Why We Minister: Mary Olen

Mary Olen, Administrative Assistant, Retreat Administrative Coordinator

Why do I stay up watching one more episode of Fargo when I have to work in the morning? Why do I eat that third piece of chicken when I was full after the second piece?  Why did I offer to write this blog when I despise writing?  Those are the difficult questions!   Why we minister?  That is much easier.

Tender, Strong and True // Freshman Retreat

Leaving Martin’s supermarket, I have a trunk full of groceries and two kids strapped into the backseat. As I pull out onto Elwood Street heading home, I notice a young woman struggling to juggle groceries and a toddler while standing at the bus stop. I pull up to the curb and ask if she would like a ride. She eagerly and gratefully accepts. We make room to pack them into our little Saturn wagon. Driving several miles to the west-side on Indiana Avenue, she points to the building where I should pull over.  Mentioning how far she has to travel to grocery shop, she tells me the commute takes her downtown where she transfers buses. The block we are on is not residential and she motions to a door on the side street.  We gather her bags and trudge up the stairs which empties into a single dingy room above an abandoned business front.  There is one wooden table with 2 chairs, a bed, and a sink. I am ready to drop the groceries and get the heck out of there as she reaches for a bible from the bed and tells me how she is trying to get her life together.  She has done a lot of drugs in the past and knows that she needs to stop. Calling me an angel, she believes that God sent me to help her that day.  I laugh and tell her I am about as far from an angel as there could be but that I was happy I could be of some help.  “Keep praying,” I say “I will pray for you, too.”

Days later, my daughter asked why I picked up a person on the street that I did not know.  I told her it was because she seemed like she needed help and I felt sorry for her.  As soon as the words were leaving my lips, memories shot back into my mind: my mom taking prepared meals to elderly neighbors, buying extra groceries for a single mom who lived in a rundown house at the end of the alley- witnessing those acts of kindness made a deep impression on me.  Are we born with compassion or are we taught compassion?  Is caring and compassion what fuels our desire to minister?  Did 12 years of Catholic education make a difference? I believe yes is the answer.     

The Plunge // African-American Freshman Retreat

The awesome part of ministering is that it often has a retroactive effect.  I left the apartment of a stranger I helped and it made me more humble, more grateful, more present and alive to all the blessings in my life.  “There, but for the Grace of God, go I.” My encounter with a stranger ministered to my children.  You do not need an invitation to assist.  Ministering is just aiding someone in need or just sitting still for someone who needs a listening ear.  We do it every day.  Why?  Well, that depends on who you are.  

So, here I am in Campus Ministry.  I am not a minister by definition.  I do not hold an MDiv., not even a minor in Theology.  As an Administrative Assistant, I minister all day long: to students, to the staff I support, to the people who just drop by because they are visiting campus. But, that is my job. I believe that the true ministering is done with perfect strangers, not expecting anything out of the ordinary who are suddenly given a smile, a hello, a ride as they are standing in the rain waiting for a bus, or given a place in line at the store because they look like they’re in a hurry.  Each of these people are being noticed.  In that small instance of acknowledgment, they feel loved. Isn’t that what everyone really wants?  We seek to minister because we love and we are able to minister because we have witnessed it.  Amen.

Why We Minister: Allie Greene

Allie Greene, Assistant Director of Liturgy

I sat in the Basilica alone on a freezing winter evening, in need of a quiet place to pray. I chose a pew, sat down, crossed my arms, and glared daggers at the tabernacle. My silent prayer went something like this:

“Really – nothing? It’s been months. Which part of my prayer was unclear? I’m out of patience and so tired of this. No more gentle ‘I trust in your will’ prayers. It’s your turn.”

Both satisfied in my silent reproach of God and defeated that I had come to that point, I genuflected and exited the church. It wasn’t my finest moment of trust in God’s providence and grace.

It was, however, one of the most honest moments of prayer I’ve ever experienced. Before then, I believed that giving my intentions over to God would feel good-natured and graceful, easy to do with answers to follow quickly. I was wrong: it felt more like exhaustion from running out of other options.

Basilica of the Sacred Heart // University Photographer

The answer to why I minister is rooted in my experience of prayer. I try to be a faithful disciple, and I hope to help our students do the same, to grow in faith here at Notre Dame and far beyond. Specifically, my ministry is to help our students to pray well together, and there’s a phrase I use to describe this work: serious joy.

It’s serious because this ministry is no small task: to teach students how to pray and how to lead communal prayer, to offer formation as they plan Masses and prayer services, and to encourage them to grow in their faith long after they leave Notre Dame.

At the same time, this ministry is abundantly joyful. I’m privileged to see what happens when students — while praying together — encounter God. I hear them give reflections on Scripture and listen as their words bring new light to old passages. I watch as students give their time, energy, and boundless courage to lead music during their hall’s Sunday Masses. I see their heads bowed, eyes lifted, hands folded, hugs of peace, and other postures and gestures of prayer expressed. It’s a true joy to pray with, for, and among our students.

I have a personal investment in working with students to plan liturgies because it was in the Mass that God and I first found each other. In effort to grow in faith, I’d gone on service trips, attended many retreats, and prayed with Scripture; however, it was in Mass that I first encountered God and that encounter is what compelled me to return.

At different points in my life, I’ve found great comfort at Mass — even if I’m distracted, even if I don’t know the songs, and even if I only caught the opening line of a homily before my mind raced in another direction. I have strong memories of events that took place in the context of Mass, some monumental and some rather routine: I’ve witnessed my college friends become ordained priests, and received chrism oil on my forehead at Confirmation; I’ve run straight from the lake to church on a summer Saturday, and celebrated the beautiful sacrament of my sister’s wedding. Like my prayer, Mass takes different forms and shapes, but it is a constant in my life. Mass was both fifteen-minutes before starting my high school day and the three-hour Vigil on the night before Easter. Mass sounds like a packed residence hall chapel of women’s voices and like echoing silence after communion in a French cathedral.

Truthfully, going to Mass doesn’t always feel like the most thrilling activity in which I participate. I can’t compare it to rollerblading, kayaking, or watching Notre Dame football. But I don’t go to Mass because it’s always thrilling. I go to Mass to meet God there, again and again. And I keep going back because of what the liturgy compels me to do after: to be God’s hands, feet, voice, and love in the world.

I’m grateful for this ministry in helping students to pray well together. I hope that they will always want to return to God in different moments of prayer, as I do, and never to be far from that encounter.

Student Prayer in Ryan Hall Chapel

About a month later, I felt overwhelming gratitude when I received an answer to my despairing, wintry-day prayer. So I returned to that same pew in the Basilica, this time for a different style of prayer. I found there a place to pray when I was exhausted and felt unheard, so it made sense to go back when I was grateful and filled with hope. I was honest with God before in my pain and confusion, and honest with God again in amazement and joy. I minister with the hope that our students will do the same and find faith in the constancy of God’s love, particularly in the way it is revealed to us through the Mass.

Why We Minister: Fr. Pete McCormick, C.S.C.

Fr. Pete McCormick, C.S.C., Director, Campus Ministry

Out into the Deep

As Faith began to wade out into the water, I attached her skis and taught her the basics of what to do when the boat began to pull.  Confident that she had a good enough sense of the mechanics, I told her to sit down in the water and close her eyes.  After a quizzical look, she settled into the water, closed her eyes and at that moment I cupped my hands and splashed her in the face with enough water to get a quick “What did you do that for?”  I looked at her and said, “Most water skiers your age fail not because they can’t pull themselves out of the water, but because the water hits them in the face and they start to panic.” 

Fr. Pete on the water!

With water dripping from her face, she smiled and settled in for her first attempt.  It wasn’t until the fourth try that we hit pay dirt.  Faith made almost an entire loop around the truncated path that my uncle carved out on her maiden voyage.  About 100 yards from shore Faith encountered a set of waves that looked fierce, and in fact they were fierce.  I watched her go up and down, up and down, and then just down. 

Splash!  After my uncle circled back and began bringing Faith to shore I could see her standing on the boat like George Washington on his way across the Delaware.  When she finally made it back, Faith looked over and said, “Now that was a lot of water.”

The key to our spiritual faith is to be equally expressive.  Jesus asks his disciples in St. Matthew’s Gospel to clarify who people think he is.  They respond by saying: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.  However, St. Peter filled with faith replies, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” 

St. Peter, the fisherman by trade, the one who had a documented temper from time to time, who would go on to deny Christ three times, recognizes that Jesus is the Messiah.  Jesus’ response was clear and direct:  “… you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church…”. 

Was St. Peter fully ready for Jesus’ invitation?  Debatable.  Yet, the compelling fact about faith is that it never leaves us where we started and rarely offers a complete road map for how to get there.  When Jesus first encountered St. Peter on the Sea of Galilee he didn’t unfurl a ten-point plan on the benefits of following Him.  Jesus simply said, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  That same invitation to follow is extended to us today.  How do we respond? 

First, we can stay near the shore and play it safe.  The waves will pose a minimal threat and we’ll have no fear of the water hitting our face.  This lifestyle tends to be more predictable, minimal risk, less stress and a greater reliance on our own abilities. 

Or, we can let Jesus pull us into the deeper water where the waves are bigger, trust and belief are essential and we are reminded that the answers we seek are sometimes too big to solve in a lifetime.   

When answering the question of “Why I Minister?”, I hope that it is because I’m willing to let literal and figurative water hit me in the face.  To be out a little deeper than I’d prefer, but always trust that the one who called and even tugged me here will also see me through.  As St. Paul so beautifully points out in his letter to the Romans, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  For from him and through him and for him are all things.” 

I cannot promise that a life lived with faith will be perfect.  You will fall and fail.  Further, I cannot guarantee that everything will go according to plan: majors will change, relationships will change, priorities will change, and you will change. 

I can promise that lives dedicated to faith will ultimately transform relationships, improve communities and bring us all a step closer to the Kingdom of Heaven.   

Why We Minister: Kate Barrett

Kate Barrett, Associate Director of Liturgy

Sometimes I walk around our almost ridiculously beautiful campus and think, “I can’t believe I get to come to work here every day!” I feel it when heading into the Basilica, or down that awesome center path through the trees between the statue of Fr. Sorin and the Dome, or past yet another group of tourists listening intently to the legends and factoids and lore that make up the Notre Dame story.

You may be thinking, “Aww, that’s sweet – she must be new here,” or perhaps, “Doesn’t she understand that there’s more to Notre Dame than how pretty it is?”

Well, no, I’m not; and yes, I do.

I’m almost embarrassed to say how not new I am … it’s been almost 36 years, actually, since I moved into Farley Hall as a first-year student, with a couple of short breaks here and there. A few things have changed: the bookstore, a tiny building on South Quad, was so cramped that at busy times you’d have to line up outside and wait your turn just to enter the building to buy books or t-shirts. What’s now West Quad was still about nine holes of the 18-hole Burke golf course, then our only campus course.  So you might think I’ve been here long enough to get used to working (and at times, living) at Notre Dame.  Nonetheless, I still have frequent moments of newbie-like awe at my great fortune to have the job I do, as it gives me the opportunity to accompany others as they explore their faith, and in so doing help me grow in mine. 

Main Quad // Photo by Matt Cashore

After a career path in Campus Ministry that could at best be called “meandering,” and including more years than not of a very part-time schedule while my children were younger, I have been fortunate to land on the Liturgy team.  Here (mind. blown. again.) I have the distinct privilege of supporting our common prayer all over campus: the residence halls, the Basilica, the Grotto, even the Purcell Pavilion when we turn it into a giant, temporary church a few weekends a year. I hope my ministry plays a small part in helping all our varied communities – students, faculty members, staff and visitors – to share our faith, to practice it, to try and fail and try again to draw closer each day to Jesus Christ.

Over the last three-plus decades I have learned that Notre Dame is exponentially more than its gorgeous campus; it’s more than all the facts and stories, embellished or otherwise, that you learn as a visitor, student or long-time faculty or staff member.  At various times, Notre Dame has moved me, disappointed me, infuriated me, mystified me, and impressed me beyond my wildest imaginings.

Underneath the physical beauty of this place lies a foundation of 175 years of people faithfully seeking to know, love and serve God through a bold belief. We believe that we can find truth in the classroom and in the Basilica; in the lab and at the Grotto; in the Hesburgh and Kresge and Mahaffey libraries and in the chapels of each of our residence halls.

As a student at Notre Dame I somehow knew that I had come to a place deeply saturated with trust in God, a place that truly desired to share that trust with me and each of my fellow students.  If you are reading this as an incoming first-year student, please know that if you are open to beginning or deepening your relationship with Jesus here, it’s perhaps the best gift Notre Dame can give you. 

Freshman first visit to the Grotto // Photo by Peter Ringenberg

Um, how about an education, you might ask (or your parents might want to ask)? Yes, exactly.  The deeper gift of Notre Dame lies in the truth that emerges from the “and.” Your education will be of your mind and your heart, grown in the library and the chapel, in friendships and in service, alone at prayer and joined in shared worship, in sorrow and in joy, when God feels acutely present to you and even when you feel most alone.

While you may think this place is beautiful to look at, especially when you are first learning your way around, pay attention to the ways in which the beauty goes much deeper than that.  You’ll notice the beauty in the people who will become your dearest friends; in the opportunity to bring your joys and sorrows to prayer at the Grotto or in the chapel just a few steps from your room.  You’ll notice it in the questions you’ll ask your classmates and professors and rectors – and the answers will be more complete because we can have the courage to allow faith in God to be a critical part of the conversation.

All these ways I’ve come to know Notre Dame over the years kept popping into my head while asking myself “why I minister.”

You incoming first-years who are reading this? You’re why I minister; you’re why we all do. Hope to see you under the trees on God Quad’s center path.

Why We Minister: Tami Schmitz

Tami Schmitz, Associate Director of Student Ministry

     “What do you want to be when you grow up?” From second grade until I entered the collegiate world at age 18, the answer to this question was “a teacher or a social worker.”  I come from a family of teachers and have always loved school, so teaching seemed like a natural fit. I also had a heart for the poor and wondered if working for a service agency was my calling.  Of course, God had a bit of a different plan which took shape most intensely and beautifully during my college years.

    “What do you want to be when you grow up?” From second grade until I entered the collegiate world at age 18, the answer to this question was “a teacher or a social worker.”  I come from a family of teachers and have always loved school, so teaching seemed like a natural fit. I also had a heart for the poor and wondered if working for a service agency was my calling.  Of course, God had a bit of a different plan which took shape most intensely and beautifully during my college years.

     My four years as an undergraduate at St. Norbert College were some of the best years of my life.  I formed friendships that continue to be some of the most important in my life to this day. I loved my professors and my classes (well, most of them…Statistics is another story!). By sophomore year, I claimed “Sociology” as my major.  I was very involved in extra-curricular’s ranging from Hall Government to intramural sports to community service.

Tami, right, and her St. Norbert College roommate Pam

      One of the largest influences during my time at St. Norbert was something called “Campus Ministry.” This was something I never heard of as I was a product of the public school system and tended to my faith through my home parish on Sundays and in weekly CCD classes.  I had never heard of a person called a “Campus Minister.”  My dear Aunt Lois played the organ at my parish every Sunday morning, so that was about the closest thing to a professional lay minister I had encountered up to that point in my life and she was a volunteer!  Slowly, but surely, I became more involved in this thing called “Campus Ministry” and developed wonderful relationships with members of the team which included both lay men and women and Norbertine priests.  The Masses, retreats, Bible Study, the First Communion Class I taught, and the community service I participated in all helped shape me in ways I never intended or expected. I had some wonderful Theology classes, too!

     I share this part of my journey because those four years were the most transformative years of my life (so far!).  By the time I reached senior year, my answer to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” became clear. I answered, “a Campus Minister!”  My faith had grown in ways I never imagined. I realized I actually had a “vocation” and was hearing God invite me to a life of ministry within the Church.  I was being called to integrate my faith into my entire lifestyle, including my job.  I had wonderful spiritual directors and friends along the way who helped me sort through this experience.  I encountered Jesus in a profound way through the people, classes, and experiences I had during those years. I could not deny the discipleship I was being invited into by God.

     Since 1986 (the year I launched into the workforce as a college graduate), I’ve always served as a full-time minister. I dabbled in parish and high school ministry for a few years, but truly found my calling in college Campus Ministry and have been serving in that role for the past 25 years.  It’s no huge secret why I may have landed here since my own college years were so transformative for my journey of faith.  I simply love college students! I love the stage of life between 18-22 years of age because college students are asking some of the most important life questions: What are my core beliefs? Who is God and what difference does faith make? What should be my major? What’s my vocation? What are the most important relationships in my life? What does our world need from me to make it better? What are my gifts and passions?”

Tami and ND students walking the Camino in Spain

     Walking with students as they wrestle with, ponder, and embrace some of these most important questions of their lives is the greatest joy of my life.  I look to Jesus and see how he “walked” with a variety of people on their journey of faith such as the woman at the well, the man born blind, the paralytic, and the disciples and I feel called to do the same, particularly with college students.  There are many things that can easily distract students from paying attention to their faith lives. There are many “things” that seemingly satisfy us in life. However, I found that there is nothing better, or more meaningful, than following Jesus, who is “living water,” the “bread of life,” and our “Good Shepherd.” I simply want to share that message and help students encounter Jesus along the way. As students grapple with important life questions, as a minister, I love the opportunity to remind them to not forget about Jesus and their faith lives during their time of discernment. In fact, I suggest that one’s faith and values is a great place to START when considering the “BIG” questions.

        When a ND student is asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I hope the answer has something to do with their passion, their gifts, and most importantly, their faith in Jesus which will inspire them to be the “good news” wherever God is sending them into the world.

Why We Minister: Rebecca Ruvalcaba

Rebecca Ruvulcaba, Multicultural Ministry

“Ministry is a participation in the threefold ministry of Christ, who is priest, prophet, and king.”  ~ USCCB, Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord

Pies del Bautizado (Feet of the Baptized),
Picture of my feet after a walk in the Valley of Death. May 2016

What is a minister?
For years I believed that a minister was only associated with a member of the clergy. I never realized that for years I had been an active minister; participating in the “threefold ministry of Christ.” I grew up serving and participating in different parish ministries but I really did not understand my participation until I lived a retreat called Christ Renews His Parish as an adult. My baptism for years was being lived out unconsciously.

I participated in Jesus’ ministry unknowingly (to some extent) because my parents taught me that we must all work for the betterment of society. We must seek to serve others because that is how it should be. I do not remember my parents, or any other mentor in my life, mentioning the fact that because of our baptism we are called to serve as Jesus did and that our ministry in the world is Jesus himself in the world. My understanding of my service was because it was just something we did as good people. I watched my parents give their talents and gifts, and how they loved humanity, and I desired to do the same. Therefore, my active life in Jesus existed without really knowing that He was the one working in, with, and through me

When was the first time I realized I desired to give more beyond just a “job”?
It was the Holy Spirit that moved my heart at the CRHP retreat, and I realized that God had always been guiding and moving me in His direction; serving and “ministering” to, with, and for His people. For many years my “work” was because I desired to give of myself to the community. I had worked in food pantries, with migrant farmworkers (making sure that they had medical assistance), leading girl scout troops, and confirmation classes at my parish.

After living the CRHP retreat in 2009 my “work” became God’s, and my desire to give of myself became Jesus’ gift of self in and through me. I realized that I was His vessel, I was serving and giving God’s love that had become part of me. The only reason I was able to serve at my parish, to serve at my job, and to serve my family and friends was because God’s love had penetrated my being. My life became as the apostle Paul says in his letter to the Galatians: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). My life was of God’s and it had always been. All that I had done in my life was because Jesus lived in me, and I now desired to live more fully in him.

When have I felt overwhelmed and/or consumed by Jesus in ministry? Why?
In these 8 years of consciously serving in the vineyard of the Lord (Mt 20:1-16) I have found myself often overwhelmed and consumed by Jesus. He has filled my heart so much that I often find my thoughts consumed by Him and I have found myself often saying: “Padre Mio, Aqui Estoy” (My Father, Here I Am). There is peace, joy, and an amazing love that consumes me and I desire to give myself to all that He desires. There is a growing fascination I have for Jesus, and I have fallen in love with Him and all He did and does in, with, and through all of us. My heart is so much more compassionate and generous with and for others because of Jesus’ heart in me. I desire a deeper relationship with Jesus. I sit with Him often to listen for His word, and I pray for His guidance and wisdom. As I move in the world, Jesus allows me to encounter Him in all people and I have come to love Him in the flesh through each of them.

In the spring of 2015, I started to have an overwhelming sense that there was something I needed to do that was not academically focused. I had spent four semesters and two summers studying about God and my heart was missing something. I went to visit the director of HIM (Hearts In Motion, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the poor in Guatemala) and found myself with a desire to serve the poor in Guatemala. I withdrew from my next summer session and the organization found a sponsor which allowed me to I fly with a team of doctors, nurses, and students to Zacapa, Guatemala.

I thought I was to work in an orphanage organizing a soccer camp for the local children but God had other plans for me. I spent 11 days as a medical interpreter. It was one of the most humbling and moving experiences of my life. I encountered Jesus in every single child that saw the doctors, and I heard the concerns and love in the voices of the parents. I felt His love in every hug and heard God’s voice in the words of gratitude that the people expressed. I had been studying of God but my heart desired to know Him at a deeper level. I desired to be consumed not just intellectually but spiritually.

 

La Cara de Jesus (The Face of Jesus), Interpreting in Zacapa, Guatemala, Summer of 2015.

What called me to Campus Ministry and working with Multicultural Ministry?
As I continued on in my academic studies, I realized I needed to continue ministering in my parish community at St. Adalbert/St. Casimir seeking to encounter Jesus on a deeper level. Nonetheless, there was something more that God wanted from me. As I was approaching my final year of studies, I was confronted with having to discern where God desired me to serve His people in the best way possible. In my years of study in the MDiv, here at the University of Notre Dame, I always believed that I would be doing parish ministry full-time at my home parish. It never crossed my mind to be anywhere else but God had other plans.

I was called to Campus Ministry, specifically multicultural ministry, because of God’s many servants in His vineyard who knew of my experience and work in the Latino community and in the Catholic Church. I came with no expectations and future inclinations to make ND Campus Ministry my place of ministry but God in His boundless wisdom placed me in the path of some of the most amazing and loving young people. For years, my husband and I prayed for children but we were never blessed with our very own. However, over the years, God has given us many spiritual children. I’ve come to realize that here as Campus Ministry I will be able to love and care for many of His young people.

Through the years, I have worked with many different communities and experienced many different ways of life. I have ministered in a large Latino Catholic community and encountered Jesus in a non-Catholic homeless person. I have worked with Jews, Muslims, and Christians on social justice issues and I have ministered in a diverse community on the West Side of South Bend providing food and youth programming. God has guided me here to Campus Ministry and multicultural ministry. I have learned that there is no difference in who we serve. Jesus loved everyone and cared for all no matter their ethnic background, culture, and/or faith background. “Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed. When they heard about all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon” (Mark 3:7-8). During His ministry, He reached out to Jews, Gentiles, Samaritans, and Romans. I was attracted to multicultural ministry because of Jesus’ example and the call to live the “eternal gospel” which is to preach to “every nation and tribe and tongue and people” (Rev. 14:6).

Why do I minister?
I minister because of my threefold ministry in Christ. In my priestly call I pray for wisdom and the heart of Jesus; in my prophetic life I speak through, walk in, and proclaim with the Truth; and in my royal commission, I govern my interior being to be able to serve and care for the people of God. I minister because of whose I am in and through my baptism.

 

“Go to the people of all nations and make them my disciples. Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” ~ Matthew 28:19 

Why We Minister: Mike Urbaniak

Mike Urbaniak, Assistant Director of Leadership Formation

During my sophomore year as an undergraduate at the University of Notre Dame, I was invited to attend a Campus Ministry retreat. One would naturally think this conversation took place after one of the weekly residence hall masses, at one of the many events hosted by Campus Ministry, in my Theology class, or maybe even in the dining hall. All of those sound like good plausible answers, but they would be incorrect. This invitation came in the cozy and somewhat smelly confines of the Siegfried Hall weight room while bench-pressing with a friend. It was a simple invitation in a completely commonplace environment that I look back to as one of the major guideposts as to why I am where I am- why I minister. It wasn’t that the retreat I subsequently attended was revolutionary or changed my life forever after a weekend of prayer, fellowship, and fun. Rather, it was the beginning of an awareness of the often slow and subtle movement of God and to a life’s trajectory that I had never expected. This retreat, while wonderful, was not earth-shattering. What it did for me, however, is introduce me to people, spiritual practices, and a consideration of life that would gradually lead me to reconsider my vocational call (up until that point, I had wanted to follow in the footsteps of my mother and enter the medical field).

Fast forward three years and I find myself coordinating that same retreat as a graduate intern. As the Campus Minister present on the retreat, there was a point at which I was available for individual conversations with anyone who wanted to talk. Although I only had a handful of people come and talk with me that night, I heard a common sentiment within each of the conversations: “I am not worthy of love.” I listened at that time, and on many occasions since, to so many people who don’t think they are worthy of true and unconditional love. They are often convinced or operate under the pretenses that their worthiness to be loved is conditional on a certain status, role, achievement, income, weight, look, performance, or some other standard of perfection that can never truly be met. My own experiences in life from my upbringing in an imperfect but loving family, to schooling, to friends, to my encounter and relationship with Christ in prayer, to sharing the grace of marriage with my wife, and parenthood to our precocious and ever-joyful daughter has shown me otherwise. I am not worthy of love because I am a “double-Domer” (graduating twice from Notre Dame), because I was a high school valedictorian, because I am a regular attendee at Sunday Mass, or because I work in Campus Ministry. No. God loves each and every one of us. Period. It does not matter our grades, our occupation, our income, or whatever different ways our culture often pressures us to consider ourselves worthy or “successful.” We are simply loved as beings created by God.

Mike, second from left, with student leaders on the retreat he led as a Campus Ministry Intern.

This is my fundamental call as a minister- to help others to recognize and better understand who they are fundamentally. I encounter a lot of students who have crises of vocation, who have a world of options in front of them, who wonder if they are making the right choice if they major in Accounting, take a consulting job in Chicago, win a Fulbright scholarship, or enter the seminary. In and of themselves, none of these things are good or bad. But, the path and decisions we make, when done with an understanding of being loved by God and in relation with God, are oriented to something eternally good. It puts us in a position that no matter our circumstance in life, we are oriented to serve others and show one another the same love that each of us is granted in our very existence. This is the love of God that no teacher, parent, adversary, politician, or judge can ever take away. It is the same love that fundamentally causes us to consider how it is we are to live in this world. It is the greatest gift we can ever receive and it is my deepest heartache to know that there are people who don’t think they are worthy of love.

The role I currently hold in Campus Ministry at Notre Dame works in the formation of student leaders. Fortunately, most of the students I work with on a daily basis have a grasp on their belovedness by God (though in the stressful and overachieving environment of college, they too need frequent reminders). I love to be on the frontlines, to be the listening ear of compassion, to be the presence of God to another, reminding them or letting them know or feel for the first time that they are loved just for being.

Mike, pictured in back with his arms wide open, surrounded by student leaders he works with.

I would like to return to that opening invitation from my friend. I had already seen the retreat posters several times. I had known of the retreat, read emails about it on multiple occasions, and heard from Campus Ministry staff. None of those things actually convinced me to sign up. I don’t know if I would’ve ever gone on the retreat without that invitation and wouldn’t have had that reminder of God’s love. It was the confidence of a peer in faith that invited me into that love and is exactly what I hope to inspire in the students I work with. Through their simple invitation and witness to the love of God, they can bring others to God. We each have that power and capacity, and students are uniquely suited in this college environment to make that invitation, to have a meaningful conversation, and to pray. I can only pray and trust in the work of God that I have been and can continue to be an instrument in the same way that my friend was by helping someone along their journey to recognizing the love of God.

Certainty in Something Greater

Emily David, Senior Anchor Intern

We all know the feeling of being overwhelmed. We have lived this pattern of trying to get everything done in a day to get to bed at a decent hour, working right up to deadlines, and then only being able to relax for a bit… repeat. We say we’ll get ahead over the weekend -which probably only happens 5% of the time for me- and then Sunday 10 PM rolls around, and we’re frustrated that we’ve paradoxically neither been “productive” nor honored the Lord’s day of rest. In moments of overwhelming busyness, I tend to remind myself, “OK, this has happened countless times before. You’ve got a few late nights ahead. But it’s all going to get done. It always does. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good… or done… just get past these papers due Friday… the weekend is almost here…” and so on.

Photo by Barbara Johnston

How many times have we found hope in the next thing? To what extent does having something to look forward to fill us with some consolation in the present moment? Reflecting on this has taught me two things: 1) I seek hope in something beyond myself, and 2) I want joy and consolation now. “Once I make it to Thursday after this exam, I’ll be OK.” But don’t we want to be OK now, on Tuesday? Don’t we want to live now? Something so much greater, something beyond ourselves promises life now.

I just returned from Rome where I led the Holy Week Pilgrimage for ND students studying abroad. It was a week of pure joy, which I carry with me now, despite the work left to do as the semester wraps up. Closing his homily on Easter Sunday in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis encouraged us to think about the everyday problems of life and say, “with a humble voice…to God who’s in front of us: ‘I don’t know how this is going, but I’m sure that Christ has risen.’” I could see that Papa Frank was hurting for the world. Yet, there was a peaceful serenity about him: he accepts reality because he is certain of something greater that fills the present reality with hope.

This “something greater” is the resurrection. My certainty is in God’s mercy incarnated in the life, death, and resurrection of His Son. My certainty is in a past event of 2,000 years ago, because the Mystery present then continues to change everything now. We need a yearly reminder at Easter of the daily reality of the resurrection. Similarly, I have certainty that I will make it through my busy weeks and exams because my past experience reminds me that everything will be OK no matter how hard it seems right now. Our remembrance of Good Friday reminds us to acknowledge the real feelings of hopelessness surrounding Christ’s death but to keep our hearts set on the hope of the resurrection that we know will be realized two days later. That one day is meant to help us acknowledge our own suffering while reminding us to seek hope in prayer through our personal “Good Fridays” throughout the year.

Easter at Basilica of the Sacred Heart // Photo by Matt Cashore

Don’t get me wrong, reminding myself that the papers will get done and that the weekend is almost here does help me chug through everything. Additionally, in moments of overwhelming busyness, let’s remember to pray. Just a short, simple prayer: God, please help me to get through this. I place myself and this work into your hands. I know that after praying, I still have work that needs to get done, choices I need to make, and consequences to accept. I may not feel a surge of peace after prayer, but even the simplest prayer is an act of trust that fills my soul with a deeper peace beyond emotions, with strength despite my sleep deprivation. Prayer is a powerful acknowledgment of the One who promises us life right now, of which we are reminded during our Easter celebration. God, “I don’t know how this is going, but I’m sure that Christ has risen.”

God’s Plan for my Lenten Season

Kate Walsh, Senior Anchor Intern

I remember a certain Lent during my high school years where I stuck to my Lenten sacrifice like glue. I had given up gluten, for several reasons. For one thing, I really love bread, pasta, and baked goods, and knew this would be a tough sacrifice. My other motivation, however, was that my mom had celiac disease, and I wanted to have a greater understanding of her daily sacrifice. God helped me be really consistent that year, and I had a grace-filled Lent that prepared me to welcome Easter with more joy and anticipation than I had ever experienced before! Talk about a shot in the arm for my faith life.

Fast-forward to this year, where I am a busy college senior trying to figure out, among many things, how I want to claim my faith life as my own once I leave this wonderful place. As I prayed about what I wanted to do for Lent this year, I kept feeling a pull to get to know Jesus in a more personal way; I craved to grow in deeper relationship with Him. Because of this, someone suggested to me that I engage in Lectio Divinia every day in Lent. Lectio Divina is a way to read Scripture that involves more meditation and trying to listen to what God wants to say to you through His Word. I made my checklist of which readings to do each day, and was ready to go!

Via Dolorosa // David Swenson

Well, unlike that year in high school, this Lent did not go so perfectly. I fell a little behind on my list of readings, and though I did feel like I was growing in my faith life, sometimes feelings of failure (which should not be what Lent is all about) started to creep in. As I sit here reflecting on the second half of Lent, however, I am realizing that during this time, God was just providing for me in an unexpected yet huge way.

I fell behind on my agenda for Lent in part due to my pilgrimage to the Holy Land. As a campus ministry intern, this trip was my main focus all semester, and going on the pilgrimage itself was an incredible experience. Though the busyness of our days and my jet lag-induced tiredness at night hindered me from sticking to my mapped out reading plan, God was allowing his Word to come alive in my heart in a new way by allowing me to walk the paths of the Gospels. We had the chance to walk the Via Dolorosa, the way of the Cross. At the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu on Mount Zion, we entered into the events of Holy Thursday by praying in the underground caves where Jesus was held and abused by Caiaphas and his guards. At Calvary, when I was too overwhelmed to know what to do or say, God gave me the time and space to sit and listen to Him. And now, each time I open my Bible or listen to the readings at Mass, my experience of Scripture has been transformed by the gift of my time in Israel.

Church of St. Peter, Gallicantu // David Swenson

So whether you feel that your Lent was a rich time of spiritual growth, or if you fell off the bandwagon several times, do not worry. Jesus has risen from the dead, and never stops wanting you to grow closer to Him! I encourage you, much like you do in Lectio Divina, to just spend time with God and be open to whatever He has in store for you. God’s plan for my season of Lent this year was more incredible than anything I could have planned myself, and for that I am so grateful! As it is written in Constitution #119 of the Congregation of Holy Cross, “Resurrection for us is a daily event…We know that we walk by Easter’s first light, and it makes us long for its fullness.” I will be praying that you have a blessed Easter season and experience the joy of God’s daily Resurrection!

God’s Call to Prayer

Ben Swanson, Anchor Senior Intern 

I returned to campus after spring break with a sense that I had been gone for a very long time. I was on tour with the Glee Club and as we traveled through the American Southwest (enjoying every moment of it) I was left with very little time to pray. During the day we were either exploring a city or on the bus, and anyone who has been on such a bus for an extended period of time knows that it isn’t the best place for silent reflection or prayer. It is noisy and busy and exhausting. In the evening we would have a concert, visit with those who were hosting us, and then promptly collapse exhausted into sleep. Overall it was a week that did not lend itself to a consistent prayer life. And I felt it. When I returned I knew that I needed to pick up where I left off. I knew that I should go to Adoration in the CoMo chapel, or at least set aside some time to pray and center myself back into an awareness of God. The problem is that I really didn’t want to. I felt just a little bit lost and something kept convincing me to go do other things. This continued on for a week where some voice kept calling me to prayer but I kept myself away.

 

Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

Eventually, I made my way into a chapel by overriding strong hesitation and forcing myself to make an effort. I sat down and began to pray. I knew that something was different. I felt foreign and distant from my prayer. It was like seeing a very old friend again and not knowing what to say because there is simply too much to say. I didn’t know whether I should apologize for my absence or be angry that God didn’t do more to pull me in sooner. It was in that chapel, in that moment of ambiguity in prayer, that I realized something remarkable. God didn’t feel distant from me. He felt as close as ever. I looked back across this week of hesitation and I realized that God had been pulling on my sleeve, flicking my ear, and reminding me constantly that I should be praying. At the time I thought it was just annoying. I was angry with God for not calling me back to prayer while at the same time I was annoyed that a little voice in my head wouldn’t let me just go my own way in peace. I didn’t realize until later that God was that little voice. I realized that I had been talking to God all week. I had been telling him: “I know that I should be praying, but just give me a day or two.” I asked God to wait for me, that I would be back soon.

Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

God did wait for me. He was there waiting to hear everything I had to say or to sit with me in silence whenever I was ready. But God wasn’t going to just let me wallow until I happened to find my way back. He was constantly pulling and calling out to me. He told me time and time again that I would find joy in coming to Him. I couldn’t find my way back to prayer except through prayer. Only God could be the source of a relationship with God. I wasn’t going to find that through ignoring him. I have often had long periods of time where I cannot hear God or it seems as though God cannot hear me, and I know that I am not unique in this. In these moments we are filled with the temptation to run and hide. We think that wherever God is he doesn’t want to hear about our problems. He’s probably angry with us and we need to fix things before presenting ourselves before Him again. The beauty is that God, whether we feel close to Him or not, is always with us. He is always calling us to Himself. We hide ourselves from Him and dress Him up in all sorts of disguises so that we may ignore his call for a moment. But God does not ignore us, even for a moment. He hears us and sees us in every moment of our lives. He waits for us to hear His call so that He may welcome us with open arms into the joy of His love. In a little over a month I will be leaving Notre Dame and I know that I will encounter more “tour bus times”, those periods when prayer is neglected for a while. I know that I can take hope in the fact that God will always be calling me back to him and waiting for me with open arms.