Leah Buck, Senior Anchor Intern – Sacramental Preparation and Catechesis
The holiday season is officially upon us. Thanksgiving has passed and Advent is here, which, for many of us, means there is a myriad of gatherings to plan and guests to host during the coming weeks. Families stay overnight in our homes for the holidays, co-workers and friends gather for Christmas parties, carolers are invited inside for hot chocolate or cookies. When we are expecting guests, it can be all too easy to get so caught up in the tasks of being a host or hostess that we forget what it means to be hospitable. This semester, as I’ve prepared for my own guests to visit my apartment, I’ve often found myself agonizing over what recipe to cook or how to arrange the snack table or what songs to add to the playlist. I’m tempted with perfectionism and pride, becoming more concerned with how my friends perceive me and my domestic skills than how well they are loved when in my home.
Intuitively, I know that having an instagram-worthy spread and picture-perfect decor isn’t what hospitality is about, but I’ve struggled to figure out what it truly means. Some insight from the practices of St. Benedict has helped.
The Benedictine order, the group of monks that St. Benedict founded, is known for their hospitality. This is a pretty wild idea. Think about it: an order of monks, vowed to a life of poverty and prayer, probably living in a remote monastery, are notoriously good hosts. By the world’s definitions of being the ‘hostess with the mostest,’ this makes no sense. They don’t have elaborate decor for every season or the trendiest snack choice for every dietary need. They are men of simplicity, not of extravagance. So what makes them such great hosts?
Loni Collins Pratt provides some perspective on this on this in her book Radical Hospitality: Benedict’s Way of Love:
“Hospitality requires not grand gestures, but open hearts. Hospitality is not necessarily keeping guests occupied or entertained. Instead, Benedict tells us to offer an open heart, a stance of availability, and to look for God in every single person who comes through the door.”
The Benedictines are noteworthy hosts because they receive each person who enters their monastery as Jesus Christ himself. They hope to make their home a place of welcome, where guests’ hungry hearts can be nourished. Inviting people in, the Benedictines say, “I see you. I love you. I want to get to know you.” In this gesture, they speak to one of the deepest longings of the human heart, to belong.
This is truly what makes the Benedictines some of the best hosts in the world. They understand that hospitality is not about doing but about being. It is not a task to accomplish but a disposition to embody. Praying with this idea has transformed my ideas of what it means to be a hostess, and I hope that this new attitude translates into how I welcome my friends and family this season.
Here are a few precepts that (now) guide my preparations for guests:
1. Invite Jesus First
If we want to receive our visitors as Christ did, we must welcome Him first! Let’s open our own hearts to Jesus. Let’s ask him to join our preparations and our parties. Let’s call upon him to send his graces upon our gatherings and reveal himself to us in our neighbors.
2. Create a Space of Encounter
If we desire to encounter our guests, we must make sure that our homes are conducive to encounter! Let’s worry less about planning activities and more about encouraging conversation. Let’s ask good questions and listen intently to their answers. Let’s introduce guests to one another and to God.
3. Love Each Guest Individually
If we hope that each person who enters our home feels loved, we must love them intentionally! Let’s greet each guest joyfully and by name. Let’s be truly glad that each and every person is with us. Let’s delight in the presence of our friends.
There’s really nothing difficult about being a host or hostess like the Benedictines. It doesn’t require any custom-ordered cakes or personalized napkins. It simply requires a gift of ourselves. I pray that you can join me in making that gift to your guests this season.
At times, an image comes to mind. An image I saw some years ago that depicted a man walking. While walking, he was hit in the head with a stone. After being smitten, he turned around both hurt and angry and screamed “Why God? Why?!” At that moment, he looked up and saw God shielding him from a conglomerate of boulders. God then looks back and says “I’m sorry, did I miss one? Are you alright?” Although this image itself shows doubt, that isn’t what spoke to me about the picture.
Have you ever heard God described as your “friend,” your “father,” your “rock,” or another familiar term? Often we view God as a father that watches over us or a friend who we can trust and confide in fully…. Well, I have definitely had points in my life where I wanted to challenge this idea. “How can I confide in God as a friend, if he already knows everything that I have done, will do and simply thought of doing?” and “If he truly is my heavenly father, doesn’t he want what’s best for me? Why does he keep letting all of these things happen to me? Why does he let me fall? Does he care enough about me to intervene? Where is he when I need him?” and “How can he be my rock and my fortress when he allows so much evil to come into my life and knock me off balance?” These are honest questions that I’ve had in my faith. Maybe you have asked similar questions that challenged the commonly given praises that God receives. Whenever I asked these questions, I would always find myself running far away from God. I would run as far as I could, doing whatever I wanted and surrendering myself to the forces of the world instead of his will. Through these questions, I experienced doubt in the power of God.
Growing up, I was constantly taught in church to never doubt God, his love, and his power over everything. I was taught that this doubt meant that I did not trust God and that even if I did not understand him or his ways, I was to follow after him in ignorance if necessary. It wasn’t until college where I learned how healthy doubt truly is. Through doubt, we are truly able to grow closer to God. Through these questions, I have been able to see that I can confide in God as a friend because when I honestly have no one else to talk to, I can talk to him. And he does want what is best for me, even when what I think is best for me doesn’t exactly line up with God’s will. The pebbles that escape his impenetrable fortress were meant to make me tougher. He allows these hard, rough-edged trials to come into my life to make me better than I was before. They are meant to teach me new lessons. Lessons of humility, of conviction, of pain, of loss, of strength, of patience, and of love. It is honestly these moments where we have been stricken and have run so far away from God, that we are honestly the closest to him. In these points of weakness and vulnerability, I have grown to depend on his strength to get me through the trials. It is through these times that I have felt the most alone that I could call on his name and he is present for me. I initially think that because he allowed that one stone to hit me, I was running further and further away from him, but in all actuality, I just ended up running right back to him.
I may not have gotten everything I wanted in life or had the easiest 21 years of living, but he gave me everything I needed. Who am I to say that he hasn’t? I’m alive, aren’t I? All my needs are met, aren’t they? And he still loves me unconditionally…and there’s no need to question that. He has truly been the best friend I’ve ever had, even when I felt that I had none. He has been the only father that I have truly known throughout my whole life. He is the rock that keeps me grounded and the fortress that keeps me safe. I think that now I understand that when those stones make it to me and knock me off of my feet, that it was his doing and it isn’t a deficiency of his power, but a flex of his strength that he wants to instill in me. I’m not saying that I won’t try to run away in the future, but at least now I know that eventually, I will run right back into him.
Looking back at the past two years, the journey of the end of my father’s life, I cannot believe how much God has blessed me with. I recognize that in the beginning of the journey, my faith and trust in the Lord was not as strong as it has become. I’ve learned to listen, pay attention, and honor what is valuable day-to-day.
During the fall of my third year, my father began acting in a strange manner and no one knew the cause of it. His actions lead to mistrust and a rocky relationship with my mother. In order to help them, when I came home for Christmas break, my family prayed a novena to Our Lady Undoer of Knots.
On the seventh day we were unable to enter into the chapel where we had been praying the novena. So, we prayed in the van. As we finished, my mom saw the parish priest heading to the chapel and she followed him. My mom began to tell him what had been going on with my dad; the mood swings, the sleeping, and the exhaustion. The priest’s suggestion was to take my dad to urgent care. Odd suggestion. My mom comes back into the van and asks me, “Should we go get groceries as planned or should we go to urgent care?” I responded to her that he was fine and we should just go get groceries. She did what her gut was leading her to do and we went to urgent care.
During this time, I had trust that the Lord would help my parents and mend their relationship. Although I had faith in this, I was not listening to where the Lord was asking my mom and I to go. To trust in the signs and pay attention to what was truly important.
At urgent care, the doctor saw the same thing that I did, there was nothing wrong with my dad. My mom noticed that half of his face was droopy. Once she pointed this out, I began noticing it as well. Once the doctor could see it, too, he said that we needed to go to the emergency room because my father could potentially have had a stroke.
I had never experienced how overwhelming it is to enter the hospital off of an ambulance. There was so much going on at once that I didn’t know where to focus my attention. Everyone was speaking at once; nurses from the ambulance and those with my dad were asking questions, the social worker as well, and my dad who had no idea what was going on. I was answering their questions, translating for my dad, and looking to see where my mom was. Once things finally calmed down, my mom and I were moved into the waiting room. In this overwhelming and confusing moment I recognized how God allowed me to have peace and clarity in the moments I needed to respond.
My dad went in for a CT scan and an MRI, but with it being so late at night we had to wait until morning for the results. On Christmas Eve, I remember walking into the hospital room where the doctor told us the MRI showed that my dad had two tumors in his brain. This shattered my heart. My dad had two tumors in his brain. This explains the sleeping, the anger, and the reason why he wasn’t himself. This was day eight of the novena to Our Lady Undoer of Knots.
The next hour, day, weeks, months, were some of the most difficult, but best times I had with my family.
My father went through chemotherapy. He was doing really well at first, but then the treatments were no longer affecting the tumor. After the chemotherapy, he went in for radiation. Throughout these treatments I was on call. At any moment a call from my family could come in and I would answer. Mainly to translate, but at times it would be my father who had nothing to do in the hospital but wait, so he wanted to talk. I remember sitting outside my classes in tears because I couldn’t be beside him during those times. God had placed me where I needed to be throughout this entire journey. The more I listened to the Lord in prayer it became more clear as to what I needed to do.
As the following school year was starting up we received news that the radiation was not working and the tumor was growing. I returned home for the following appointments. I remember being in the hospital and there wasn’t a translator present. The doctor told us that my father had at most three months to live. I then, without thinking too much of what the doctor had just said, translated to my family in Spanish. I will never forget the moment my mom turned to me hoping that she had heard the doctor incorrectly and then telling her that what she heard was correct.
For the next couple of months my family did anything my dad wanted. We went to Chicago for a weekend, my parents renewed their 25th anniversary vows, and there was a lot of ice cream that was eaten. These memories are so wonderful and full of love, joy, and hope.
I was sitting in office hours when I received a call that my dad was getting worse as the day progressed. This was the last time I heard his voice. I remember speaking to a family friend who was taking care of him and she asked me, “When are you coming home?” I told her that my plan was to leave the next morning because I had to work that night. Then the follow up question of “How early?” I told her I could leave in that moment if I needed to – so I did.
Let me tell you how wild and full of the Holy Spirit these next moments were. I got off the phone, headed to let my professor know that I was heading home and was probably not going to submit the assignment on time. I text my friend to see if I could potentially borrow her car in that moment and she said she had just arrived back to campus and would meet up with me to give me the key. Obviously not being in the perfect mindset to drive, I called a good friend to see if he would drive me home. No answer. I text him that I would be heading home because my dad isn’t doing well. Luckily, he steps out of class and said he would meet up with me to drive me home. All of this happened within 5 to 10 minutes of deciding that I needed to leave immediately. The Holy Spirit was incredibly present and I calmed down as everything fell into place.
I made it home in time to be with my father for a couple more hours. I am so grateful that my family was able to be there. Even in those last moments, God allowed my youngest brother to fall asleep as my dad was taking his last breath.
Through this journey I have been able to grow in my relationship with God and to recognize my encounters with Him . God is present every single moment, every single day. Know that God is with you when your world or heart shatters and He will never leave your side.
Descanse en paz papá. In loving memory of Francisco Javier Toledo.
Senior Anchor Intern, Katherine Smith – Sacramental Prep & Catechesis
As the days grow shorter and I begin to pull out my boots and scarves on these late fall days, I feel my whole approach to the semester shifting. Anticipation for home—for Thanksgiving with family and Christmas in Minnesota—has set in. At the same time, almost as if these holidays are the winter hibernation that ensue fall semester, I find myself frantically trying to prepare for and accomplish all that must happen between now and Christmas break. I mean, suddenly I feel a surprising association with our squirrel friends trying to fatten up for winter as I wonder if I’ll have enough flex points to see me through another month of research papers and tests! Needless to say, I find my thoughts and life patterns becoming more and more narrowly focused and closing in upon themselves—really, patterns of survival in the chaos. The endless to-do lists that threaten to overwhelm my thoughts during Mass or prayer, the reminders from friends that I’ve forgotten to spend time with them, or the lack of wonder at the glories of burning fall foliage as I hurriedly traverse campus speak to the all-consuming nature of this mentality. What I myself need to do for me becomes the mantra. But, with this mindset, I know I am closing off what is most important. Where is the space to hear God speak? To recognize His presence in another? To receive and share His Goodness?
In the midst of this hibernation preparation, if not for the questions from friends and acquaintances across campus about my fall break, I might have easily forgotten that only two weeks ago I was on pilgrimage in Rome during the Synod on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment. With a dozen other Notre Dame students I had the privilege of experiencing the Church through the beauty of Rome’s churches, art, and legacy of the saints and opening myself up to the broader reality of the universal Church.
As we engaged the Synod as youth, I was reminded that despite the great brokenness of the Church it still offers me the greatest of gifts in and through Christ. I left Rome knowing that Christ pours out His Goodness so totally in the sacramental life of the Church and my responsibility as a member of the Body of Christ is to receive and then share the Goodness of Christ with everyone I encounter. Much of this realization came from my one duty during the Synod pilgrimage: to reflect on the transcendental virtue of Goodness in my own life. As I began to reflect on Goodness and write about my experience, God called me to look back at something so different than—so utterly opposed to—the safe and self-preserving attitudes I find myself slipping into now. I needed to concretely put into words what C.S. Lewis’s quote about God, “I am not safe, but I am good,” means. I needed to remember my experiences in Kolkata, India during an ISSLP two summers ago …
“Immediately upon arriving in Kolkata to serve with the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa’s order of sisters, immense suffering and destitution confronted me. I cried out to God, “Where is the goodness here? Where is Your joy?” The suffering around me seemed devoid of life and hope. Yet, when I wanted to run, I found Jesus waiting, asking me to enter into this poverty—and not only another’s poverty, but my own.
The call to rest in Christ’s poverty became a continual ache inside of me—one of both longing and utter loathing. I wanted to see the goodness in his poverty, but it hurt. I knew it meant letting my own heart be broken up, just like the women and children whom I served. Would I let my heart be broken to see His Goodness?
That’s what Mother Teresa proposed, but I didn’t necessarily want to listen. Before Kolkata, I thought Mother Teresa and I were friends. In Kolkata, I just felt like she was picking on me the whole time. Her words about sacrifice and her example of poverty are beautiful but living them out proved far more difficult than I expected. If I wanted to respond to them, I had to change. Yet, she invited me to sit at the foot of the Cross—in prayer and through being with the women and children in their suffering—and hear Jesus’s call of “I thirst.” In doing so I began to learn to turn into the depths of poverty of both the women and children I served, and of myself—and really of Christ. This felt like throwing all caution and safety to the winds, but Jesus showed me that His goodness isn’t my own control of safety or my own desire for comfort. Goodness is not safe as I know it, but it is the surety of Christ’s protective arms stretched out on the Cross for me and for all of us: it is His sacrificial love.
Slowly, through my work and prayer in Kolkata, the pure goodness of His sacrificial love began to overwhelm me. Despite the immense poverty around me, Goodness appeared. It became manifest in the smiles of the women, in the giggles of the children, in the commitment of the sisters and volunteers, and in the presence of the Eucharist. Because of this Goodness, out of the suffering I found a deeper joy. This joy is hidden deep in the wound of Christ’s side, but being taken up into the poverty of that wound means being close—so incredibly close—to Jesus in all that we do.”
In these final weeks of the semester, I often forget that Christ calls me to be close to Him first. I forget that this closeness to Christ paradoxically entails not a closed off, self-preserving attitude, but an openness to the greater reality of a life beyond myself and my seemingly pressing needs. Kolkata and Rome remind me of what is important and also call me to examine how I am overlooking this importance in my daily life. I really don’t need to look far to realize how I can enter into relationship with Christ and others now. All it takes is simply looking up and looking out to receive friends and classmates in their own struggles and joys, to be grateful for leafy reflections on the lakes, and to remember that God wants to meet me in prayer and the sacraments now, not in December when hibernation preparations have ended. Ultimately, I know, trying to make it to the end of the semester unscathed, complete, and well-preserved through keeping my tunnel vision in place will not lead to a place of light, life and wholeness. As Kolkata revealed to me, our hearts don’t work like that. Rather, precisely in the small sacrifices of being present to the people around us and in recognizing the goodness of our time right here and now, even when chaotic, will our daily struggles be transformed into a beautiful journey with Christ.
Jenna Morgan, Senior Anchor Intern – Retreats and Pilgrimages
André House will always hold a special place in my heart.
For the past two fall breaks I’ve had the privilege to travel with a group of Notre Dame students to the André House of Hospitality in Phoenix, Arizona on a Seminage (a collaboration between the Center for Social Concerns and Campus Ministry). Last year was the first time I had ever been to André House, let alone Arizona. It was a whirlwind of a time to say the least. The experience and the people I met launched me on a yearlong path of heightened awareness, growth, and continued self-discovery.
After my first visit to André House, I knew immediately that if I was ever in Phoenix again, I wanted to return and volunteer for a few days. However, I never expected to have the opportunity to return so soon. That was until I accepted a position as a Senior Anchor Intern in Campus Ministry for Retreats and Pilgrimages and was asked if I would help co-lead the Hands of St. André Seminage over fall break 2018. After much prayer and reflection, I accepted the role not fully understanding all that my “yes” would entail, but feeling nudged in that direction none the less.
The series of meetings leading up to the immersion were a blur of Friday planning meetings with my co-leader and long Monday nights of class and leadership formation. On paper I was prepared to help lead this Seminage, but I can honestly say that between the businesses of academics, events for Campus Ministry, planning for my post-grad future, and simply living the life of a senior at Notre Dame, I didn’t fully comprehend that I was going back to André House until it was 4 am at the O’Hare airport waiting for our flight to Phoenix. As I sat at the airport I reflected back to a year ago, another early morning start, and to that experience, the people, the encounters, the moments, and the feelings. I was caught in this sort of tension between wanting the experience to feel familiar, to recognize faces around me, and at the same time realizing that if it was too similar and I saw too many of the same faces from last year, then sadly in the intervening year nothing would have changed in the lives of the homeless and impoverished guests that rely on the services of André House.
To give a bit of background for those unfamiliar with André House, the André House of Hospitality in Phoenix, Arizona began in late 1984 when two Holy Cross priests from Notre Dame rented a house in a working-class neighborhood in Phoenix with the mission to respond to the basic needs of the poor and homeless, while encouraging others to do the same. On November 29, 1984, the first guest was welcomed. This began a long tenure of hospitality inspired by the life of St. André Bessette and the traditions of the Congregation of Holy Cross. This mission of André House has continued to be supported by many Holy Cross religious and countless volunteers over the years. Today, André House serves an average of 600 plates of food per night, six nights a week, as well as providing other needed services such as a free clothing closet, laundry, showers, an office with a phone, basic medication and first-aid, lockers, legal services, blanket distribution, restrooms, access to clean water, and a welcoming porter by the gate.
Upon arriving in Phoenix with all my fatigue, stress, and worries, I wondered what the week ahead would look like for us. As soon as we pulled up to the gate to begin our week at André House, all those thoughts dropped away and I was fully immersed back into the André House community, that crazy, caring, blessed, sometimes dysfunctional family. In a way it was like going home; a place that was familiar but still different then the last time I had left it. A place where so many elements of life are beautifully and messily juxtaposed against one another.
A few significant moments from this year’s trip particularly stand out to me:
My first shift this year was in the office with a member from our group and a member of the core staff. I remembered being in the office last year and the fast-paced, request filling agenda. This time was no different. Some requests for hygiene kits or aspirin were easily fulfilled, others were more of a challenge. The office is a balancing act between upholding the established rules and procedure, and determining when they can be stretched or broken to meet the varied needs of the guests. A special moment was when a guest asked for a rosary and I was able to go downstairs into the basement and find one for her. Her gratitude was sincere.
There was the encounter while portering by the gate (a legacy of St. André Bessette’s hospitality) when I was walking amongst the guests on the rows of benches. I sat down across from one guy with a Syracuse hat on and started talking to him, asking if he was also from upstate New York. Our conversation was slow, fragmented and waning when another guy further down the bench woke up and started talking. He shared that it was his first day at André House, he had just been released from the hospital, and his mother had recently died. This was a lot to comprehend in the span of a few short sentences. Immediately he was seeking a blanket for the evening when the temperature would drop substantially outside, but his need was much greater than that and less tangible. He came back a few minutes later and straddled the bench right next to me. He repeated his story, this time with a few additional details. At what seemed like the end of our conversation, I told him that I would be praying for him. At that, he could not resist embracing me in a hug, and then another hug, and then finally another hug while lightly kissing my cheek and gently patting my back which was then followed by the question of if I had a boyfriend. In that moment I realized multiple things; the importance of extending genuine prayers to others, the need to be truly listened to, the need for human connection and embrace, but also my own vulnerability, particularly as a young woman. Without wanting to cause him any additional suffering, but also recognizing my vulnerability in the situation, I gently extracted myself with a quick self-protecting “yes” and a need to go help inside. Looking back on this encounter, I wonder if this was not the face of Christ present to me in that moment, an opportunity to encounter and embrace another broken individual in their time of need, despite my own hesitations and misgivings.
André House is a huge family sharing in life together. During lunch one day we celebrated the 50th birthday of the hardworking maintenance worker with a special lunch and lots of cake. As a community, we mourned the loss of a guest’s beloved dog and comforted her with empathy and a framed picture of them together. Signs of hope were present with the “weddings” of two couples; one that began the day before with the most unique version of Say Yes to the Dress you could probably ever see in the basement clothing racks. We had the opportunity to experience André House as a guest by grabbing a meal ticket to go through the service line for dinner, sit in the dining room, and talking with the guests. André House truly blurs the line between those serving and those being served in the most beautiful ways that lead to solidarity, empathy, and community.
The way Mass is celebrated each day at André House is unique. It is not in a fancy basilica or chapel, but directly in our place of service and community; the St. Francis dining room with all the staff gathered together sitting around a series of circular tables pushed together. Last year and this year again, this celebration of the Mass struck me as the closest I will ever come to being at the Last Supper with all the faithful disciples gathered around the table for the consecration of the bread and wine. For me, one of the most beautiful moments in this celebration of the Mass is the passing of the Body and Blood around the table, each person receiving from and giving to the other. On Wednesday my idea of what Mass looks like expanded even further when we brought the Mass outside to the guests on the rows of benches. This isn’t the peaceful, quiet, reverent Masses we might be used to at the Basilica on campus, no this is truly sharing the Gospel with the masses, hearing real, messy petitions offered up for prayer, smelling the stench of who knows what, and placing the Body of Christ into dirty, weathered hands while looking into the eyes of strangers, who aren’t really strangers, but brothers and sisters in Christ. This might not be what we initially think of when we think of the Mass, but it is beautiful in its own way none the less, and might actually be more related to our everyday lives then we may initially believe or want to admit.
In the end, André House is a lot about listening to the stories of others, calling each other by name, and cleaning away the dirt, both literal and metaphorical, to discover the glimpses of grace sparkling throughout our lives. My André House experience was a beautiful reminder of the joys and sorrows that accompany the sometimes crazy life I lead, but above all, it was an important reminder of how truly blessed I am, as I keep all those who call André House home in my prayers.
St. André Bessette, Pray for Us!
If you are interested in learning more about André House, or how you can get involved, please visit andrehouse.org for more information.
Marissa Griffith, Senior Anchor Intern – Sacramental Preparation and Catechesis
During the summer following my freshman year of college, I went on a mission trip to Uganda. As we encountered the poor, I saw how so many of them were completely reliant on charity simply to survive. I wondered if this was a parallel for my relationship with God. When he says “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” is he asking me to rely completely on His charity, on His Love? (Matthew 5:3) To accept the reality of my brokenness – my poverty – and rely completely on the Lord meant that I had to learn to trust Him.
The following spring I was preparing for an ISSLP in Tanzania, and in learning about international development, I saw how seeing the poor as passive recipients of charity instead of active protagonists in their story is an unhealthy social dynamic that fosters continued dependence on developed nations that stunts the growth of developing nations. I was so convicted that this was true, but what did this say about my call to be poor in spirit? I didn’t want to ignore the reality of suffering in order to explain the Gospel.
Seeking a space to grapple with these questions, I signed up for a theology class called Mercy and Liberation. There I was introduced to Oscar Romero, the archbishop of El Salvador during the oppression leading up to the Salvadoran civil war. Reading Romero, I was struck by how he preached the Gospel. He didn’t try to explain away the suffering of the poor as God’s will or tell them that if they suffered patiently God would reward them. He made no attempt to say that everything was fine if they just trusted in God. In fact, he was very comfortable saying that everything was not fine and that suffering was not God’s will for His people. He was convicted that his people were worth more than a pat on the shoulder, a trite saying, or any false preaching of the Gospel that ignored the reality of their pain. So, every Sunday homily, as he announced the Gospel of the Lord, he denounced structural sin right along with it. He called his people to a deeper trust that when God saw the suffering of his people, he did not stand by and watch, but came and dwelt among them. Just so, Romero came to his suffering people and stood with them. He acknowledged the depth of their suffering and, by standing with the lowest in society, had the eyes to see the reality of injustice that the poor experienced, an injustice that was maintained by oppression. Any “peace” that covers up injustice is false peace, he saw; true peace is rooted in justice.
The next semester, everything was going great. I had a good group of friends, I was enjoying my classes, and nothing was going particularly wrong. However, just when I thought I was fine, life threw me some gut punches and it became clear that everything was not fine. First, a bad job interview. Next, waitlisted for the Campus Ministry Internship. Then, a friend unexpectedly called me out for a habitual sin I was unaware of that was hurting many of my relationships. Each one of these was a blow to my ego, but the last one really knocked the wind out of me. I place so much value in my relationships that it physically hurt to think that my behavior had harmed those that I treasure so deeply. Confronted with the reality of my sin, I couldn’t ignore the state of my heart anymore. It was only by facing my brokenness, sin, and inability to get out of the mess I had made that I saw my absolute need of God’s grace to lift me out of it. God can’t heal something that I won’t give to him; I had to expose my heart so the Divine Physician could do His work. I had to trust Him enough to uncover the hidden sin in my life so that it could be rooted out, and I learned not to be scared to pray for “everything hidden to come into the light.” (Luke 8:17)
This semester, I’m continuing to walk with Romero as I write my thesis on his ministry and preaching. As the hidden sins of some of our Church leaders come into the light, Romero has given me a way to grapple with these horrific realities. Confronted with the reality of shockingly widespread sin, I have been given strength to pray that everything hidden will come into the light so that the work of healing can begin. Although it is overwhelming to think of the scale of our brokenness as a Church, people deserve more than just picking up the pieces of the wreckage sin has left behind. It’s going to be a painful process, but Romero reminds me that it’s not enough to say that our Church is “fine.” The Church isn’t fine, but she is holy; not because her members are holy, but because Christ is holy. Romero says that “the Church persists because she is composed of people who place their fragile trust in Christ, and Christ is in God, and God is in Christ and in us.” Romero preaches that the Church, the Body of Christ, is made up of individual members and if we are to address root causes of widespread sin we must begin with the heart of each person. We the Church are part of the culture that forms its members. A culture of sin begins with the personal sin of individuals, so a culture of truth and healing begins with each individual who has the courage to expose their heart to the Lord. That we may have the courage to let the painful healing process begin, St. Oscar Romero, pray for us!
We laugh about it now, but at the ripe age of seven, I accidentally cut my dad’s finger with pruning shears. This learning moment, seared into my memory, comes to mind every time I read John 15:1-3:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does not bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”
Though I didn’t have the best track record with pruning, I asked God to show me what needed to be pruned in my life. Spoiler alert: He answered.
The end of junior year brought to a close one of my most challenging years of college; a year full of learning how I love, or fail to love others, and a tough goodbye to a cherished relationship. What resulted was a brokenness I had never experienced. Slowly and painstakingly, this season of change seemed to prune away my pride and attachment to my plans – things of comfort that I wanted to keep.
In tandem with the inner pruning at work, I embarked on a journey of professional growth. Through towering concrete, mountains, and forests, I traveled 7,000 miles around the country working for a non-profit that prioritizes community through justice education on college campuses. No words can fully articulate my gratitude for the vineyard workers whom I had the privilege of working alongside; their openness, generous questioning, and dedication to community building have shaped some of the best parts of me. Despite this felt growth, I sensed a restlessness in my bones. I presumed that God, the vinedresser, was rustling in the leaves – drawing close for reasons I did not yet know.
At Break Away, I was surrounded by beautiful people, people passionate about social justice and fueled by a healthy dose of righteous anger. Anger wasn’t an emotion I had dealt with often, so it was disorienting to feel the chords of anger others struck resounding within myself. My heart clutched onto withering branches: holding onto my pride, shame, and anger on behalf of others.
Brokenness in my relationships, brokenness in systemic injustice, and brokenness in our church. My withering branches steeped in frustration that the Lord wanted to take so much away. Exhausted, I set out to find balm that would heal these painful wounds.
I saw two paths crystallizing before me: one of reckoning with shaking fists and one of mercy with open hands. Out of fear of the unknown, I was resistant to taking a step in either direction, until I read the following excerpt from Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson:
“We are all broken by something…Sometimes we’re fractured by the choices we make; sometimes we’re shattered by things we would have never chosen…But simply punishing the broken – walking away from them or hiding them from sight – only ensures that they remain broken and we do, too.”
Though not all at once, I began to realize that forgiveness and mercy were the hands I needed to extend, rather than walking away or hiding. I knew I couldn’t will myself into it; day by day the Lord faithfully walked with me, revealing that brokenness is not something to resist but something to bring to the light.
This is not just any light; it’s not the stark, fluorescent glare of a classroom nor the warm glow of Edison bulbs in a coffee shop. It’s the brilliance of the Resurrection in everyday life. For me, the Constitutions of the Congregation of Holy Cross has served as a beacon of what this looks like:
“Resurrection for us is a daily event… We have known the forgiveness of those who misuse their neighbor; we have seen heartbreak and defeat lead to a transformed life; we have heard the conscience of an entire church stir; we have marveled at the insurrection of justice… We walk by Easter’s first light, and it makes us long for its fullness” (Constitution 119).
Finally yielding to the vinedresser allowed this light to peek through the overgrowth of my dying branches. Delicately and assiduously (unlike seven-year-old me), the Father helped me lay dead branches to rest – making room for trust in the truth of the Resurrection.
The contrast of stepping back into the familiarity of campus as a new person has been the surest sign of growth, as confusing as it may sometimes feel. From heavy talks about injustice redeemed by the hope of grassroots change to simply making new memories in old places: the Resurrection, an event I used to think of as a one-time miracle that occurred 2,000 years ago, is now something I experience daily.
Meaningful conversations offer glimpses of the endless depth of another person that meld my anger into mercy. Placing relics of a past self along with evidence of brokenness in our institutions at the foot of the Cross transforms my shame into trust that all has been and will be made new. Every day, I see goodness and brokenness come into tension; every day, I recommit to the eternal perspective that this is what makes life whole. Dreaming of eternity: this is the fruit that lasts.
When I was young, I never really understood why the bread and wine were put on a little table in the back of my home parish church before Mass started. Couldn’t the priest just keep the cruets and the bowl on the side of the altar until the liturgy of the Eucharist? Why did they need to be marched back from the sacristy by an usher, and then marched up the aisle to the priest, and then doled out to altar servers before finally being used? My efficient sensibilities didn’t approve of all of this changing of hands. Get the gifts up there so that I can receive Jesus.
I began accompanying Masses at my home parish when I was finishing eighth grade. At first, I looked at this opportunity primarily as an opportunity to spend a lot of my time during the Mass doing something that I love to do, which meant less time wondering what I should be thinking about or praying about or how I should be holding my hands or anything like that. I loved playing piano, and when I got the invitation to join the music group I thought playing for Mass would make me enjoy Mass more.
After accompanying a few Masses the whole way through, I came to an important realization: providing music for Mass was a time-intensive job. I was still working on becoming a better pianist, and so every week I would spend hours practicing the handful of songs that were up for that Sunday, then take a quick breath and start in on next Sunday’s songs. Mass used to be either engaging or boring to me, but now Mass could be a lot of things all at once: thrilling, stressful, embarrassing, frightening, moving, exciting. In the larger cost-benefit analysis, why did anyone choose to give so much when they didn’t feel like they were getting entirely positive benefits? Why serve?
There’s a lovely woman who sits in the front row at my home parish during Saturday evening Mass. She walks elegantly with a cane and dresses in clothes that are perfectly matched to whatever the colors of the church season are. She has been at Saturday evening Masses for as long as I am able to remember. She was one of those people who somewhat regularly brought up the gifts at Mass. One day, a couple of months into my accompaniment career, she pulled me aside after Mass and said, “Thank you for your music. It makes me feel alive, alive in the life of Christ. Thank you for sharing your great gift with us.”
I was stunned. People had told me that I had been doing a good job, and of course, my parents were incredibly supportive of me in my accompaniment endeavors, but this was different. This was the first time someone who I didn’t really know in any way other than by her faithful devotion of attending the Saturday 5 pm Mass came to me and told me that I had helped her to connect to Christ.
That was what service to the Church was all about. I don’t give of my gifts for my own sake, I give of them for other people to enjoy too, in the hopes that they’ll bring others closer to Christ. Over time, I found that this realization powered my faith life: I started to grow closer to God through my ministry because I knew that I could take joy in this opportunity to bring others closer to God too.
It took me a while, but I finally figured out why the presentation of the gifts is so important at Mass: it’s an outward embodiment of our community giving what we have to give so that our entire community may be nourished. My piano playing at Mass, then, is an extension of this presentation of gifts. The lectors, the Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, and the singers are all an extension of this wider presentation of gifts, each one of them giving what they have so that our community may be spiritually nourished. Participating in the Mass is about so much more than me getting spiritual enrichment for myself. It’s about giving my gifts to God and to my community, trusting that God will use them to bring others closer to Him. I love liturgy because of the beautiful ways in which God takes the gifts we offer him and multiplies them out further than we can ever imagine.
My faith life looks fundamentally different now than it would have had I never been invited to give of my gift of music to my parish community. I am privileged to be at a university where I can frequently share my gifts with so much of the campus community through accompaniment that I can pour my heart and soul into, raising myself and everyone else in song. I would encourage every person who reads this blog post to ask how they can give of their gifts to their parish community. Once you find a way that you can get involved, go and ask exactly how you can share this gift, whether it be in the context of parish life at large or in the liturgy of the Mass. For me, that primarily looks like providing music for a Mass. For others, that could mean greeting people as they come through the doors, offering to do one of the readings, or sitting next to a community member whom you can tell is having a tough day. Ministry comes in many forms, and we are each called to be ministers to one another. Our God is generous, no one is empty-handed when it comes to the gifts He gives, and we are all invited to bring our gifts to the Lord and trust that He will use them for the enrichment of our community.
James Weitzel, Senior Anchor Intern – Retreats & Pilgrimages
We influence. This statement is realized once we start to take notice of how our actions impact those around us. Hopefully what I share will illustrate this point.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, I never really experienced snow growing up. One of the drawing factors for leaving sunny southern California for college was this strange new concept of seasons (and of course the new weather that came with it, and not to mention academics, etc.). In short, Notre Dame did not let me down. August brought all the green and humidity, there was an explosion of color in autumn, and after a long cold wait finally came that mythical frozen water from the sky in the winter. That first snow, of course, was amazing, but so was the second and third and so on. Not everyone shared in my enthusiasm… nevertheless, snow fascinated me, and the pain of the cold could not take away from the beauty of it. I more than happily volunteered to shovel the sidewalks outside the dorm on the weekend and to brush off the cars in the parking lot (I would only do half the car though…).
I know it is nowhere close to snowing as some days it is still near 85 degrees out, but sometimes it is helpful to frame the future unpleasantries before they happen.
All of this was merely setting up a snowy day in January: it was absolutely freezing, and the wind chill just made things colder. I was walking in (late) to my job at Campus Ministry as a student worker, and quite excitedly mentioned how beautiful it was outside to one of my bosses, Abby. I didn’t think anything of the brief encounter that happened as I scurried past her to the desk. The next day, I received a wholehearted thanks and explanation of how my simple statement of beauty along with my presence changed the whole outcome of her day. It turns out, as I was walking in, she was getting ready to head out and was very much dreading the walk to her car in heels (she forgot her snow boots) and the inevitable traffic that was to follow. My little comment of beauty made her slow down enough to see the beauty I saw, and brighten her day a bit. I didn’t realize my impact on people: my simple sharing of what was happening in my head actually had an impact on someone. This was never my intention. I was just excited that it was snowing.
We are all called to be leaders, to ultimately be intentional with our words and actions: we have the power of influence. To borrow some language from the Constitutions of Holy Cross, being a leader can be as simple as having the competence to see, and the courage to act. This seeing and action takes some self-reflection though: we cannot say what’s on our hearts if we are too preoccupied with the difficulties ahead. The snow is absolutely beautiful, but that doesn’t mean we will always see its beauty. If we don’t take time for self-reflection and prayer, we won’t see the ways God is acting in our lives at the present: we won’t see God’s extraordinary works in what we have considered ordinary. We can’t do what we’re called to do if we don’t know what to do.
We influence. No one has figured out what God’s full plan is no matter how put together most people on this campus seem, I ask us to challenge ourselves. Not challenge ourselves as in “go out and make 10 new friends.” I’m challenging you to look inward: challenge what you think you know about yourself, to ask the deeper questions and seek the deeper answers. To not just recognize the beauty around us, but to share it. To not just think of ourselves, but to be aware of the influence we have on others. For not only do we influence, but we should be more open to receiving influence as well. Sometimes we need to let go of our pride a little bit (or a lot), so we can be open to listening to others, so we can grow from genuine encounter. We are called to be God’s hands and feet in this world, so, of course, God works through others, we just have to be present to hear it.
The second to last 3D foundations critique of the spring 2018 semester was wrapping up and while I should have been engaged in discussing my fellow classmates’ work I was instead sitting there really trying to puzzle out why in all my time of making art, both in high school and now as a visual communication design major, I had never made art that tied back to my faith. Several classmates had made pieces discussing their faith and the challenges that come with it, which kick-started my reflection. In the end I realized that I had always felt as if there were ‘more important’ issues than faith that should be discussed in art such as promoting women’s rights, equal access to education, or greater cultural sensitivity and thus that’s what I latched onto. I saw my faith and ministry as separate from the work I completed in my major and the path I wanted to take in the future in the art field. With all this in mind, I challenged myself to make my final piece related to my faith, while also retaining some of the influence of those other interests.
In ideating how exactly my faith could intersect my artistic creation, I somehow circled back to a documentary I had watched on Islamic Art. I was inspired by a particular line that said in Islam the most important gift from God is His Word and thus text is one of the most prominent art forms in Islamic Art. I made the jump then to considering that for Christians God’s most precious gift is His Son, and thus figures are at the center of Christian imagery. Blending these ideas together, I thought of the beginning of John’s Gospel which synthesizes these two seemingly contradictory ideas into “In the beginning was the Word… and the Word was God… and the Word became flesh”.
Using these lines, parts of John 1:1 and John 1:14, as a starting point, I created three layers of Bible verses written in Arabic calligraphy inspired by the Dome of the Rock and the Hagia Sofia. The verses mentioned from John’s Gospel are the first and second layers of Arabic text in the piece respectively. I explored to find more Biblical texts that discussed the Word and arrived on text from Luke (11:28) and James (1:22) from the New Testament and Deuteronomy (30:14) and Psalms (119:130) from the Old Testament in the final layer, which allowed the piece to also connect with the Jewish faith. In creating this work I wanted to start a dialogue between the different major faith traditions in a way that looked at the similarities or the areas where our theology crossed over versus beginning at how they were different. In striving for this dialogue, I was able to retain my usual desire to tackle tough issues in my artistic creations in a way that prompts conversation among viewers, the artwork, and myself.
While the artwork was made to fulfill the needs of a class project, I wanted to do more with it than simply show it to my fellow classmates. I, therefore, tried entering it into Grand Rapids ArtPrize, one of the most attended art events in the world. ArtPrize is an exhibition that takes over the entire city of Grand Rapids, MI with over 150 venues and over 1,000 artists and is one that I have gone to since I was young with my parents and grandparents. To be exhibited in ArtPrize, a venue has to select your work, and I had the great fortune of being selected by the Monroe Community Church this year. On September 15, 2018, I officially became an ArtPrize artist as I hung my piece on the wall of the church, and I could not be happier. The show will run from September 19-October 7 and on September 30, my piece will also be the inspiration for the sermon at the church’s Sunday service.
What started as a class project with the vague idea of incorporating my faith has now become a piece that will fuel conversation among the hundreds of thousands of visitors to ArtPrize. This has allowed me to begin seeing art and ministry in a whole new light and sparked the desire to continue creating art that is a catalyst for inter-faith dialogue.