in Him. Instantly, I felt a wave of peace wash over me like cleansing water. In that moment, I was reminded of the awesome power of God to transform hearts and release those who turn to Him from the crushing weight of uncertainty. My questions still remained, but I was able to perceive them with new eyes, without the paralyzing anxiety that had accompanied them only a few moments prior.

brianna
Barbara Johnston/University of Notre Dame

Doubt, of course, is not something confined to our understanding of the nature of God. We can experience uncertainty when discerning our vocation, career, or any decision that affects our lives. Although as I’ve journeyed through my four years at Notre Dame I’ve become increasingly certain that my calling lies in a career in medicine, I must admit that I still have doubts, as terrifying as that can be. Yet, what keeps me moving forward is trust in the notion that what matters is not so much what we do but the person we become, and I believe that by remaining receptive to Christ we can allow Him to work through our lives in amazing ways, regardless of our particular profession.

I’ve known many people in my life who don’t adhere to any type of religion because of their doubts. They think there may be some validity to believing in God, but they aren’t quite sure, so they don’t want to fully open themselves to the possibility just yet. But I would argue the only way to combat this uncertainty is to take the initial step and enter into a relationship with God. If, when faced with any other decision in our lives we acted only when we were absolutely certain, it is unlikely we would accomplish much of anything or leave room for personal growth. Just as you can’t know if you truly want to be a doctor until you begin to follow the path of medicine and discern as you go, it is impossible to come to know God apart from God. We need to be willing to trust despite our uncertainties and at the same time present our doubts to God in prayer and allow Him to work through them.

I’ve encountered moments of uncertainty regarding both my faith and my vocational path time and time again. Yet I’ve come to see these periods not as failures but as an opportunity to grow. Consider this—each of us carries a unique personal philosophy and a particular representation of the world. When we have an experience that doesn’t fit neatly into our paradigm, we have the option to either reject it or alter our philosophy to accommodate it. This is the reason why we can be so sure of our beliefs at one point and be overcome with doubt later on. New experiences require us to reach a new equilibrium, and it is in this way that uncertainty allows us to break down our prior understanding of God and build a more perfect one. Thus, experiencing doubt doesn’t make our faith weak; rather, it can actually serve to strengthen our beliefs and challenge our faith to reach a new level.

Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame
Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

To all those reading this today who are experiencing doubt in any aspect of their lives: do not despair. But also, don’t try to overcome your uncertainty alone. I encourage you to take your fears and inhibitions to prayer, asking God to transform your heart and grant you clarity of mind. I won’t promise the answers will come all at once. But I do hope you will be able to find peace and deepen your understanding of what is True. It begins with trust, and trust strengthened by prayer.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6

 

A Work in Progress

Thomas Wheeler, Senior

After an especially tough week last semester, I sat down on a Friday in my hall  chapel to pray Night Prayer. The psalm for the night, Psalm 88, finishes with the line: “My companion is darkness,” which leaves us with a call to faith and to trust in God’s promise of redemption even when we feel all alone.

January 3, 2012; The Symbols of Christ on the outside wall of the Hesburgh Library. Photo by Barbara Johnston/University of Notre Dame.
The Symbols of Christ on the outside wall of the Hesburgh Library. Barbara Johnston/University of Notre Dame.

On this particular night, however, I was not having it. The struggles of school, relationships with friends, a scary and unexpected visit to the doctor, and my (not uncommon) failures at avoiding habitual sin had left me in pieces. I finished Night Prayer and sat in a state that can only be described as worn out and emotional.

I went upstairs, got my journal, and went back to the chapel, but the only thing I wrote that night was “Jesus, I’m done.” That week, I had said my prayers, spent time in adoration, led my small group, helped at Youth Group, and tried to love those around me with an open heart. I tried so hard to be mindful of the goodness of God’s promises and live a life of joyful witness to Christ’s saving love. But at that moment, I wasn’t filled with joy at all. All I could think of was how much pain and stress I had suffered that week. Yet here I was, reading prayers from my book even though my heart wasn’t in it. I felt alone in my struggles, and this last line from Psalm 88 did not help heal the wound.

It was in that moment of brokenness I could feel God telling me, “I want to know.” I felt comfort in bringing my suffering to God and letting him know my weakness, even if I had directly offended Him. I looked across the chapel to the Tabernacle and reminded myself that God does not keep His distance from me. In the Eucharist, He enters me and dwells within me. He knows already, knows everything that is going on inside me, so why not go ahead and be honest with Him about where I am. God doesn’t want me to act like I’m doing alright when I’m not. If I’m struggling, God wants to hear it. And God wants to help.

What I learned from this experience is that through all the times in our lives, especially in the times of our most piercing brokenness, God wants us to be real with Him, because He wants us to know we need Him. It is so easy to go through the motions of prayer, and even to commit to spending a certain amount of time in prayer every day. But none of this amounts to letting Jesus see our wounds, and begin the process of healing them.

It isn’t easy to let Christ into the depths our hearts; to allow him to tear down the hidden walls of pride and sin, and give him the space to build God’s kingdom there. But that’s where holiness lies. We cannot grow in perfect love and joy if we do not first let God perform surgery on our hearts. He fixes what is broken and fills the holes in our hearts with himself.

Even when my relationship with God is stable and my prayer life is flourishing, I am still a work in progress. I am not a saint yet, but I earnestly want to be one. While I know I’ve committed my life to following Christ, I still fail him all the time. But God is still performing surgery on my heart, and the most important thing I can do is let Him see my wounds so He can heal them.

“The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a humble and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” – Psalm 51:17