All posts by Danielle

Praying through Panic

Emily Greentree, Senior Anchor Intern

The worst place to have a panic attack might be in the middle of Mass. While I am praising the Lord’s name and listening to his word, my anxiety sits in the pit of my stomach, making me feel like I am at the edge of a cliff. I know that I am safe here in the Lord’s house; I know that God loves me, yet my body and my emotions are convinced that the world is crashing down around me as my hands start to shake and my breath catches in my throat. Forcing myself to take a deep breath, I try to focus on the things I know to be true: I am safe, I am loved, I am breathing, I am sitting in Mass, I will be ok.  I continue to repeat these thoughts until the anxiety that was creeping up the back of my neck recedes and I feel normal again.

Generalized anxiety is a mental disorder that is characterized by excessive worrying about a number of things. The worry is out of proportion to the impact of the events that are causing it. This means that something as small as wondering if my friend had a good time when we went out can cause me to physically panic with worry that I failed them unless I was personally ensured that they enjoyed themselves.  My emotional response to everyday situations can be over-the-top and physically painful. But through my faith in God, I can always find ways to cope with the gap between what is truly happening and my emotional response. My faith acts as a bridge connecting how I feel to my belief in God and His plan for me. 

Grotto candles refracted in a crystal ball.

When I experience a panic attack, my thoughts will race. With no control over what I am thinking, negative statements start playing over and over in my mind tearing me down. This is usually when I start to pray.  Not trusting my racing thoughts, I often just pray the Hail Mary repeatedly as a plea for God to grant me peace. The rhythm of familiar prayer helps slow my thoughts down just enough that I can gain some small measure of control. Then I list out the things I know to be true:

  1. There is a God.
  2. God loves me.
  3. My worth comes from God.
  4. My worth cannot be diminished by anyone but God.
  5. My worth to God does not change because I made a mistake.
  6. I am not any less loved by God because I made a mistake.

By focusing on God’s love for me and the worth his love gives me, I can begin to slow down my breathing and my thoughts.  Taking deeper and deeper breaths, I begin to focus on the truth of my situation, whatever they may be.  Whether I got a bad grade, or embarrassed myself in front of the class, or simply felt overwhelmed by the amount of work I must get done, I can now start to look at it for what it is: a situation that I can handle with God’s love to strengthen me.

This knowledge does not always mean that the feeling of panic goes away. My body may still feel as if I am being physically attacked, even though mentally I know everything is fine. My heart may still be beating fast, my stomach may still be in knots, and my hands may still be shaking. By focusing on God, my faith keeps me on the bridge between how I physically feel and the truth of the situation.  Faith is my bridge between anxiety and reality.

Lent: A Season of Renewal

Rosemary Agwuncha, Senior Anchor Intern

Ahh, the unofficial “Catholic New Year” is upon us, friends! Lent has arrived and it’s time for us to enter into the purifying period, a.k.a. the “40-day Good Friday,” am I right? One of my professors joked that this is how we often view the season of Lent. He articulated, however, that Lent is meant to be a time of baptismal renewal and for reconciliation with God and others. Our death and resurrection in Christ is meant to be what our thoughts and hearts are fixed upon. The fruit of these meditations are then meant to manifest in our increased attention to prayer, fasting, and works of love (or almsgiving).

“But seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  – Matthew 6:33

Now that you have a small glimpse of what my major in Theology has been about…let’s think about what this actually means in real life. I’ll share a little story.

The beginning of my final semester at Notre Dame has been off to an interesting start. I’m caught in a space of tension. Though I want to relish every moment with all the incredible people I have met over the past 3.5 years, I am also preparing for the infamous medical school application process. Let me just say, it’s hard out here y’all. I feel like I have a to-do list that will never end and there will never be enough time in the day to get caught up. Dramatic? Maybe.

The past month has honestly felt like a blur of non-stop movement, and I’m still super behind on a number of things. Honestly speaking, on many days I have reached the point of tiredness that makes me become more emotional than usual, then I frantically agonize over every tiny decision, and negative self-talk becomes louder than any other thoughts in my mind. This is the absolute perfect recipe for premium level stress and anxiety, folks.

Walking by faith: “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” -Phil. 4:19

As a result of my current situation, I feel like I have taken many steps backward in my social life within the past four weeks. I sunk into the “you can only socialize on the weekend” and “if you’re not working or studying, you’re wasting time” mentality. I thought it would be so great to stay committed to “the grind” day in and day out, but it’s been extremely exhausting and not as fulfilling as I imagined.

I realized how much more draining my days have become in my attempts to avoid “unnecessary human interactions,” because as I sit before my work I start to realize how much I still crave these meaningful interactions. On top of that, my prayer has been less intentional and more “on-the-go.” As I toss up disjointed thoughts to God in bits and pieces, my heart is heavy with the burdens I haven’t truly laid before the feet of Jesus. During the past month, I have drastically narrowed my perspective on what is supposed to be meaningful in my life and what I make time for. Things obviously haven’t turned out as I intended them to so far.

The lack of community and intentionality that I imagined would spur me on towards greater productivity has, in fact, deprived me of so much of the energy that I need to persevere. Every bit of strength I have has been directed towards meeting deadlines, checking off items on an unending to-do list, and moving from one obligation to the next. Everything feels like a chore.

These pursuits of mine have honestly become idols and I have been sacrificing the most valuable possessions of time and my very self before them. I thought that I would receive blessings of joy and fulfillment for my earnest offerings, but I am realizing that these idols can’t offer me what I was seeking. They can’t reciprocate what I offer them or replenish me with anything meaningful. These idols will only continue to demand more of me and only be critical and denigrating when I don’t sacrifice enough for them. This then simply becomes a black hole of negativity that perpetuates self-violence.

Okay that was a bit bleak…but… devoid of an authentic relationship with God and with others, our lives don’t turn out to be as meaningful as we hope for them to be. I’m not advocating that we all become socialites who reject the notion that work or education has any value, but there’s a balance we should strive to maintain. Everything I do has to be rooted in love of God, neighbor, and self. I have to extend mercy towards myself and to others, just as God is unfailingly merciful towards me.

Yes, I will continue to strive to be diligent in order to accomplish my goals. However, the way I interact with God, myself, and others will definitely be more loving and more intentional because that’s how our lives ultimately find the most meaning. The Holy Trinity, in whose image we have been created, is love and relationship. We were made for relationship with God and with one another, this is something we cannot deny.

There are so many moments that the devil will try to steal my joy as well as my true identity in Christ away from me, but God is calling me in the season of Lent (and in every moment of every day) to remember that my hope and my joy are rooted in Him and Him alone.

I’m looking forward to this season of renewal and restoration of right relationship within the various dimensions of my life. Through greater attention to prayer, fasting from the things that are preventing my heart from loving God and others well, and intentional works of love, I will seek to entrust Jesus with more and more of my heart. All God wants is to love every part of my being – to fill every weak and broken place with His love and tender mercy. Jesus wants to restore the hope and joy that He won for me in His Resurrection.

God Doesn’t Ask for Perfection

Melissa Gutierrez Lopez, Senior Anchor Intern

Christmas break was interesting. Not because I had an interesting experience or did anything interesting but because I came to many realizations that helped prepare me for my final semester at Notre Dame.

Over break, I realized I did not want to continue living the way that I was. When I got home, I wasn’t feeling great for I felt like I didn’t end last semester on a high note. Feeling this way, I allowed myself to fall deeper into my own disappointment. I let my insecurities and self-doubt overwhelm me and cloud my judgment about my future. I grew worried about the many important decisions I needed to make such as which post-grad service applications to complete, how to progress with my thesis, what events to plan for my job, and then choose which classes I would continue with. Engulfed with my negativity and pessimism, I found myself unable to make those decisions and unable to picture what I would do after graduation. Because of these negative emotions, I did not have the energy to interact with people. So for most of break, I minimized my interactions with my family and wasted time by mindlessly scrolling on the internet. It was not until the end of break when I had a heart to heart with my mom and sister that I realize I needed to make a change. I could not keep living with so much negativity and hopelessness. I decided to change my mindset and attitude towards life, but most of all, change how I see myself.

I started slow. First, by watching inspiring videos and then listening to an audiobook that talked about embracing imperfection and vulnerability. This book also talked about the value of joy, gratitude and authenticity, and allowed me to realize I had developed habits of self-criticism. As a result, I made an effort to become self-aware and notice when I was being too critical of myself. I also created goals that I wanted to pursue: deepen my faith, be my own advocate, and be more intentional with my actions. Most importantly, I want to be more authentic and present with others.

In the midst of these efforts, I started to see how God was helping me through this. The author of the audiobook was Catholic, so it was nice to hear how these efforts for self-compassion, vulnerability, and authenticity were related to the Catholic faith. I cognitively knew that God did not want me to live life in despair or in anxiety. I also understood that the struggles I was experiencing were not meant to defeat me, like the Spanish saying “Dios aprieta pero no ahorca.” But, I wasn’t able to truly accept this. So this new understanding of vulnerability and embracing imperfection, as presented in the book, made me realize that I can live a content life with God by being happy with who I am. I understood that life will be hard at times, and that I will fail and experience disappointment but it will be okay. Why? Because I will remember my self-worth as a child of God and that regardless of what happens, I will be okay for as he told Isaiah, “Do not fear me: I am with you; do not be anxious: I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious hand.” Isaiah 41:10

Main Quad with snow

So, that is how I came back to start my new and last semester, with a different mindset of optimism, self-compassion, and an intention of becoming more authentic with those around me. And after awhile, I felt like I was on the right track.

Just last week I was reminded of how God works in incredible ways when I attended the Taste of Faith event. I wasn’t sure if I was going to attend, but decided last minute that I actually wanted to support my fellow interns and hear Fr. Pete speak. Imagine my surprise and joy to hear Fr. Pete talk about things that I’ve been reflecting on the past couple of weeks- accepting our imperfections, being vulnerable with people, and being authentic in your encounters. In hearing Fr. Pete, it felt like God was there with me, letting me know that I was on the right path and it felt comforting. I tried to live in that moment of inspiration and recommit myself to continue my efforts for self-improvement and being authentic. This is the way God intended me to live- to rejoice in his love and mercy, love him and those around me, and most importantly, to trust in him, as is written in Proverbs: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, on your own intelligence do not rely; In all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight your paths.”( Proverbs 3:5-6)

As my final semester progresses, I want to maintain this mindset of trust in God and in myself. I want to be intentional with my actions and be my authentic self with those around me. After reflecting on how I want to spend my last semester at Notre Dame, I feel that it would be great to spend it open to vulnerability, self-acceptance, and authentic relationships. I can’t imagine a better way to finish my time here at ND and I’d invite my fellow seniors to do the same.

When I become too worried about my imperfections, I return to one of my favorite prayers, the Serenity Prayer, and remind myself that I am not called to be perfect, but authentic.

Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
Amen.

When Joy Runs Dry

Nathan Miller, Senior Anchor Intern

“All you peoples, clap your hands; shout to God with joyful cries.”  Psalm 47:2

In my blog last semester, I reflected on the Litany of Humility prayer. In my blog this semester, God has given me a whole new life experience to understand humility…and right now, I can’t say I’m all too thrilled about it.

Just a few days before Christmas, I had surgery to repair my torn ACL (and meniscus, as I found out afterward). But this wasn’t a recent injury. I had torn it in the first couple weeks of fall semester playing football with my friends. If anyone asks though, just tell them I was wrestling a bloodthirsty bear while protecting a small child lost in the woods.

Successful surgery!

I celebrated the Christmas season with a big brace on my leg, using crutches to get everywhere. I needed help with simple things like getting dressed, showering, making food, and pretty much everything else that would normally require you to balance on both legs. Every task was a “big production” as I came to say, and my limited mobility kept me from getting out of the house very much. As someone who is used to providing for himself, I quickly grew frustrated with my temporary disability.

It is remarkable how quickly frustration can erode joy. On one hand, I had so many reasons to be thankful – the surgery was successful, I had adequate insurance, and my family and girlfriend went to great lengths to care for me and make me comfortable. Even more, I was still able to attend Christmas Mass and see my extended family as we celebrated the coming of Emmanuel. But yet, my frustrations mounted. Getting up at night to use the bathroom was a hobbling mess. Mom always offering 5 different ways to help when all I wanted was to rest. And probably above all, I felt incredibly lethargic and cooped up. My motivation to do things like reading books or study for my upcoming CPA exams was low, and even lower was my motivation to pray. You would think that having so much free time, especially over Christmas season, would have inspired me to pray. But I found many excuses: “I have to do my rehab exercises first” or “I need to take a nap first” or “now my family is home I should play a game with them.”

Unable to move normally. Frustrated with being taken care of all the time. Not taking time for prayer. I realized about one week after surgery that my supply of joy was running on fumes. How did I deteriorate so quickly? Of course, there is something to be said for coming off of major surgery and still being on strong pain meds, but I also had to find the wellspring of hope to replenish my joy.

Two things in particular helped me reclaim a spirit of joy amidst my temporary disability.

First, I needed to express gratitude, internally and externally, for the gracious help of my family, but in particular my mom. As we were driving back from visiting one of my relatives, she sat in the second row of the van with me and let me rest my leg on her lap (since I needed to keep it straight and that’s a difficult task in a vehicle). As my leg rested there, she silently started massaging my foot. In a few moments, I was unexpectedly overcome with a sincere feeling of gratefulness and humility. In that small moment, I saw how deeply she cared about me. For this time in my life, I once again needed to unabashedly rely on my mother’s love. Recognizing this brought me one step closer to joy. I allowed all the kindness of my loved ones to soak in as I embraced my limited capabilities. Gratitude is a wonderful medicine for grumpiness.

Second, I brought myself back to a routine of prayer. As I sipped my morning coffee, I sat by the window and started with Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours. It has long been one of my favorite ways to pray because it makes me feel a deep connection with the universal church and puts words into prayer for a whole spectrum of human emotions. Even though it’s my favorite prayer, it was still difficult most mornings to start it. After about five minutes of praying, however, I felt my resistance soften and my mind open for God to enter. From there, I was able to use my own words to talk with God about how I was feeling – my frustrations and my desire for joy. He in turn comforted me with His steady peace and directed me to embrace gratitude. This conversational prayer helped me see God amidst my little suffering, but was only possible because I first entered into formal prayer. It’s amazing how the Holy Spirit works through our prayer, even when we feel we are at our weakest.

Joy is decidedly different from happiness. Happiness is fleeting, yet joy is sustaining. Even still, I found that joy can run dry, and it is in these times that we need to draw on the wellspring of love shown to us by our family, our friends, and above all, our Heavenly Father. Joy, invigorated by gratitude, is one of the marks of a Christian life. It is a mark I hope you will join me in striving for each day, on Our Lady’s campus and beyond.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”   Romans 15:13

Family Christmas 2017

Finding My Vision

Dani L’Heureux, Campus Ministry Social Media Coordinator

“Mom, I have been on enough retreats. I am not going on this one.”

As the stubborn 16 year old I was, these words probably were not a surprise to my Mom. She calmly explained, in between my dramatic sobs, that the retreat was already paid for, I was specifically recruited to attend, and that it was at Notre Dame. Oh, and that the plane was leaving in a matter of hours. There wasn’t much of an option.

It was a typical Southern California morning in June – slightly foggy with the sun poking through the clouds, indicating that the fog had every intention of burning off. In the (silent and slightly awkward) car ride on the way to the airport, I thought deeply about this “Notre Dame Vision” thing. I had been on so many retreats it was impossible to count at that point, and to be completely honest, I was burnt out. I was tired of feeling like my emotions were always out in the open, tired of the general structure of a retreat, and was tired of the whole “Catholic” thing after spending 14 years in Catholic school. I was exhausted, and my struggles with the Catholic faith at the time weren’t exactly spearheading any sort of excitement for yet another retreat. I also had visited Notre Dame around 4 years prior for a football game and loved it. I didn’t want to taint that experience with something I was convinced would be horrible.

I composed myself as best as I could before saying goodbye to my Mom, gathered with my classmates at the airport, and began the weeklong journey that would so profoundly affect my life that I often have trouble explaining its magnitude.

Arriving at Notre Dame on the bus, with a friend-recommended Fleet Foxes album blaring in my ears, was the first moment I realized that my outburst that morning was completely unnecessary. Notre Dame’s beauty was absolutely beyond anything I remembered from that rainy football weekend in 2008, and almost instantly my mood shifted from begrudgingly accepting my fate to overwhelming excitement and wonder. This moment was also profound in my understanding and love of music that I carry with me today – it was the first moment that my 16-year-old mind began to tangibly associate music with such a deeply contemplative feeling.

ND Vision 2013
ND Vision 2013

That humid week in July was extraordinarily impactful on my faith and emotional development. I grew close with my mentors, exchanged many memories with my small group (some of whom I’m still in contact with today), and discovered a deep connection to my faith through music. All I wanted after that week was to be in the Notre Dame Vision band. All I wanted was to be able to stand up there on the DeBart 101 stage, guitar in hand, and allow thousands of people to feel what I felt – that connection between faith and music. I wanted to be able to spread my newfound, explosive love of music with everyone.

Fast-forward a few years, two summers into my already unbelievable experience as a Notre Dame undergrad, when this dream came true. In the summer of 2016, I served as the guitarist for the Notre Dame Vision band – an experience that, again, is hard to explain in words. I had the opportunity to craft and read a Witness Talk about a deeply personal part of myself, an experience that allowed me to continue my healing in a community of unconditional love. I acted on stage, bringing me back to my love of theatre that blossomed in high school. And I became friends with 62 truly remarkable people, my fellow mentors, whose expressions of love and support have continued to affect me today.

Looking back on the day of my flight to Notre Dame makes me feel a little strange. Had I not boarded that plane, I would likely not be a student at Notre Dame. I would not have my Campus Ministry job, and would not have met the friends that have already positively affected my life. I would not have been a Music Mentor at Notre Dame Vision in the summer of 2016. And here’s the kicker: I would absolutely not be Music Director of Notre Dame Vision for this coming summer.

When I think of the chain of events that led me to Notre Dame Vision, the opportunities I have had, and my present-day closeness with the program, I picture God smirking up in heaven and saying, “I told you so!” He knew all along – He knew I would put up a fight getting on the plane that summer morning in 2013. He knew all it would take is one look at the Notre Dame campus with one certain album playing through my earbuds to get me completely hooked. He knew I would go on to prove my angsty, 16-year-old self wrong by serving as a Mentor and later having the opportunity to serve as Head Staff. He knew that I needed a struggle in order to fully appreciate the impact this program would have on me. My trust in God’s plan for me and His place in my life has continued to grow while at Notre Dame, both through my Notre Dame Vision experiences and just from the blessing of being a student here.

The Band of St. Cecilia instrumentalists, ND Vision 2016

So, no, I hadn’t been on enough retreats, as I originally thought. I needed Notre Dame Vision, more than any other, to open my eyes to God’s plan working in my life through something I already had a personal connection to – music. And as I look back on these past four years as a Notre Dame undergrad, I truly realize how much He has been present, guiding me every step of the way to seek out those opportunities that would lead me to Him.

I still put on that Fleet Foxes album when I’m feeling nostalgic about that unbearably hot week in July of 2013. I played it the Monday morning of the first week of Vision in Summer 2016, just hours before I finally got to fully realize my guitarist dream coming true. I played it the day I accepted the Music Director job for Summer 2018. And I know I will play that album the day I graduate from the University that has given me more than I ever imagined.

Understanding Love Through Divorce

Emily Greentree, Senior Anchor Intern

One Sunday morning after church when I was 8 years old, my mom took my sister and me to the park and sat us down on a bench. She calmly told us, like it was any other day, that she and my father decided that they no longer wanted to live together, that they still loved us very much but decided that they were better as friends than as a couple. She then pointed to an apartment complex across the street and explained that’s where my dad would be moving. We would see him, of course, but he would no longer live with us. My parents were getting a divorce. I don’t remember being very sad when my mom first told me the news. I could not comprehend in that moment the way my parents’ divorce would affect my life or my understanding of God’s love. Now, 14 years later, I can see how this event was a turning point in both my life and my faith.

After the divorce, the biggest change in my life was the newfound balance of time split between my parents. I lived full-time with my mom, and she became my superhero. I watched her work a full time job, take my sister and myself to and from school, make us breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and plan every birthday party and holiday celebration. With her superpowers of multi-tasking, I knew I could depend on my mom for anything and she would be there. She took on the role of both parents alone, and I never felt like I missed out on anything.

Emily and her mom

When my dad moved out of the house, he went from being my parent to my biggest cheerleader. During an average week, I might see him once and talk to him maybe twice, but he did his best to never miss a soccer game or art show and even drove me to my prom. We would spend afternoons at the movies and listening to music. I knew he always supported me in my actions, but he was no longer a constant presence in my life. Between working long hours and consistently moving around South Florida, I would go many days without talking to him. This is when I started paying more attention in church and being intrigued by the idea that God was always present.

When my parents divorced, I struggled to maintain my previous understanding of love. Until then, I had understood that my mom and dad loved each other and from that love, they had my sister and me. I didn’t understand then that a love between two people could crumble and disappear. Watching my parents go from lovers to friends who could drive each other crazy made me wonder if all other love could fade as well. It was with that fragile understanding of love that I questioned how God’s love could always be present. But through both God and my parent’s modeling of God’s love, I learned what unconditional love really meant.

Emily and her dad

1 John 3:1 says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” God’s love for us is often compared to a parental love, so unconditional that no matter the circumstances, we can always return to Him. Growing up, it was hard to comprehend a love so vast and unconditional that it would always be present in my life. But that was God’s love that my parents modeled for me, even in their separation. During and after the divorce, I always felt my parents’ love, even when they would fight or on the days my dad was not there. They continually showed their love for me and my sister even during times of struggle. It was clear to see in the way my parents put my sister and I first in everything. I saw it in the way my mom kept my life stable through the change. I was it in the way my dad carved out time individual time for both my sister and I, so that neither of us felt abandoned. I was privileged to see in action the ways that parental love can withstand trials and flourish, even when the givers of that love had suffered their own losses. So when I sat in the pews at church and learned that God loved me like a father, unconditionally and always, I could feel the presence of his love in my life in the same way I felt my parents’ love for me. I understood that God would always be there for me, always willing and ready to work through life with me. I learned to talk to God as a father, asking for advice and guidance in the same ways I asked my parents, trusting in his love for me above all else. I understood God’s love for me in a real and deep sense.

My parents modeled unconditional love that could not be affected or diminished by any earthly issue, showing me how to understand and connect to God’s unconditional love for me.

 

Finding God Through Rejection

Mike Anderson, Senior Anchor Intern

“Poo-tee-weet”

If you ever read Slaughterhouse-five by Kurt Vonnegut, you may recognize that quote as Billy Pilgrim’s response when someone dies (and since he is a soldier during World War II, he is well acquainted with death). It shows how Billy has learned to just accept death and think nothing of it–there’s no emotion, no sense of caring, just “poo-tee-weet”.

As I enter into a time when I am applying for post graduation programs, I find myself becoming more and more like Billy Pilgrim. When I am rejected by a school, I don’t react with any sort of emotion, with any care about the time and thought that went into the application, nor with any loss of hope of going to the school I was interested in- no, just “poo-tee-weet”. As I talk with my friends who are also working through rejection, I find that they generally have one of two different reactions- no emotion as I do or too much emotion that causes the person to feel less about themselves. But is this how it should be or is there a better way to react to rejection?

As I work to answer this question, I thought about previous times I was faced with rejection and where that led me to. I immediately thought of this past summer when I participated in a research program at the University of Minnesota, a program that initially was one of my least favorite choices. I was hoping to be able to spend my summer somewhere new and interesting- Uganda, Nashville or New York City- or at a program that had some more built-in mentoring for their summer undergraduate researchers. After applying to seven research programs and two ISSLP sites and receiving eight rejections, I wasn’t left with much of a choice. So, I went to Minnesota and now could not be happier that I did. While there, I was part of a large community of undergraduate researchers that all worked together to grow in our researching skills. Since we all lived on the same floor of a dorm, we quickly became great friends who would enjoy many events that the twin cities had. My research mentor gave me more mentorship than I thought any professor would in one summer and I was able to meet and learn from many medical and graduate students. It was a great program for me to learn, grow, and make many connections with people who could answer any question I had. And I only went there, because I was rejected from the other programs.

Mike with many of the friends he made this summer at the University of Minnesota.

The next experience of rejection that came to mind was last year’s Keenan Revue. Having been part of the stage crew for my first two years, I decided that I wanted to help out more and apply to be the assistant stage director and leader of the stage crew. Since I had the experience and knew both the director and producer, I was confident that I’d get that job. When staff announcements came out, I was given the job of props manager (a job they intended for a freshman) while a freshman was chosen to be assistant stage director. This time, rather than just saying “poo-tee-weet” and calling it a day, I was quite upset. I took this one more personally as someone who has never seen the Revue before was picked over me and they relegated me to (what was supposed to be) the much easier job. It was difficult for me to be excited to do any work for the Revue when I felt as if they did not find me worthy of a significant role. However, fitting in with the theme of this blog, everything worked out for the best. Long before the first show, I started to gather all the props that we needed- sometimes fun, sometimes challenging, sometimes odd (like buying a toilet, wigs, and many pieces of women’s clothing). But during the show, I not only contributed with my props but ended up being in charge of many members of the stage crew as if I was stage manager. In the end, I did the same job as if I were assistant stage director like I originally wanted but was also able to contribute to the show in additional ways. By the end of the last show, both the producer and director told me they were happy that I got that job- because they no longer thought a freshman could have done it.

Mike talking with some of the stage crew prior to one of the shows.

So while I thought I knew what would be best for me, I soon realized that my initial plans might not have been the best option for me. I’m not sure that if the choice was left up to me, I would have realized this before it was too late. In reality, the best option for me was rejection from places that weren’t right for me or jobs that would have limited what I could do. It might have been difficult to take at that time, but in hindsight, it most likely made my life much easier.

In times of rejection, I now look to find the good that comes out of it- an easier decision, more time to spend on another goal of mine, advantages that one job/program/internship has over another- and I’d encourage you to do the same. While the good that comes out of rejection may not always be clear right away, in my experience eventually I am able to find what good could come out of the rejection. I trust that you, too, can find that there is always a plan for you, and it isn’t always what you think it is.

Finding Fulfillment

Daniel Jasek, Senior Anchor Intern

What am I here for? What really matters? Who should I strive to be?

These are existential thoughts that have been around for millennia. Ultimately, I think they boil down to one question – What will make me happy? Or, put a different way, how can I find fulfillment? This question is one I have asked myself often, and over the past few years, I believe God has guided me closer to the answer.

As I went through my freshman year at Notre Dame, I knew I needed to pick something to do over the upcoming summer. I decided to give the Summer Service Learning Program a shot, and was placed at The Mission of Our Lady of the Angels site. “The Mission” is a Catholic apostolate on the West Side of Chicago run by the Franciscans of the Eucharist of Chicago. Going into that summer, I was very unaware of the Grace I would experience (In a very literal sense – Grace is the name of the Mission’s German Shepherd). In all seriousness, that summer turned out to be the greatest one of my life, an extremely profound experience of God’s love and grace. I could write you a whole semester’s worth of blogs about it, but I’ll try to stick to this one.

Summer 2015 – The sisters and the summer volunteers

During the summer, I became a part of the Mission’s work to serve the neighborhood around them, a neighborhood scarred by poverty and violence. I helped with their food pantry, food and clothing giveaways, block parties, and whatever cleaning, donation-sorting, or yard work needed to be done. My main role for most of the summer was working as a summer camp counselor at the nearby YMCA that the Mission works closely with.

Doing all of this kept me very busy, and usually the days were so full of work, prayer, and community events that there was not much time that I could spend however I pleased. Initially, this frustrated me. However, I eventually noticed that on days when I thought more about myself, I was more stressed, anxious, and just generally miserable. But on days that I fully gave myself over to things outside of me, I found more fulfillment and happiness. Of course, I could have just learned this the easy way by listening when Jesus told me “Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” (Luke 6:38). I think that an experiential understanding of this Christian paradox is one of the keys to a fulfilled life. Not having as much free time was a gift in itself, a chance to realize what really mattered and strip out what didn’t.

I also found great fulfillment and joy in simple Christian community at the Mission. We truly cannot live the Christian life alone, and my summer volunteer group was able to experience community life with the sisters in a beautiful way. We shared in daily Mass, the day’s work, Holy Hours, and meals with them. For the Franciscans there, meals are an intentional way of forming and expressing community. It was not uncommon for the process of gathering for dinner, eating, and cleaning up to take two hours. Interacting with the sisters was also an absolute privilege. They are some of the most faithful and inspiring people I have ever met, and they have many talents. Sr. Alicia is a former winner of the show “Chopped”, and Sr. Stephanie is a marathon runner who has approached Olympic-qualifying times. But even more amazing are their qualities of faithfulness, selflessness, and ability to make you feel welcomed and at home, wherever you encounter them. The love, support, and example of all the sisters and everyone else at the Mission was so helpful for me, especially after long days. We are truly the Body of Christ, and “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you’” (1 Corinthians 12:21). If we are looking for fulfillment, we cannot forget C.S. Lewis’ words: “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses” (The Weight of Glory).

Fast forward 2+ years. This semester, my friend and former site-partner Will Niermeyer organized an informal fall break trip to the Mission, and I wholeheartedly joined in. It was an amazing blessing to be able to spend another week in service, community, and prayer, this time with several more good friends. That week, there was nowhere else I wished to be. I felt perfectly filled.

Fall break 2017 – Franciscans and friends (and Grace)

God has definitely been at work in my life over these past few years, from when I went to the Mission the first time to when I returned just a few weeks ago. Even still, during this time I have also struggled with fulfillment, wondering how I could “get back” what I felt like I had at the Mission because everyday life didn’t always seem to live up. I then read these beautiful words from Caryll Houselander’s Reed of God:

“Sometimes it may seem to us that there is no purpose in our lives, that going day after day for years to this office or that school or factory is nothing else but waste and weariness. But it may be that God has sent us there because but for us Christ would not be there. If our being there means Christ is there, that alone makes it worthwhile.”

Even though I cannot always be on a service trip or at the Mission, I can always be an open vessel to God, letting myself be “filled with Christ”, and then bring Him wherever I go. This gives me a sense of great hope. I will always be fulfilled when I let God fill me with what He wants. When our will and God’s Will align, we will never want for anything other than what comes from Him, and we will be truly happy. After all, this is what we were created for.

Being Mindful of God

Melissa Gutierrez Lopez, Senior Anchor Intern

“Highs? Lows? Where have I seen God?”

This is a little exercise that my Compass group did my freshman year, way back in 2014. Each week, we would start our meetings by sharing some highlights and lowlights about that week and by answering the question “Where have I seen God?” This was my favorite part.

Now a Senior, I remember this exercise because it left an impact on my spiritual life. When I first heard it, I saw it as a challenge to look for God in every encounter and every moment, especially since I wanted to have something to share at the beginning of each Compass meeting. I thought it was nice, because I was constantly reminded that God is with me and found comfort that His presence can be made known, even in unexpected ways. What was great about this retrospective question was that for me, it was a practice that involved appreciating God’s will and presence in every moment of my life. It became a habit to find God at times and places that people wouldn’t normally think of, as in not just at the Grotto, in a chapel, or at Mass. I found myself recognizing God in my walks to class through God Quad, in the laughter that I shared with my friends, and in the multiple instances of admiring nature. It was in these small moments that I was able to turn to God, become attentive to Him, and give Him thanks for the many blessings in my life. He felt more real and I felt my spirituality and faith growing.         

Now, it has been about three years since I was in that Compass group, and every now and then, I’d have little moments that remind me of that challenge I once had. I now feel like I have lost the habit of being mindful of God. I say grace before my meals, I give thanks at Mass, and I pray. But, I feel like I am no longer as attentive as I used to be. Somewhere along the way I’ve forgotten this habit and find myself needing to focus on getting through my responsibilities, especially when I’m having difficult days.

The Grotto is a special place of prayer for many students.

However, God surprises me by making His presence known, even when I’m not being attentive. One example is a day that I wasn’t feeling myself and I decided to go out for a walk. I didn’t expect to run into anyone or have anything in particular happen. I just ventured out to roam around and clear my head of the lonely sensation that I was beginning to feel. I decided to make my way to the Grotto and randomly met a friend whom I hadn’t talked to in a while. It was nice running into her and having the opportunity to chat for a bit, especially because of how I was feeling. After we parted ways, I thought about this accidental encounter. It felt like a purposeful encounter of God’s love, for it was an unexpected moment where I was reminded that I am not alone. I felt God near even in the midst of loneliness.

The reality is that God is always present, regardless of whether or not I am attentive to Him. Even if I am not aware, He is there, ready to receive my attention when I turn towards Him even if it is just for a single moment in my day. Realizing this, I hope that can be more mindful of God, become closer to Him, and grow in my faith.

Why Am I Catholic?

Julia Erdlen, Senior Anchor Intern

“Why am I Catholic?” When I asked myself this, I was not asking myself if I believe in God.  That was not a particularly interesting question for me, not something I really ever doubted.  If almost eighteen years of Catholic education has managed to teach me anything, it is that I believe in God.  But I’ve doubted if I had chosen the right belief in God, chosen a creed that I really believed in.  

Part of this stemmed from the Catholicism I had seen in my hometown and my extended family.  Everyone there seemed to practice their faith in the same way.  The shared faith led to a homogeneous worldview and way of being that wasn’t anything like how I saw the world.  My observations of how one must be as a Catholic did not mesh with how I wanted to be and how I wanted to exist in the world.

I did not want to question anything, so I choose a university that would make it as easy as possible to continue practicing the Catholic faith.  Here at Notre Dame, my barrier to making it to Mass was two flights of stairs, and my peers are overwhelmingly Catholic in name.  But when I got here, I found something I didn’t know I was looking for.  I met people of different faiths, and had the opportunity to learn more about Protestants that just my theology class lessons on the Reformation and visit a mosque for the Muslim Student Association’s open house.  I met good people trying to serve God as best they could, even if their faith was not Catholicism.  

Julia’s First Holy Communion

So why was I even a Catholic? I had grown up submersed in tradition, with fourteen years of Catholic education with daily theology classes, but could not honestly say why I, personally, thought Catholicism was the best path to the Truth.  I knew it academically, inside and out, and I knew where I still didn’t agree.  That was all I could see.

But then I met so many more Catholics my age, far beyond the 200 kids in my high school graduating class, or the sixty I spent ten years with in elementary school.  You could be a young person of faith, and I saw enough like me that I felt a little less alone.  I saw people signing up to do service for their summer or their lives. I saw professors who taught that same faith differently than I had ever seen.  I saw priests and sisters who knew college students well, who crafted homilies and reflections to more accurately guide us all towards a personal relationship with God.  I saw many different worldviews and ways of being all informed by the Catholic faith.  I saw that I had a way forward to have my sincere beliefs, about God and how the world could be, but I didn’t yet have the chance to prove to myself that I truly cared.

I am forever thankful that my Methodist friend decided to tutor theology students during our sophomore year. She had almost the same academic knowledge of faith that I did, at least as far as Foundations of Theology was concerned, but she was learning more and more through tutoring.  Every so often, I would get a sincere, curious question:

“Do Catholics really believe that?”

It often had to do with Marian doctrine, to which I would usually grab the Miraculous Medal around my neck and say “Of course!”  But even this defense of the Mother of God did not convince me that I was deeply and personally invested in my creed.

But then we ended up at the Eucharist. Source and summit of all human life, high point of the mass, the greatest sacrament we have ever been given because our salvation has been won through it.  Which, of course, is the real presence of Christ.  A sacrifice renewed, every Sunday, not just remembered but transubstantiated into something more than a symbol.

I found myself saying:

“It’s just, like, the coolest thing ever. ”

It was a pretty informal confession of faith, nothing I hadn’t repeated before, in far more polished phrases almost every Sunday since I was a kid.  But I had decided it meant something to me. My friend was honest, explaining what she believed and how she worshipped, and we had the mutual experience of “I love learning about your faith, but it’s just not for me.”

Julia’s Confirmation

From then on, I knew for sure that my faith mattered to me.  I had a reason I was a Catholic, and even if I felt quite different from some Catholics, there were others that were more like me, and we all shared that universal, lowercase c catholic faith.  

I was also wrong about at least one thing.  I was not the only one like me back home, I had just been too young and isolated to notice that people had more in common with me than I thought.  

I sat down for lunch with my aunt, a Sister of Saint Joseph, a few weeks later, just like I had a few times a year for my entire life.  For the first time, we had a very real conversation about my faith and how I saw the world.  I told her that I had proved to myself that I believed, for real, in Catholicism specifically. It turns out, at least one person, a model Catholic in my mind, thought a bit like me. My godmother, someone who was called to serve the Church in a special way, was there to tell me I would be okay.  That I wasn’t alone in how I wanted to be Catholic, and in how I was going to sincerely live out a life of faith. And since then, I have only met more and more people who practiced and lived out their faith in a variety of ways.