Why We Minister: Jonathan Hehn

Jonathan Hehn, Choral Program Director and Organist

So often, making music we have found
a new dimension in the world of sound,
as worship moves us to a more profound
Alleluia! (1)

Why do I minister? Because I love leading the song of the Church. More than any other time, it is while leading congregational song that I find a profound sense of joy and purpose, and, thanks be to God, it is there that I am also able to encounter the world’s deep need.

People often ask me about my job, and at Notre Dame especially whether I love playing the Basilica organs. Those questions give me an opportunity to consider what exactly it is about my vocation that keeps me going. Do I love playing the organ? Yes. The organs here on campus are magnificent. Do I love directing choirs? Absolutely yes, and Notre Dame has some of the best collegiate choirs in the country. But what I love most is leading the song of the congregation. Congregational singing is at the core of my identity as a pastoral musician because I believe congregational singing does some things that other types of music making cannot.

The Power of Congregational Song to Promote Empathy

First, congregational singing brings the whole assembly into sense of empathy with one another. Of course, one could think about that empathy theologically. To paraphrase the General Instruction to the Roman Missal, singing together in worship fosters our unity as the gathered People of God and tunes our thoughts into the joyful mysteries of the liturgy. But one can also think about that empathy scientifically; indeed researchers are discovering that singing together not only builds stronger social/psychological bonds, but that singing together for an extended period of time actually causes people’s breathing and heartbeats to synchronize. Singing together creates literal, physiological empathy.

When I’m at my best leading song from the organ, I also get to experience that empathy. It’s a mystery to me how it is, in a Basilica filled with a thousand people, that I can feel them all breathing together between phrases of a hymn, but I often do so from my perch in the organ loft. Similarly, whenever one of the stanzas of a hymn has a particularly rousing text, I can feel the congregation instinctively making a praise-filled crescendo, which I can then seek to match with a crescendo from the organ. The experience can be intense, and often I can sense the presence of the Holy Spirit in those times, moving us all to a more profound expression of praise.

Jonathan leads the opening hymn from the 2018 Lenten Choir Concert at the University of Notre Dame’s Basilica of the Sacred Heart, March 3, 2018.

The Power of Congregational Song to Express Diversity and Hospitality

People sometimes remark to me that the Roman Rite has too little room for creativity, or that it’s too narrowly Western/Italian/Roman in its structure and aesthetic. Depending on the day, I might agree with them. But in reality, there is a tremendous potential for flexibility in the Roman Rite, and, fortunately for us musicians, most of that potential lies in the realm of music. What I love about the flexibility of music in the liturgy is how it can help us celebrate the diversity of creation and offer hospitality to the “others” in our midst. That’s the second thing I think congregational singing can do in a way that other musics cannot.

When I was a kid, the congregation I was part of, though it was almost completely homogenous, made an intentional effort to sing music from a wide variety of Christian cultures around the world. At the time, I just thought that it was fun to sing songs from Brazil, or Tanzania, or Singapore. But what I realize now is that those songs were teaching me about the diversity of God’s people. I was learning that there were people different from me who shared my faith, and who were no less created in the image of God than I. As a leader of song, I want to pass on to others that same idea: the more we reflect the diversity of creation in our music, the more we reflect the image and glory of God.

In a place like Notre Dame, we have an obligation to both uphold our musical tradition and to reflect the diversity of the university’s increasingly global community. That’s part of why I minister, because I love using congregational song to help my community sing its solidarity with other Christian cultures, cultures which can teach us much about how to live the Christian life, and which help us broaden our image of God.

A wise colleague of mine once reminded me that, for our increasingly diverse congregations, including different genres and cultural musics in worship is also a matter of hospitality. Choosing to sing music only from the majority culture in our churches is missing the opportunity to show the “other” among us that they are valued. It’s also a way in which we can enable visitors to the liturgy who are not familiar with our language or songs to participate with us in prayer. As a leader of congregational song, if I can help enable the congregation’s celebration of diversity and its sense of hospitality, then I will.

The Power of Congregational Song to Capture the Human Experience

Lastly, congregational song can enable us to sing through the full range of our experience as people, and can help us have difficult theological conversations. Singing the praise of God is a good and noble venture, of course, but praise is not the only function of congregational song. Hymns and psalms are also there to give us voice when we mourn, or when we are angry at God, or when we feel confused and frustrated by what is going on in the world around us. They are a means of having a theological conversation.

When I choose music for the liturgy, I constantly look for opportunities to bring people into those theological conversations. When our hearts are overflowing with emotion, with grief, with anger, with frustration, we often find ourselves at a loss for words. Songs can be a means of helping us process those emotions, and open us to the presence of the Holy Spirit, who is with us in the act of singing and who intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words alone.

One congregation I served some years ago held an annual “Blue Christmas” liturgy. It was a modified service of evening prayer meant for people who have a hard time with the holidays because of difficult relationships, deaths of family members, or a host of other reasons. One family in particular that I knew planned to attend that service one year was struggling with the death of young child. I also knew based on my conversations with others at the church that many were struggling to make sense of the ongoing school shootings that plague our nation even today. There was an opportunity there to use congregational song both as a tool for healing and as way to give voice to the pain felt by those around me. That year we decided to sing a song gifted to the Church by the Scottish minister John Bell. We sang it quietly in the middle of the service, with resolve, with simultaneous grief and hope:

There is a place prepared for little children,
those we once lived for, those we deeply mourn
those who from play, from learning and from laughter
cruelly were torn.

There is a place where hands which held ours tightly
now are released beyond all hurt and fear,
healed by that love which also feels our sorrow
tear after tear.

There is a place where God will hear our questions,
suffer our anger, share our speechless grief,
gently repair the innocence of loving
and of belief. (2)

Jonathan Hehn conducting in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart

At other times, our anger might call us to sing loudly, crying out in discontent, whether in the church or on the front steps of the state capitol building. Recently, more and more people of faith have discovered the power of singing together in and about the public square using texts like this one from Carolyn Winfrey Gillette:

The children come, not sure where they are going;
Some little ones have seen their siblings die.
They’ve traveled north — a tide that keeps on growing,
A stream of life beneath the desert sky.
Their welcome here? Detention, overflowing.
O Lord of love, now hear your children’s cry!

The children come in search of something better;
They’ve traveled here with nothing in their hands.
On one boy’s belt, a number carved in leather
Leads to a phone, a brother here, a plan.

They come alone — or sometimes band together;
They bring a plea that we will understand.
O Christ our Lord, you welcomed in the stranger;
You blessed the children, telling them to stay.
Be in the desert, with the tired and injured;
Be at the border where they are afraid.
Be on each bus where children sense the danger,
As angry crowds are shouting, “Go away!”

God, let each one know justice, peace and welcome —
And may your gift of mercy start with me.
For unto such as these belongs your kingdom,
And in each child, it is your face we see.
May we, your church, respond in truth and action,
And with you, Lord, say, “Let them come to me.” (3)

These types of powerful texts and these opportunities — to promote empathy, to celebrate diversity, to create a sense of hospitality, and to enable us all to sing through the full range of our human experience — these are why I minister. These are why I spend countless hours in rehearsals and staring down the pages of a hymnal index. Leading the song of church gives me purpose, gives me joy, and most of all, gives me an opportunity to witness to the grace of God in Christ Jesus. I know that, by that grace, the Holy Spirit will continue to guide me in my work here at Notre Dame, so that worshipping together as one, we may sing to the triune God an ever more profound “Alleluia.”

 


(1) From the hymn “When In Our Music God is Glorified” by Fred Pratt Green, 1972.

(2) From the collection When Grief is Raw: Songs for Times of Sorrow and Bereavement by John L. Bell and Graham Maule.

(3) http://www.carolynshymns.com/the_children_come.html. Used by permission. This hymn is also available in the collection Singing Welcome published by the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada.

Why We Minister: Karen Schneider Kirner

Karen Schneider Kirner, Choral Program Director and Organist

So often we’re in the routine of doing things that we forget to stop and take stock of why it is we’re doing what we’re doing. We get so caught up in our busyness and keep charging ahead with everyday routines. That’s why I’ve particularly enjoyed this “assignment” of offering a reflection on why I minister at Notre Dame as an organist and choir director. I’ve come up with a “top ten” list to share, but this is in no way comprehensive.

Reason Ten: Gotta love the diversity of skills required for someone working in music ministry! Not only do I direct choirs, play the organ, and occasionally compose music, but I also work with teams of students and colleagues.  Other requirements are people skills and inviting students to join in our ministry, along with planning upcoming events. There is never a dull day in the office.

Reason Nine: The words we sing in Church remind us of our values and beliefs, and help keep us on the right and true path where we need to be, oriented towards God. This is why a church musician’s job of selecting texts that we put on the lips of the faithful is so crucial and important. We are more apt to stand up for justice if we are regularly reminded of our values. I see a very high percentage of our choir members going into service-related careers after graduation, and that’s something to be celebrated, living in a world that often seems to lack a moral foundation.

Reason Eight: Saint Augustine had it right when he said, “To Sing is to Pray Twice!” Music has a powerful way to ingrain texts within us and deepen our understanding of them, particularly when they’ve been set to music by inspired composers. Fostering the prayer of any gathered assembly has always been a top priority. Music can easily become a distraction, and the intent is always to keep the focus on the texts being sung, and put these texts on the lips of the assembly.

Reason Seven: We can instantly unite people coming from different cultural backgrounds by doing music of diverse music styles and time periods, languages, and through incorporating a diversity of musical instruments. As part of the universal Church, we want to ensure that truly “all are welcome.” We have a broad palette of music to choose from that can unite us. We’ve seen in recent years how much our country is torn by disunity, so it’s time we all took a stand for unity through whatever means we are able!

Notre Dame Handbell Choir pictured in South Cathedral, China, with parish musicians.

Reason Six: Serving as a musician at our Basilica of the Sacred Heart has always been a joy and privilege, that never gets old. The Basilica is truly the heart of our campus, where our community of N.D. and the community of the wider Church gathers to celebrate mass, highlighted feasts of the liturgical year, births, marriages, where we mourn our dead, administer the sacraments of initiation, and ordain men to the priesthood, representing the future of our Church. What a privilege and grace to experience so many powerful moments that really matter, throughout the entire year!

Reason Five: Unity. Liturgical music, whether singing/participating in it, powerfully connects people to one another, whether its with a group of people who know each other as in a choir that meets regularly, or a disparate group of people who will only all be together a single time, coming from many different places and walks of life. Music is a God-given instrument that connects us not only to each other, but us to God. It seems that people have grown more isolated with the rise of technology that was oddly designed to connect us, so we need music more than ever to bring us together. Did you know that scientific studies show that when a group of people sing together, their heartbeats often align? Singing is also found to decrease stress, depression, and anxiety, and gives us a sense we are part of something much bigger than ourselves, which is the Universal Church!

Reason Four: Music does save lives! This may seem like an overstatement, but I’ve witnessed this countless times. For those battling addictions, depression, loneliness or anxieties, not only does the act of singing elevate our spirits, but choir members are held accountable to the larger group, where it’s important to show up on a regular basis, and members are instantly part of a loving, nurturing group that wants to see each and every member succeed. Singing in a choir or making music with another group of people is one of the best ways to stay healthy and be emotionally supported when we are living in very challenging times.

Reason Three: It’s all about the PEOPLE. When I reflect back on my twenty years in music ministry here at N.D., it’s the names and faces of those I’ve worked with that matter the most. So many students who were involved in sacred music here have continued lives of service after they leave this place, whether they are doing this full-time or part-time. Numerous couples have met/married through participating in our choirs. A good number of men have entered the priesthood. Through our choir pilgrimage tours domestic and around the world, we almost exclusively stay with families from the parishes we are visiting, who give us unique insights about their own Christian communities. What a gift!

Reason Two: Plain and simply, for evangelization!  Pope Francis said this best in his 2013 document, Evangelii Gaudium, or The Joy of the Gospel. If you haven’t read this yet, it’s well worth a read.  In my case, I’m serving countless pilgrims who make their way each year to our beautiful Basilica of the Sacred Heart, connecting young people more deeply with their faith through music and participation in our choirs, or taking our choirs to sing for our brothers and sisters who are incarcerated or homeless. God is with us in every situation we may find ourselves in life, and my most powerful experiences have often been going “off the beaten path.”

Reason One: FAMILY. Family is created through our choirs and working closely with colleagues. The great thing about N.D. is that people keep coming back to this place, not only for football, but for things that really matter, like weddings, baptisms, for the Triduum, and times of loss, to be grounded anew in what drew them to this place initially: our faith in Jesus Christ. We are rooted in our Catholic faith, sent forth with hope, love and joy to bring to the world!

The talented Kirner family!

Why We Minister: Fr. Jim Bracke, C.S.C.

Fr. Jim Bracke, C.S.C., Staff Chaplain

Wednesday, May 16, 2018, was an amazing day. I was able to celebrate my Godson Joey’s graduation from Pine Creek High School in Colorado Springs, Colorado. As Joey walked across the stage on a sunny Colorado day, I beamed with joy as I flashed back to the many fond memories I have with him: watching him learn to walk, fall and skin his knees, showing him around the Notre Dame campus, exploring the Science Museum in Chicago, hiking the Rockies, his First Communion and Confirmation, experiencing the ups and downs of school, sharing our love for music, and attending his band competition- just to name a few. As he walked down the steps of the stage, he was all smiles and filled with excitement for his next step of attending college at Colorado State in Fort Collins.

Joey and I were later shown a photo of me holding him at his Baptism. Joey blushed and I was shocked by how young I looked with a beard and thin frame. Where does time go? I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I have been held by God, even now. It is never too late to let yourself be loved by God.

Fr. Jim holding his Godson, Joey, at his baptism on an Air Force Base near Sacramento, California, February 2000.

Jesus became human and can identify that we have our ups and downs. He cried at the death of his friend Lazarus, was angry when the temple officials cheated the poor, was frustrated when the disciples did not understand that he came to serve and wash feet, and was not going to establish a political kingdom where the Jews would be prosperous and on top. Jesus sweat blood at the thought of his cross and the pain and torture he would soon experience. He enjoyed meals and weddings, and loved being with friends just as you and I do.

Jesus also felt he was held by God and we know this from scripture. After Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, God said, “You are my Beloved Son and with you I am well pleased.” On Mount Tabor, shortly before he was heading to Jerusalem where Jesus would suffer and die, God appeared to Peter, James, and John and again voiced, “Listen to Jesus, with Him I am well pleased.” In prayer, Jesus opened his heart to share his thoughts and feelings with God. He would feel God holding him and assuring that he was there to walk with him through the disappointments, the grief in losing Lazarus, the frustration in the disciples and even his own family’s lack of knowing who he really was.

I love being a priest and have been serving God and God’s People for over 38 years. I love serving the 5,000 children of God here at Notre Dame for the past 5 years. Yet, I have also had many ups and downs over the years. I’ve felt the sting of grief when my mother and father died and I still miss them dearly. My brother, Tom, and sister, Barb, are very dear to me along with their children and grandchildren. They have all loved me over and over again- I am deeply blessed.

On the other hand, I have also been hurt by the people I have served and call family, and I have experienced depression and loneliness along the way. However, I have always been able to be open with God and share these thoughts and feelings. Sometimes God seems distant and I feel like I am in a desert just as Jesus was. I have felt temptation, but honestly, I have never felt abandoned or rejected by God. Our God is a God of love.

Fr. Jim preaching at a Staff Mass in the Log Chapel.

As University Staff Chaplain, I was recently talking with a staff member who shared that he grew up with a very fearful sense of a God who would be out to punish if you did not obey the commandments or follow the laws of the Church. His pastor spoke only about a God who judge’s people and never talked about a God who forgives or gives people hope in Christ. It is my mission to share this hope.

The blessing of Spiritual Companions have helped me to come back to God and open my heart. Sometimes family, friends, or often a stranger would say to me after Mass “Father, this parish is one of the most welcoming I have ever attended. I have loved your homilies and your leadership is outstanding. I am joining.” A message such as this came at a time when I was struggling for a number of reasons. I believe in Divine Providence and that God sends us people and events that are not just coincidence but God’s way of saying, “I am with you and holding you” as if you were an infant- even if you are 66 years old.

This is why I continue to minister.

 

Why We Minister: Brett Perkins

Brett Perkins, Assistant Director for Sacramental Preparation & Catechesis

“The results of your physical came back, and I’m sorry to say that you have cancer.”  These are never the words that you want to hear from your doctor. They are especially devastating to hear when you’re an otherwise healthy 18 year old who is flying high after graduating from high school and preparing to enter Notre Dame as a freshman that fall.  Yet these are precisely the words I was hearing from my doctor on that hot, humid central Illinois afternoon in June 1997. In that moment, I felt disconnected from myself, as though I was floating above the room and looking down into that doctor’s office, like I was somehow a passive onlooker to some other person’s misfortune.  Yet this was my diagnosis, not someone else’s. Questions raced through my mind. Now what? Was college out of the question? Would I even be alive to go to college? But the doctor wasn’t finished.

“I know this is hard to wrap your mind around,” the doctor continued, “but I’d like to propose that we take you over to the hospital for surgery ASAP, to remove the tumor.”  

“ASAP?  You mean, like, in the next day or two?”  

“No, like this afternoon.  I’ll be heading out of town tomorrow and this tumor really needs to be dealt with now.”

“Ok, doctor, uh, whatever you think.”  

And off we went to prep for surgery at the local Catholic hospital.

As I gradually awoke in the hospital room after surgery, I remember the sudden release of so many tears as emotions tied to pain and fear, frustration and anxiety rushed into my consciousness.  Then, lying in that hospital bed, I had what is to this day one of the most profound encounters with the love of God that I have ever had in my life. As my eyes began to focus as I struggled against the anesthesia, my eyes were drawn like a magnet to the crucifix on the wall at the foot of the bed.  In the midst of my own profound brokenness and without clarity on what my future would hold, I looked at our Lord’s own body, broken on the cross. Bringing His suffering into dialogue with my own, I became aware in some small way of what Jesus must have felt on that first Good Friday. Once again, tears began to stream, yet this time they were coming not from pain or fear, but from becoming personally aware of just what Jesus had done for me by dying on that cross.  I was also made aware, in that instant, of my own unresponsiveness and passivity in the face of such love:  the Lord knew well that I had plenty of mess-ups and sins in my life, and yet His love for me was so much greater than any sin I could ever commit.  While I wouldn’t have been able to reference it then, one of my favorite Scriptures today reflects well the life-altering realization I had in that hospital bed:

For Christ, while we were still helpless, died at the appointed time for the ungodly.  Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die.  But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)  

In that room at St. Mary’s Hospital in Decatur, Illinois, I experienced personally the mercy and love of Jesus for me.  I came to understand that He would see me through my cancer, whatever the outcome; I had nothing to worry about, for He had conquered death and brought new life to even the darkness of the cross.  While I had grown up in a Christian household, this was perhaps the first moment that my faith “clicked” for me, when I experienced for myself God’s faithfulness, tenderness, and loving kindness.  In some small way, I also began to sense that I would be called to share this love of God with everyone, though I couldn’t have imagined then what form that might take.

Brett greeting students at an event.

Fast forward to 2004.  In the seven years that had passed, I’d beaten cancer, had an incredible experience of collegiate life at Notre Dame, and graduated with a major  in finance and a minor in theology. While at Notre Dame, I’d also become Catholic. A friend’s invitation to Mass got that ball rolling, and there I encountered again the love of Jesus giving Himself to us fully in the Holy Eucharist, an encounter that was only reinforced by the witness of the lives of so many on-fire Catholics I’d met at Notre Dame, especially through the RCIA process.  Upon graduation, I had taken a job with a prestigious financial consulting firm and, alongside dozens of friends, made the move to Chicago. Everything in life seemed to be landing perfectly for me…yet I knew that something deep down was missing. A phone call I received in July 2004 from one of my Campus Ministry mentors helped me name that void, when she invited me to consider coming back to Notre Dame to work in…Campus Ministry.  Whoa. This was not a part of the life plan I’d worked out for myself. What could God possibly be doing now in the midst of my otherwise perfect life? Countless hours of recollection and prayerful discernment followed, including many conversations with others. In the course of that discernment, and through others’ affirmation of my gifts, God made one thing abundantly clear to me: I had an explicit call to ministry in my life, and that the trajectory of my life had indeed been leading me to this decision point.  I knew what I had to do.

I’m now completing my fourteenth year of young adult ministry at Notre Dame.  Here, I finally discovered my heart’s desire: to accompany young adults as they, too, searched for meaning and grace in their lives.  Looking back on my experience of God throughout my life, I can now explain why I minister. I minister because I have experienced personally the love and mercy of Jesus Christ, to whom I owe my life, and I desire only to lead others to an encounter with that same love and mercy.  There is no other reason that I am where I am today, except for the grace of God and my simple openness to follow where He was leading me. But I don’t minister simply out of nostalgia for one particular experience of God from 20+ years ago.  No, I minister because God has never stopped sending His Son to me (and to all) whenever I encounter Him anew in prayer, in Scripture, in family and friends, in those I serve, and especially when I receive Him in Holy Communion at Mass each day.  Nope, I’m no saint; I’m a work in progress like everyone else. But I know that it is precisely because I remain open to encountering the love and mercy of Jesus each day that I have the courage and strength to keep building God’s Kingdom, one person at a time, and no matter what else life throws my way.  

Brett serving as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.

For the past five years in Campus Ministry, my primary work has been to direct the very ministry that helped me come home to the Catholic Church, the RCIA Process.  With each new group of students, I am blessed to hear the stories of individuals who have had their own “aha” moments, who have encountered God and felt the nudge of a loving Father who calls them to investigate the Catholic Christian faith or go deeper in their previous faith commitment.  I hear stories of divine Providence that led them here to Notre Dame, perhaps firstly for academic pursuits but then, sometimes quite unexpectedly, to discover the God who fulfills the deepest longings of their hearts. I then have the distinct pleasure of accompanying them as they make their own response in faith, which is then sealed in covenant through the celebration of the Sacraments of Initiation at the Basilica each year.  I minister in RCIA because of joy, which I experience whenever new intentional disciples of Jesus are launched out into our world and then go off to build the Kingdom of God wherever they are planted, that even more might come to know, love, and serve God. Each time we celebrate the Sacraments with one of my RCIA cohorts, I’m reminded of my own journey that God began in me so many years ago. And it is precisely because of my own experience of the mercy and love of Jesus, that day in the hospital and every day since, that I minister today.

“The most beautiful and stirring adventure that can happen to you is the personal meeting with Jesus, who is the only one who gives real meaning to our lives.”  – Pope St. John Paul II

 

 

 

Men and Women with Hope to Bring

Mike Urbaniak, Assistant Director of Leadership Formation

As I look out my Coleman-Morse window, out on to South Quad here at Notre Dame, the winter white has finally turned into budding green. The trudging and scurrying through snow and cold has given way to frisbees, Spike-ball, and soaking up the warmth of the sun. It is this transformation each year that signals the end of another academic year and the departure of another decorated class of graduates. In Campus Ministry, it means that we must say farewell to another year of Anchor Senior Interns, thankful for the incredible work they have done and excited for what they have to offer the world beyond zip code 46556.

Being the director of the Anchor Senior Internship in Campus Ministry, I have the unique privilege of walking alongside these eleven students on their yearlong journey as student and minister. I have seen their exaltation in the execution of a great event. I have heard the challenge of cancellations and misunderstandings in communication. I have sat with the tears of stress, anxiety, and grief. I have witnessed the breakthroughs in discipleship. I have celebrated the accomplishments of the present and the acceptance of future opportunities. It is bittersweet to see this time come to an end. Mostly, however, I’m simply proud. I’m proud to have been a part of shaping this year with them, doing what I could to help them grow, but mostly relying on the Holy Spirit to guide their formation into the likeness of Christ.

Part of journeying with these men and women is to share life with them. This is when they came over to our house and shared in our family dinner.

I imagine Jesus might have felt this somewhat as he sent his disciples out at the end of the Gospel of Matthew:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Jesus sends them out with purpose and pretty clear direction. I don’t believe he would do that if he wasn’t proud of them or believed that they couldn’t do the job. Those disciples were sent out to change the world. And, they aren’t sent out on their own, but Jesus reminds them that he is always with them.

I am proud to send out our interns because I too know that they can change the world. They are capable and skilled. They are gritty and resilient. They are compassionate and empathetic. Most importantly, they have Jesus with them, always. I have seen their growth in relationship with Him this year and that makes the “bittersweet”-ness of sending them out more sweet than bitter.

Anchor Interns, Class of 2018!

As I’ve stated before, these students are called our Anchor Senior Interns, and as I close out my reflection I’d like to make one last note for anyone reading this. Many of you will know that the anchor is an ancient sign of Christian hope. This is also seen in the cross and anchors present on campus, a symbol of the Congregation of Holy Cross, the founders of Notre Dame, whose motto is “Hail the Cross, our only hope”. If you ever have any doubt about the future of our world or our Church, I’d be happy to set you up to have coffee with one of these fine young men and women. They are my hope. By no means are they perfect (neither am I!). But, they are men and women who think deeply, pray fiercely, and care compassionately. They are doing their best to live lives integrated with the Gospel. They seek justice and mercy. They care about those who are most vulnerable and constantly ask how to serve them better. We are so fortunate to have them officially with us for a year, but even more fortunate that they are heading out beyond our campus into the world to glorify God with their lives as ministers, doctors, consultants, teachers, engineers, business people, and more. I give thanks to God for them especially this day and pray for God’s Spirit to continue to guide them, to make disciples of all nations.

 

Prayer: An Act of Thanksgiving

Meghan Kozal, 2018-2019 Anchor Intern

“Bless us, O Lord, and these, I guess…”

“Did you just say and these, I guess?”

“Of course, that’s what the prayer is, isn’t it?”

“No, it’s thy gifts!  Not I guess!”

The traditional Catholic prayer before meals can sometimes get a little lost on us in its ritual nature, as the Old English terminology had for my sister when she was younger.  My own prayer before meals can often be hurried in my busy day-to day-life and even at times apathetic, as if I were actually praying “and these, I guess”. Recently, though, I was given the opportunity to be drawn out of the ritual motions and words of the prayer at the dinner table in Rungsted Kyst, Denmark.  

This past semester I lived with a wonderful host family in the small coastal suburb of the capital, Copenhagen.  My family included several host siblings: 10 and 14 year old sisters (Amalie and Victoria), 17 year old brother (Gustav) and, arguably my favorite, the small dog (Luna).  One of my favorite parts of living with them was our hyggeligt nightly family dinner.  

Gustav, Victoria, Amalie, and Meghan after dinner

I was used to praying before meals, as I had always been taught to by my family, and it was something that I had continued to do at Notre Dame.  My host family, though Christian, were not particularly religious and did not pray before meals. Being a guest in their house, I did not want to seem overly religious and make them uncomfortable, so I snuck in my prayer before our dinners while no one was looking.  My secretive prayers continued for some time until my youngest host sister, Amalie, noticed and asked my host mom what I was doing, though she said it in Danish. My host mom asked me if I was in fact praying, laughing a bit at my shyness, and was surprised that so much time had passed with no one having noticed.  After my host family found out that I always prayed before meals they would pause in serving the food when they saw me begin to make the sign of the cross. It was occasionally rather uncomfortable, as they stared at me in a bit of wonder and waited to continue what they were doing until I was done. I was happy, though, that I no longer had to sneak in my prayer and it really made me stop and think about the prayer I was saying, as well as make sure I remembered to pray it.

Nearing my last week with my host family in December, after I finished praying, Gustav asked me why I prayed before meals.  I hadn’t realized what a mysterious thing prayer could be to someone who had never really experienced it in this way, as it had always been a part of my mealtime ritual.  I told him that it was an act of thanksgiving. It was a recognition that I am blessed to have the meal sitting before me as well as the family surrounding me. In praying I am showing gratitude for all those whose labor went into the food reaching my plate while also praying that those who were not as lucky as me would be fed.  Gustav’s response struck me in his immediate acceptance, as he said that he thought the whole family should begin to pray before meals along with me if that is what it meant.

I, like I think many Christians do, heard about missionaries converting people in foreign lands and had a longing to go out into the world and do these awesome deeds, but I hadn’t realized that in praying before meals in the tiny suburb of Copenhagen, Denmark, I truly was a missionary.  Although I did not directly preach the words of the Gospels or bring my host family to Mass with me, in modeling a way that faith had moved me to reconsider a part of my daily life, the meal, I believe that I was able to show how my faith is one of gratitude and thanksgiving.

I realize now, though, that I left out an important part in my description of my prayer- that I was also praying with the gratitude for the space to be able to show my faith and for having been raised in a family and community that taught me the very faith I was able to demonstrate. I regret not having been more upfront about my faith from the beginning to my host family, as I might have been able to have the conversation about prayer and more with my host brother long before the eve of my departure.

Nyhavn, Copenhagen

I don’t think that I will ever fully be able to see my mealtime prayer without this new lens of mission and purposeful gratitude, and I hope I continue to often find myself sitting at a dinner table with the choice to pray in secret or to profess my faith so that I do not forget the great blessing that is prayer.  

Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts which we continue to receive, from thy bounty, through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

The World’s Best Teachers

Joe Tenaglia, Senior Anchor Intern

“When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” – G.K. Chesterton

The last month of my senior year seems like the perfect moment to reflect on the people and experiences that have shaped my time on Our Lady’s campus. Especially in light of uncertainty about what comes next, it is comforting to look back on the moments of peace and joy that have marked my past four years.

In this process of reflection, I can’t help but return to the people who have shaped my experience the most by making it possible: the people who have helped me get here and have been with me through all of my ups and downs. Of course, I am talking about my parents.

Simply put, I would not be the person I am and I would not be at Notre Dame if it weren’t for my parents. From a purely rational standpoint, this is obvious. In the context of our modern society, which values individualism and seems to preach that we belong to no one but ourselves, it might just be a radical statement of gratitude and love. We know that our parents are the most important people in our lives, but how often do we actually acknowledge them as such? How often do we adopt a posture of gratitude to those who have sacrificed and suffered for us to flourish? I know that I don’t do it enough. So allow me please to use this space to do so.

My parents, Maura and Dan, are and always will be the most important people in my life. They not only gave life to me, but have also paved the path for me to not just exist, but to prosper. My parents, both being devout Catholics, made the all-important decision to bring me into the Church. They proudly walked into the church at my baptism to give me over to God; to declare that I do not belong to them, but to the one who is Father of all. This act of submission, humility, and self-sacrificial love set the tone for the way my parents would raise me.

 

Joe’s Baptism Day

 

From birth, my parents took me, along with my older brother Sean, to mass every weekend, instilling in me the importance of relying on God to weather any storm that might blow my way. They helped give my faith space to grow by making the sacrifice to send me to Catholic school: a sacrifice they continued to make in sending me to a Catholic high school, and again in sending me here to Notre Dame.

As I look back on my educational career in these places, I am filled with gratitude to all of my teachers who have helped me get to where I am now. I have been blessed with a number of wonderfully committed teachers, but none have taught me more than my first and greatest teachers: mom and dad.

At each step along my life, my parents have served as beautiful examples of how to live in the light of God’s love, trusting in Him through hardships and giving praise to Him for countless blessings. And all the while, they have poured out more love from their hearts than I thought was possible.

My parents have taught me about God and about how to be a person of faith by living with God at the forefront. They have taught me what love is by showing it to me every single day of my life. They have taught me how to forgive by putting up with me and all my failings. If I continued, I don’t know how long the final list would be. These will suffice though to show that despite all of the things I have learned in classrooms over the years, all of the most important things that I’ve learned in life, I have learned from my parents.

It is common for children to chafe against schoolwork by asking what good it will serve in real life. This has never been a problem when it comes to my parents’ lessons. I’ve never had to parse out what is important to remember. All that my parents have ever taught me has applied to my life. To rephrase it sightly, my parents have taught me how to live. And I am far from done learning.

Joe’s First Holy Communion

While my time in formal classrooms is coming to a close, my education will continue. As I alluded to earlier, I still do not know what I will be doing after graduation. It is an unnerving feeling to live with that uncertainty, but at least I know there is one thing – or better put, two people – that I can rely on. I plan to move back home with my parents, and honestly, I couldn’t be more excited. I have so much still to learn, and while our modern world might look at moving back in with your parents as a step back, I see it as a step forward in my continuing education of life. What better way could there be to grow into adulthood?

The Book of Proverbs tells us that parents are “a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck” (Proverbs 1:8). For most of my life, I haven’t necessarily taken this to heart. I have taken my parents for granted again and again, and yet they still pour out all of their love for me. I can never thank them enough for all that they have done and continue to do for me. It is my sincerest hope, however, to offer all the gratitude that I can to these two remarkable people. They are the manifestation of the living God to me, and the more I know of and from them, the more I know of Him. May I never stop learning.

Why I Still Believe

Flora Tang, Senior Anchor Intern

This past Easter Vigil, I stood beside the baptismal font as 11 beloved members of the Notre Dame community were received into the family of Christ through Baptism, Confirmation, and first Eucharist here at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Whereas this time, I stood by them at Easter Vigil Mass as the intern for Sacramental Preparation, two and a half years ago, I, too, stood in front of this same Basilica and professed before the congregation that I did believe that “all the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.” Somehow, back in the chaotic busyness of sophomore year, I became Catholic.

Whenever I mention to friends and professors that I had only recently become Catholic, the question of “why did you become Catholic?” inevitably comes up: a question to which I have since then recited a 1-minute elevator pitch-length answer, a 5-minute long answer, and an hour-long answer. As I renewed my baptismal promises this Easter Vigil along with my RCIA neophytes, I asked myself again why I became Catholic, and why, two and a half years later, I still believe.

Flora at her Confirmation sophomore year in the Basilica.

Why do I still believe, when I, just this spring break on a pilgrimage, had stepped foot on what was once massacre sites where children were killed during the El Salvador Civil War? Why do I still believe, when I walked through the now-permanent refugee camps outside Bethlehem, where hope or even God seemed absent? Or when the question of theodicy– of why a God who is mercy and resurrection allows for suffering in the world– remains no longer a philosophical question but the heart of stories I hear from people I encounter around the world? Or, on the other hand, why do I still believe, when theological and philosophical arguments tug at the core of what I hold as religious truth? When my political science and peace studies classes reveal more and more the structural violence in the world caused or justified by religious doctrines, including those of my own? When faith, by definition, means that what I hold to be true may not always be substantiated by empirical evidence?

Yet above the altar of almost every Catholic church lies my path to faith every time despair seems to have the last word: a crucified Christ, who unites himself with the bleeding and suffering of God’s beloved world. This crucifix reminds me that beyond all the suffering I see in the world, there is a God whose love is so profound that He comes to walk in solidarity with our suffering. Here on this crucifix, hope lives because the agony of Christ does not have the last word: love and resurrection does.

But just as the Eucharist re-presents the self-giving love of Christ each day, the Resurrection is likewise not just a 1st century event involving earthquakes and blinding lights, but an event I– even during my greatest times of despair– see with my own eyes here and now.

RCIA neophytes share the candlelight during the Easter Vigil

Perhaps I still believe because my eyes have seen the resurrection.

I see the resurrection at the Catholic Worker house downtown, where students and the homeless come together to share meals in dignity and peace. I see the resurrection in the faith of the Salvadoran mother, who remains in hope and fights for the lives of Salvadoran migrants since the loss of her own migrant son ten years ago. I see the resurrection in the student clubs on campus that boldly serve as voices for the voiceless ones at this university; in each friend who lifted me up during my own times of despair and doubt; and in each of the 11 neophytes, who by their baptism, chose a life of hope and discipleship.

I became Catholic, and today still believe in the Catholic faith, because it is ultimately a faith that clings onto the crucifix as well as the hope of the resurrection– the hope that through the life-giving power of love and mercy, redemption can triumph over a world that appears to be plagued by injustice and death. If the resurrection of Christ witnessed by the Jerusalem women on that very first Easter Sunday prompted them to a life of discipleship and faith, so did the everyday resurrection– the everyday acts of unceasing love and hope that continues despite the darkness around them– which I witness with my own eyes strengthened me to become Catholic two-and-a-half years ago, and today, to say: yes, I still believe.

A Lenten Journey

Elizabeth Hascher, Senior Anchor Intern

As a political science and peace studies student, it can sometimes be difficult to make sense of how God works in my life. I spend a lot of time having discussions of heavy topics — genocide, racism, poverty, mass incarceration, and so on. When I’m not talking about these things in class, I’m talking about them with my friends, reading authors like Ta-Nehisi Coates and Roxane Gay, and watching documentaries.

I have developed a fairly good sense of how to balance reflection on serious topics with fun and relaxation. However, there are still plenty of moments when it all just feels like it’s too much. The world is full of suffering and violence, and as just one person, I know I cannot do it all.

This Lent, I challenged myself to journal twice a day: in the morning, and again at night. My hope in doing so was that by taking the time to intentionally reflect on my experiences, I could be more attentive to encounters with Christ and the influence of faith in my life. I wasn’t always successful at making time for journaling, but this practice did illuminate some unique thoughts and patterns that I would not have otherwise noticed.

Elizabeth’s reading and journaling materials

One of the most meaningful insights gleaned through my process of journaling was the influence of one particular reading I did for a peace studies course. As I read through a workbook on conflict negotiation, a short passage from John Paul Lederach, a former Notre Dame professor and well-known peacebuilding practitioner, caught my eye.

In this piece, Lederach writes about his work pursuing reconciliation after violence in various Central American countries. He found one Bible verse to have particular resonance in this setting: Psalm 85:10. Lederach says it is most beautiful in Spanish, but it roughly translates to, “Truth and mercy have met together; peace and justice have kissed.” This place of meeting, he writes, is reconciliation.

As Lent went on, I noticed myself coming back to this verse again and again. It would resurface as I thought about my classes, my conversations with friends, my job search, and my extracurriculars. I have started to see this as something that will serve as a guiding framework for my vocational discernment and call to discipleship. What I study and what I do with the knowledge I have is oriented toward seeking peace, justice, and reconciliation. Furthermore, this meeting of truth, mercy, peace, and justice is an idea which holds great meaning for us all in the celebration of Easter.

During Holy Week, we witnessed how truth and justice, when warped and unchecked, can destroy us. On Easter Sunday, we come to understand how mercy and peace are necessary for our salvation. The Resurrection ultimately only makes sense as the greatest moment of reconciliation, as a place where truth and mercy meet, and peace and justice unite.

Easter Vigil 2018

If we are to live our lives in the hope of the Resurrection and not in Holy Saturday, we should always be seeking this place of reconciliation. As we journey forward through the rest of the liturgical year, may we continue to strive toward this balance of truth, mercy, peace, and justice, in everything we do.

Hail the Cross, Our Only Hope

Julia Erdlen, Senior Anchor Intern

As we approach the final days of Lent during this Holy Week, I find the cross more and more frequently in my thoughts. Unsurprising, when Notre Dame was founded by the Congregation of Holy Cross, the motto became  Ave Crux Spes Unica – Hail the Cross, Our Only Hope. The cross is never far from my mind. This past Sunday, we heard the full Passion narrative and will be immersed in the saving power of the crucifixion this upcoming Good Friday.

“Take up your cross, the Savior said, if you would my disciple be. Take up your cross with willing heart, and humbly follow after me.”

These lyrics have been heard frequently during the Lenten season, for good reason.

We all have crosses, but Lent provides a distinct time to recognize their existence. We reflect, pray, and truly examine our lives during this season. We take up burdens, lift them up, and try not to begrudge the fact that we must carry them.

Simon of Cyrene carried the burden of Jesus Christ, the burden of the instrument of a death sentence that would save the world from sin and death. For however brief a time, he carried the weight. He was not exactly willing, but he nonetheless carried that unimaginable burden. He did not get to choose if he carried that burden. He was pressed into service in this way, drawn out of the crowd to take the weight off of Christ’s shoulders.

Simon carried the weight because Jesus had fallen, had shown his physical, human weakness. Jesus fell, and others saw him do so. There was no hiding his human weakness, on display for those who watched him carry his cross to Calvary. But we can hide. Most of us lack the sort of crosses that are displayed obviously to the world, and the most complicated struggles are often those we can hide. It is easier to hide what we carry when we are not the center of a spectacle designed to mock and ridicule, with the added humiliation of carrying a gigantic wooden cross that will be the instrument of suffering and salvation.

We are not usually subject to quite such a public fall, and do not collapse under our burdens for all to see. Sometimes words fail. Sometimes it takes a visible fall to reveal the heavy burdens that another person could help you carry. If Christ, God made human, can accept the help, we are no weaker for imitating him.

The crucifixion was in front of a crowd, and Christ did not have to find the words to express his human weakness. We often are required to reveal ourselves, to lay down our sorrows at the foot of the cross, and ask for help.

Matthew’s Gospel states “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

The cross does not exactly seem like the easy yoke and light burden that is spoken of in Matthew’s Gospel. But we are all called to be Simon as much as we are Christ. To accept the help of others and to pick up the crosses that are not ours alone. We exist in community, the catholic, universal church, sharing all in common for the good of us all. We must share in carrying the burdens of our friends, communities, and the whole world. It is why we share our intercessions publicly in the residence hall Masses. It is why we ask for prayers from friends when we have stressful exams. It is why we light candles at the Grotto for all to see, that they may pray for our intentions as well.

If we all were expected to carry our crosses alone, without the help of our communities which is ultimately accepting the help of God, we would not be able to rise after our falls.