Most of my friends would not hesitate to describe me as an indecisive person. I’ve been known to spend weeks, months, or longer!, agonizing over a looming decision, flip-flopping between alternative plans of action, and filling up journal pages with lists of pros and cons or whiney complaints about the decision that lies before me. And usually even after some sort of decision is reached, my thoughts and prayer become flooded with a tangled knot of doubts and regrets.
After I began to notice this cyclical pattern within my decision making, I became more attentive to my prayer as I struggled to make decisions. My default in prayer had developed into a familiar scene in Adoration. Kneeling in silence in front of Jesus, I would pray for an open heart to listen to where the Lord was leading me: “Alright Jesus, I’m ready to listen to what You want me to do. So tell me what to do now please and thank you!” Unfortunately, I would usually leave the Adoration chapel more confused or discouraged after my desperate prayers. My “miraculous voice in Adoration” plan had fallen through more times than I’d care to admit. I felt that God wasn’t answering my prayers and that any sort of decision placed in my path had become a puzzle that He wouldn’t help me solve. If I wanted to carry out God’s will and do what He wanted me to do, why couldn’t He just make it a little easier for me to do so by showing me the right path?
My indecisiveness also stemmed from a place of deep mistrust of myself and my own decision-making faculties. Time and time again I was so afraid of making the wrong decision that I found myself paralyzed in fear, stuck in a state of limbo or of inaction among the options that I was considering. Instead of thinking of my free will as a gift, I viewed it as a burden or an obstacle in my relationship with God.
I realized that what I really wanted was for God to make all of my decisions for me and that in doing so I had put Him in a box. I wanted definitive answers, to know where I was going, and I wanted to hear God say it. I wanted to experience and hear God in my terms and in my way. I was not being open to how He wanted to speak to me or reveal Himself to me.
In 1 Kings 19, we read the story of the prophet Elijah, who ascends a mountain in order to find the Lord. He experiences the passing of a strong wind, an earthquake, and blazing fire. Elijah is seeking the Lord, but the Lord is not in the wind, earthquake, or fire. It is only afterward when the Lord reveals Himself to Elijah through “a light silent sound.” God reveals Himself not through thunderous natural phenomena, but instead in a quiet whisper.
However tempting it might be, God doesn’t want us to test Him or beg for a miraculous sign or response when we are making decisions. God doesn’t always work like that. A lot of times, He is in the small whisper calling us to trust Him in faith even when we don’t know where the path ahead of us may lead. In fact, the Lord may work through the journey of increased faith and trust in choosing to walk alongside Him amidst uncertainty and fear. God calls us to greater trust in Him and His plan through the actual process of decision making and in wrestling with our options and all the while seeking Him.
In the paralyzing unknown that accompanies difficult decision making, worrying is a natural response which in reality leads us nowhere. Our Lord, who is ever-faithful and unchanging, promises us true peace when we put our faith in Him. Instead of worrying, He calls us to cast all of our worries upon Him (1 Peter 5:7). When the decision in front of us is challenging or when God doesn’t seem to give us an easy answer, we can allow the experience to be an opportunity to deepen our faith instead of doubting His goodness or His plan for us. And especially when discerning between two goods, we can remain faithful that God will be with us no matter what we decide. We can choose to see the decision as a blessing instead of a burden, and in all circumstances give thanks for how the Lord works in our lives (1 Thessalonians 5:18). God will never fail us, even amidst anxiety, doubt, fear, or worry that may accompany decision making. As our faith is challenged in periods of uncertainty, we are called to grow in trust of God’s accompaniment and to grow in receptivity of how He is calling out to us, even if it’s not how we’d expect.
In this time of Valentine’s festivities, there is always a multiplicity of commercials advertising rings and ‘I do’ moments, so I wanted to take the time to share my own ‘I do’ moment. This summer in front of a church full of family, I said the words many dream of saying: ‘I do’. No, I am not talking about a wedding, but the Baptism of my godson.
I had the great privilege of becoming a godparent this summer and thus had the opportunity to respond ‘I do’ for my godson, Wyatt, during the renunciation of sin and profession of faith. In this part of the rite of Baptism, before the baby is baptized, the godparents and parents respond ‘I do’ to a series of statements of beliefs on behalf of the infant until they can confirm it themselves as an adult. If the person being baptized is an adult they themselves respond ‘I do’. These statements are heard at different points in the liturgical year as well, such as Easter or the Mass celebrating the Baptism of the Lord, where the congregation is invited to renew their Baptismal promises with an ‘I do’, though this time not necessarily in a white garment.
Since Wyatt’s Baptism this summer, I have been more aware of the actions in the sacrament of Baptism as I found myself an active participant in a new way. It is a sacrament that occurs fairly frequently within my home parish, as babies are baptized during the regular Mass times and paraded around the entire church to be fully welcomed by the congregation. This has allowed me to continue to say ‘I do’ alongside the parents and godparents, renewing my Baptismal promises throughout the year. In doing so frequently, I have had the time to reflect on the importance of the words to a greater extent.
I have long considered ‘I do’ to be the centerpiece of the wedding ceremony, whether religious or not, and had only considered the words to be an affirmation of the bond formed between the two individuals. However, as I have come to see the words ‘I do’ in many other contexts of the Catholic sacramental life, I am more aware of the reality that the ‘I do’ is not simply between the two individuals, but also with God through the seal of the Holy Spirit. This ‘I do’ is also a continuation of the ‘I do’ of Baptism, the sacrament in which we are “clothed with the wedding garment” (CCC 1244). Baptism is the “gateway to the Spirit” (CCC 1214) and then “in the epiclesis [the invocation of the Holy Spirit] of this sacrament [of Matrimony] the spouses receive the Holy Spirit as the communion of love of Christ and the Church. The Holy Spirit is the seal of their covenant” (CCC 1624).
Besides my own Baptism, I have also been dressed in white and said ‘I do [believe]’ in front of family and friends in another sacrament: my First Communion. Before receiving the Body or Blood of Christ during the Eucharist, the recipient responds with ‘Amen’, a word that states a confirmation of belief, in essence an ‘I do [believe]’. The first time this is said, girls are often in a white dress, and I even wore the veil that my mom had worn during her wedding and the cross necklace my grandmother had worn at hers. We are invited to say ‘I do’ at every Mass after this momentous occasion, even when we are not in white.
Although I had known that Matrimony was sacramental, as there is a non-religious version of the rite, its sacramentality has not been as apparent to me as that of Baptism or the Eucharist. In researching more about the connections between the three, I read a passage from the Catechism of the Catholic Church that describes how these three sacraments are interconnected. In this, the richness of the sacrament of Matrimony and its signs has become more apparent to me. The passage states: “The entire Christian life bears the mark of the spousal love of Christ and the Church. Already Baptism, the entry into the People of God, is a nuptial mystery; it is so to speak the nuptial bath which precedes the wedding feast, the Eucharist. Christian marriage in its turn becomes an efficacious sign, the sacrament of the covenant of Christ and the Church” (CCC 1617). The idea of a nuptial bath and the connection between Baptism and Matrimony can also be seen in Ephesians 5: 25-27 which states: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish”. In this, Paul “teaches that baptism makes the Christian husband and wife members in the body of Christ… They have already been received into the mysterious union of Christ with His Church. As members of the bride of Christ they themselves are wedded to Christ; hence the mystery of the union of Christ and the Church is found in them also” (Scheeben 602).
The Catechism states furthermore that “the celebration of marriage between two Catholic faithful normally takes place during Holy Mass, because of the connection of all the sacraments with the Paschal mystery of Christ” (CCC 1621). The celebration of Matrimony within the context of Holy Mass is an element that I have often taken for granted, and sometimes considered unnecessary; however, it is a beautiful idea to me now that the first ‘feast’ that a newly married couple shares together is not the reception dinner, but the Eucharist, and that the white dress recalls the white garment received in Baptism.
I am sure I am only beginning to scratch the surface of the depths and interconnectedness of these three sacraments. That is perhaps the most beautiful thing of all, though; that these sacraments’ intricate mysteries will continue to unfold across my whole life, allowing me to continue to say ‘I do’.
Catholic Church. Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd ed. Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2012. Print.
Scheeben, Matthais Joseph. The Mysteries of Christianity. Translated by: Cyril Vollert, S.J., B. Herder Book Co., 1951.
This past winter break I saw eyes that beamed with fear, uncertainty, love, and joy as I encountered migrants on their journey. I couldn’t help but imagine how members of my own family reacted in situations such as this.
I was in Tucson, Arizona observing Operation Streamline. My heart was broken as I wondered what these people went through sitting in front of the judge. They left their families and most likely spent thousands of dollars just to be sent back to their home countries within a couple of days. Some traveled from Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico, and even Ecuador. Then I wondered why. What was the reason that they decided to come to the United States? It could have been for work, to help their families, or to flee from gangs and violence in those countries. Now they are here, in this courtroom, waiting in shackles with fear and sadness in their eyes to be taken back to their home countries.
This was only my second day in Arizona and my heart was already broken into a million pieces.
I think about my family and how scared they were for more than twenty years waiting to apply for residency. I grew up in fear that the person on the other side of the door may take my parents away. I remember the fear of any encounter with law enforcement or waiting for my parents to pick me up from school and the possibility that they may not come. It took over 20 years for my parents to have some sort of ‘safety’ but even so, we still live in fear that it can be taken away any day.
Through this fear, the Lord allows us to encounter joy and love. Towards the end of my week in Arizona, the group I was with went to a clinic held in a high school gym where people gathered to receive legal advice. There were lawyers gathering information for cases, retired lawyers preparing paperwork, volunteers documenting stories, and my group listened and observed all that was happening.
I had the privilege to be able to translate for various people with different stories. The first person I translated for was almost done filling out his paperwork and just needed a couple more things. As I sat across the table from him, I couldn’t help but feel frustrated that in the end the judge is left with this important decision. This man was so happy and excited to finish his paperwork and go in front of a judge. He didn’t know what would happen, but he was living in the present. This man radiated joy.
This fear never goes away but that didn’t stop my family from living in happiness and with joy. I’m grateful that we were able to come together as a family each night to enjoy a meal together. My siblings and I would have so much fun just being kids and being goofy with one another. I saw the joy my parents had knowing that their children were receiving excellent education and enjoying simple conversations with friends. Having moments of joy allowed for moments of peace.
As I returned to Notre Dame after winter break, my experience in Arizona sat really heavy on my heart. I wasn’t sure, and still not sure, what I can do moving forward other than to bring light to this issue. There is so much that is going on down by the border that a whole semester of learning about it still couldn’t compare to seeing it first-hand. I encourage you to look for yourself. Do some research and maybe even book a trip to help people who are dying every day. Understand both sides of the issue because it will surprise you as much as it surprised me.
I will continue to pray for the migrants; those who have crossed, those who are currently crossing, and those who plan to cross in the future. I ask that you pray for them, too.
A few weeks ago I attended the Catholic young adult conference SEEK with 17,000 other people. During the conference, the Church celebrated the feast of the Epiphany, the time to—like the three kings—pay homage to the newborn King. Each year around the Epiphany I find myself pondering the gifts of the three kings. In some ways I am awed by the quality and richness of these three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. I imagine the sincerity with which the kings lay the gold, frankincense and myrrh at the foot of the manger and I know that God receives their homage. Yet, in other ways, those gifts seem so insignificant. No amount of gold, frankincense and myrrh, despite quality or cost, could possibly give fitting homage to the King of Kings.
When I think about the insignificance of even the costly gifts of the kings, I realize that I will never have a gift worthy of my King. Consoling myself, though, I breathe a sigh of relief, falling back on the knowledge that God has things under control. My lack of a gift doesn’t change the fact that He’s God, I tell myself. Yet, this Epiphany, I cannot shake the feeling that Jesus wants me to offer him my own personal gifts. The three kings brought gold, frankincense and myrrh, but now Jesus asks me for a different kind of gift: He desires joy, obedience, sacrifice, perseverance, trust, praise, patience, charity, and really all of the virtues. As I think about which gifts Jesus wants me to offer Him specifically, I deflate inside, knowing that what Jesus desires from me personally is not packaged up nicely like a treasure box of gold or a gilded canister of frankincense. Not at all. My trust, my praise, and my perseverance are quite fleeting and sometimes nonexistent. So, why would God continue to ask for them anyway? How could my attempts at perseverance be the gold that He accepts as homage? Well, as SEEK reminded me, God doesn’t understand gifts in the same way that I do. He understands gifts through Himself: He understands the power of sharing.
For the first few days of SEEK I found myself listening to talks, going to mass, and experiencing so many things that continually reminded me of the beautiful truths of God’s relationship to me and to every person. Though surrounded by 17,000 other people, listening to the same talks and attending the same masses, instead of rejoicing in God’s presence among us, I kept what I was hearing and experiencing to myself. Conversations about the talks elicited many “good,” “great,” and “funny” responses or objective summaries, but I didn’t want to share anything else—anything personal, vulnerable or spirit-filled. I acted as if I could keep God to myself, but God cannot be contained. Trying to isolate myself with Him really meant isolating myself from Him.
Purely out of practicality but quite ironically given my current state, I decided to attend a talk about praying with others. As the priest giving the talk began to explain the power of the Holy Spirit when two or more are gathered in Christ’s name (Matthew 18:20), my heart also began to come alive. I suddenly knew that the active love of the Holy Spirit that the priest invited us to recognize and call upon specifically in community is the true reality of God. Rather than my closed-fisted approach, it became utterly clear that God manifests Himself through the out-pouring love of the Holy Spirit which is always a shared and fruitful love. As I left the talk and gathered with a few other students from our group, I now couldn’t help but excitedly share what I had learned. As I shared, I could feel the presence of God enlarging my heart and my ability to receive God and perceive Him in others. We ended that small gathering by praying together over one of the girls and invoking the Holy Spirit to pour out His love upon her. Simply our union in doing so was a witness to the reality of the Love that filled the space.
Beginning this new semester and new year after SEEK, I am finally beginning to understand what it means to lay a gift at the manger each day. Not in my economy of gift, but rather God’s economy, sharing myself, my gifts, or maybe simply my desire for God becomes not merely “enough,” but the basis for an active relationship with the Lord. By themselves, the little gifts that I seek to lay before the Lord will be puny and insignificant. When shared, however, they acquire the utmost value and purpose for Christ. For Christ does not work in our perfection, but in our openness to His presence being manifested in and through us and in and through others. Gifts like trust, praise, and patience cannot even exist on their own. They rely on a relationship with God for existence and will become treasured gifts not because I will have given them to God, but more truly because I will have received them from Him. Our gifts or virtues, in the end, will not be about us, but rather the manifestation of our receptivity of the greatest treasure: the King Himself.
As we seek to share ourselves, our gifts, and our time this semester, let us remember that God manifests Himself in our sharing. This is why it is sharing and not simply giving. What we give does not leave us. It is realized and then magnified, becoming a part of us because it is God Himself entering in. It is the merciful Father gazing at us just as He gazes at the person we have just acted mercifully towards; it is Jesus waiting patiently for us just as He comforts the person that we have chosen to truly listen to; it is the Holy Spirit enlivening our hearts with joy just as He does to the person that we have just smiled at. Christ is never lost when we give Him to others, but always multiplied. We can thank Him that our little gifts, when shared, become great means not only of letting His radiance touch the lives of others. In doing so, we allow Christ to be present and magnified in our own hearts.
Dear Jesus, help me to spread Your fragrance everywhere I go. Flood my soul with Your spirit and life. Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly that all my life may only be a radiance of Yours. Shine through me and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel Your presence in my soul. Let them look up and see no longer me but only Jesus! Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as You shine, so to shine as to be a light to others; the light, O Jesus, will be all from You; none of it will be mine: it will be You shining on others through me. Let me thus praise You in the way You love best: by shining on those around me. Let me preach You without preaching, not by words, but by my example, by the catching force, the sympathetic influence of what I do, the evident fullness of the love my heart bears to You.
Leah Buck, Senior Anchor Intern – Sacramental Preparation and Catechesis
The holiday season is officially upon us. Thanksgiving has passed and Advent is here, which, for many of us, means there is a myriad of gatherings to plan and guests to host during the coming weeks. Families stay overnight in our homes for the holidays, co-workers and friends gather for Christmas parties, carolers are invited inside for hot chocolate or cookies. When we are expecting guests, it can be all too easy to get so caught up in the tasks of being a host or hostess that we forget what it means to be hospitable. This semester, as I’ve prepared for my own guests to visit my apartment, I’ve often found myself agonizing over what recipe to cook or how to arrange the snack table or what songs to add to the playlist. I’m tempted with perfectionism and pride, becoming more concerned with how my friends perceive me and my domestic skills than how well they are loved when in my home.
Intuitively, I know that having an instagram-worthy spread and picture-perfect decor isn’t what hospitality is about, but I’ve struggled to figure out what it truly means. Some insight from the practices of St. Benedict has helped.
The Benedictine order, the group of monks that St. Benedict founded, is known for their hospitality. This is a pretty wild idea. Think about it: an order of monks, vowed to a life of poverty and prayer, probably living in a remote monastery, are notoriously good hosts. By the world’s definitions of being the ‘hostess with the mostest,’ this makes no sense. They don’t have elaborate decor for every season or the trendiest snack choice for every dietary need. They are men of simplicity, not of extravagance. So what makes them such great hosts?
Loni Collins Pratt provides some perspective on this on this in her book Radical Hospitality: Benedict’s Way of Love:
“Hospitality requires not grand gestures, but open hearts. Hospitality is not necessarily keeping guests occupied or entertained. Instead, Benedict tells us to offer an open heart, a stance of availability, and to look for God in every single person who comes through the door.”
The Benedictines are noteworthy hosts because they receive each person who enters their monastery as Jesus Christ himself. They hope to make their home a place of welcome, where guests’ hungry hearts can be nourished. Inviting people in, the Benedictines say, “I see you. I love you. I want to get to know you.” In this gesture, they speak to one of the deepest longings of the human heart, to belong.
This is truly what makes the Benedictines some of the best hosts in the world. They understand that hospitality is not about doing but about being. It is not a task to accomplish but a disposition to embody. Praying with this idea has transformed my ideas of what it means to be a hostess, and I hope that this new attitude translates into how I welcome my friends and family this season.
Here are a few precepts that (now) guide my preparations for guests:
1. Invite Jesus First
If we want to receive our visitors as Christ did, we must welcome Him first! Let’s open our own hearts to Jesus. Let’s ask him to join our preparations and our parties. Let’s call upon him to send his graces upon our gatherings and reveal himself to us in our neighbors.
2. Create a Space of Encounter
If we desire to encounter our guests, we must make sure that our homes are conducive to encounter! Let’s worry less about planning activities and more about encouraging conversation. Let’s ask good questions and listen intently to their answers. Let’s introduce guests to one another and to God.
3. Love Each Guest Individually
If we hope that each person who enters our home feels loved, we must love them intentionally! Let’s greet each guest joyfully and by name. Let’s be truly glad that each and every person is with us. Let’s delight in the presence of our friends.
There’s really nothing difficult about being a host or hostess like the Benedictines. It doesn’t require any custom-ordered cakes or personalized napkins. It simply requires a gift of ourselves. I pray that you can join me in making that gift to your guests this season.
At times, an image comes to mind. An image I saw some years ago that depicted a man walking. While walking, he was hit in the head with a stone. After being smitten, he turned around both hurt and angry and screamed “Why God? Why?!” At that moment, he looked up and saw God shielding him from a conglomerate of boulders. God then looks back and says “I’m sorry, did I miss one? Are you alright?” Although this image itself shows doubt, that isn’t what spoke to me about the picture.
Have you ever heard God described as your “friend,” your “father,” your “rock,” or another familiar term? Often we view God as a father that watches over us or a friend who we can trust and confide in fully…. Well, I have definitely had points in my life where I wanted to challenge this idea. “How can I confide in God as a friend, if he already knows everything that I have done, will do and simply thought of doing?” and “If he truly is my heavenly father, doesn’t he want what’s best for me? Why does he keep letting all of these things happen to me? Why does he let me fall? Does he care enough about me to intervene? Where is he when I need him?” and “How can he be my rock and my fortress when he allows so much evil to come into my life and knock me off balance?” These are honest questions that I’ve had in my faith. Maybe you have asked similar questions that challenged the commonly given praises that God receives. Whenever I asked these questions, I would always find myself running far away from God. I would run as far as I could, doing whatever I wanted and surrendering myself to the forces of the world instead of his will. Through these questions, I experienced doubt in the power of God.
Growing up, I was constantly taught in church to never doubt God, his love, and his power over everything. I was taught that this doubt meant that I did not trust God and that even if I did not understand him or his ways, I was to follow after him in ignorance if necessary. It wasn’t until college where I learned how healthy doubt truly is. Through doubt, we are truly able to grow closer to God. Through these questions, I have been able to see that I can confide in God as a friend because when I honestly have no one else to talk to, I can talk to him. And he does want what is best for me, even when what I think is best for me doesn’t exactly line up with God’s will. The pebbles that escape his impenetrable fortress were meant to make me tougher. He allows these hard, rough-edged trials to come into my life to make me better than I was before. They are meant to teach me new lessons. Lessons of humility, of conviction, of pain, of loss, of strength, of patience, and of love. It is honestly these moments where we have been stricken and have run so far away from God, that we are honestly the closest to him. In these points of weakness and vulnerability, I have grown to depend on his strength to get me through the trials. It is through these times that I have felt the most alone that I could call on his name and he is present for me. I initially think that because he allowed that one stone to hit me, I was running further and further away from him, but in all actuality, I just ended up running right back to him.
I may not have gotten everything I wanted in life or had the easiest 21 years of living, but he gave me everything I needed. Who am I to say that he hasn’t? I’m alive, aren’t I? All my needs are met, aren’t they? And he still loves me unconditionally…and there’s no need to question that. He has truly been the best friend I’ve ever had, even when I felt that I had none. He has been the only father that I have truly known throughout my whole life. He is the rock that keeps me grounded and the fortress that keeps me safe. I think that now I understand that when those stones make it to me and knock me off of my feet, that it was his doing and it isn’t a deficiency of his power, but a flex of his strength that he wants to instill in me. I’m not saying that I won’t try to run away in the future, but at least now I know that eventually, I will run right back into him.
Looking back at the past two years, the journey of the end of my father’s life, I cannot believe how much God has blessed me with. I recognize that in the beginning of the journey, my faith and trust in the Lord was not as strong as it has become. I’ve learned to listen, pay attention, and honor what is valuable day-to-day.
During the fall of my third year, my father began acting in a strange manner and no one knew the cause of it. His actions lead to mistrust and a rocky relationship with my mother. In order to help them, when I came home for Christmas break, my family prayed a novena to Our Lady Undoer of Knots.
On the seventh day we were unable to enter into the chapel where we had been praying the novena. So, we prayed in the van. As we finished, my mom saw the parish priest heading to the chapel and she followed him. My mom began to tell him what had been going on with my dad; the mood swings, the sleeping, and the exhaustion. The priest’s suggestion was to take my dad to urgent care. Odd suggestion. My mom comes back into the van and asks me, “Should we go get groceries as planned or should we go to urgent care?” I responded to her that he was fine and we should just go get groceries. She did what her gut was leading her to do and we went to urgent care.
During this time, I had trust that the Lord would help my parents and mend their relationship. Although I had faith in this, I was not listening to where the Lord was asking my mom and I to go. To trust in the signs and pay attention to what was truly important.
At urgent care, the doctor saw the same thing that I did, there was nothing wrong with my dad. My mom noticed that half of his face was droopy. Once she pointed this out, I began noticing it as well. Once the doctor could see it, too, he said that we needed to go to the emergency room because my father could potentially have had a stroke.
I had never experienced how overwhelming it is to enter the hospital off of an ambulance. There was so much going on at once that I didn’t know where to focus my attention. Everyone was speaking at once; nurses from the ambulance and those with my dad were asking questions, the social worker as well, and my dad who had no idea what was going on. I was answering their questions, translating for my dad, and looking to see where my mom was. Once things finally calmed down, my mom and I were moved into the waiting room. In this overwhelming and confusing moment I recognized how God allowed me to have peace and clarity in the moments I needed to respond.
My dad went in for a CT scan and an MRI, but with it being so late at night we had to wait until morning for the results. On Christmas Eve, I remember walking into the hospital room where the doctor told us the MRI showed that my dad had two tumors in his brain. This shattered my heart. My dad had two tumors in his brain. This explains the sleeping, the anger, and the reason why he wasn’t himself. This was day eight of the novena to Our Lady Undoer of Knots.
The next hour, day, weeks, months, were some of the most difficult, but best times I had with my family.
My father went through chemotherapy. He was doing really well at first, but then the treatments were no longer affecting the tumor. After the chemotherapy, he went in for radiation. Throughout these treatments I was on call. At any moment a call from my family could come in and I would answer. Mainly to translate, but at times it would be my father who had nothing to do in the hospital but wait, so he wanted to talk. I remember sitting outside my classes in tears because I couldn’t be beside him during those times. God had placed me where I needed to be throughout this entire journey. The more I listened to the Lord in prayer it became more clear as to what I needed to do.
As the following school year was starting up we received news that the radiation was not working and the tumor was growing. I returned home for the following appointments. I remember being in the hospital and there wasn’t a translator present. The doctor told us that my father had at most three months to live. I then, without thinking too much of what the doctor had just said, translated to my family in Spanish. I will never forget the moment my mom turned to me hoping that she had heard the doctor incorrectly and then telling her that what she heard was correct.
For the next couple of months my family did anything my dad wanted. We went to Chicago for a weekend, my parents renewed their 25th anniversary vows, and there was a lot of ice cream that was eaten. These memories are so wonderful and full of love, joy, and hope.
I was sitting in office hours when I received a call that my dad was getting worse as the day progressed. This was the last time I heard his voice. I remember speaking to a family friend who was taking care of him and she asked me, “When are you coming home?” I told her that my plan was to leave the next morning because I had to work that night. Then the follow up question of “How early?” I told her I could leave in that moment if I needed to – so I did.
Let me tell you how wild and full of the Holy Spirit these next moments were. I got off the phone, headed to let my professor know that I was heading home and was probably not going to submit the assignment on time. I text my friend to see if I could potentially borrow her car in that moment and she said she had just arrived back to campus and would meet up with me to give me the key. Obviously not being in the perfect mindset to drive, I called a good friend to see if he would drive me home. No answer. I text him that I would be heading home because my dad isn’t doing well. Luckily, he steps out of class and said he would meet up with me to drive me home. All of this happened within 5 to 10 minutes of deciding that I needed to leave immediately. The Holy Spirit was incredibly present and I calmed down as everything fell into place.
I made it home in time to be with my father for a couple more hours. I am so grateful that my family was able to be there. Even in those last moments, God allowed my youngest brother to fall asleep as my dad was taking his last breath.
Through this journey I have been able to grow in my relationship with God and to recognize my encounters with Him . God is present every single moment, every single day. Know that God is with you when your world or heart shatters and He will never leave your side.
Descanse en paz papá. In loving memory of Francisco Javier Toledo.
Senior Anchor Intern, Katherine Smith – Sacramental Prep & Catechesis
As the days grow shorter and I begin to pull out my boots and scarves on these late fall days, I feel my whole approach to the semester shifting. Anticipation for home—for Thanksgiving with family and Christmas in Minnesota—has set in. At the same time, almost as if these holidays are the winter hibernation that ensue fall semester, I find myself frantically trying to prepare for and accomplish all that must happen between now and Christmas break. I mean, suddenly I feel a surprising association with our squirrel friends trying to fatten up for winter as I wonder if I’ll have enough flex points to see me through another month of research papers and tests! Needless to say, I find my thoughts and life patterns becoming more and more narrowly focused and closing in upon themselves—really, patterns of survival in the chaos. The endless to-do lists that threaten to overwhelm my thoughts during Mass or prayer, the reminders from friends that I’ve forgotten to spend time with them, or the lack of wonder at the glories of burning fall foliage as I hurriedly traverse campus speak to the all-consuming nature of this mentality. What I myself need to do for me becomes the mantra. But, with this mindset, I know I am closing off what is most important. Where is the space to hear God speak? To recognize His presence in another? To receive and share His Goodness?
In the midst of this hibernation preparation, if not for the questions from friends and acquaintances across campus about my fall break, I might have easily forgotten that only two weeks ago I was on pilgrimage in Rome during the Synod on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment. With a dozen other Notre Dame students I had the privilege of experiencing the Church through the beauty of Rome’s churches, art, and legacy of the saints and opening myself up to the broader reality of the universal Church.
As we engaged the Synod as youth, I was reminded that despite the great brokenness of the Church it still offers me the greatest of gifts in and through Christ. I left Rome knowing that Christ pours out His Goodness so totally in the sacramental life of the Church and my responsibility as a member of the Body of Christ is to receive and then share the Goodness of Christ with everyone I encounter. Much of this realization came from my one duty during the Synod pilgrimage: to reflect on the transcendental virtue of Goodness in my own life. As I began to reflect on Goodness and write about my experience, God called me to look back at something so different than—so utterly opposed to—the safe and self-preserving attitudes I find myself slipping into now. I needed to concretely put into words what C.S. Lewis’s quote about God, “I am not safe, but I am good,” means. I needed to remember my experiences in Kolkata, India during an ISSLP two summers ago …
“Immediately upon arriving in Kolkata to serve with the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa’s order of sisters, immense suffering and destitution confronted me. I cried out to God, “Where is the goodness here? Where is Your joy?” The suffering around me seemed devoid of life and hope. Yet, when I wanted to run, I found Jesus waiting, asking me to enter into this poverty—and not only another’s poverty, but my own.
The call to rest in Christ’s poverty became a continual ache inside of me—one of both longing and utter loathing. I wanted to see the goodness in his poverty, but it hurt. I knew it meant letting my own heart be broken up, just like the women and children whom I served. Would I let my heart be broken to see His Goodness?
That’s what Mother Teresa proposed, but I didn’t necessarily want to listen. Before Kolkata, I thought Mother Teresa and I were friends. In Kolkata, I just felt like she was picking on me the whole time. Her words about sacrifice and her example of poverty are beautiful but living them out proved far more difficult than I expected. If I wanted to respond to them, I had to change. Yet, she invited me to sit at the foot of the Cross—in prayer and through being with the women and children in their suffering—and hear Jesus’s call of “I thirst.” In doing so I began to learn to turn into the depths of poverty of both the women and children I served, and of myself—and really of Christ. This felt like throwing all caution and safety to the winds, but Jesus showed me that His goodness isn’t my own control of safety or my own desire for comfort. Goodness is not safe as I know it, but it is the surety of Christ’s protective arms stretched out on the Cross for me and for all of us: it is His sacrificial love.
Slowly, through my work and prayer in Kolkata, the pure goodness of His sacrificial love began to overwhelm me. Despite the immense poverty around me, Goodness appeared. It became manifest in the smiles of the women, in the giggles of the children, in the commitment of the sisters and volunteers, and in the presence of the Eucharist. Because of this Goodness, out of the suffering I found a deeper joy. This joy is hidden deep in the wound of Christ’s side, but being taken up into the poverty of that wound means being close—so incredibly close—to Jesus in all that we do.”
In these final weeks of the semester, I often forget that Christ calls me to be close to Him first. I forget that this closeness to Christ paradoxically entails not a closed off, self-preserving attitude, but an openness to the greater reality of a life beyond myself and my seemingly pressing needs. Kolkata and Rome remind me of what is important and also call me to examine how I am overlooking this importance in my daily life. I really don’t need to look far to realize how I can enter into relationship with Christ and others now. All it takes is simply looking up and looking out to receive friends and classmates in their own struggles and joys, to be grateful for leafy reflections on the lakes, and to remember that God wants to meet me in prayer and the sacraments now, not in December when hibernation preparations have ended. Ultimately, I know, trying to make it to the end of the semester unscathed, complete, and well-preserved through keeping my tunnel vision in place will not lead to a place of light, life and wholeness. As Kolkata revealed to me, our hearts don’t work like that. Rather, precisely in the small sacrifices of being present to the people around us and in recognizing the goodness of our time right here and now, even when chaotic, will our daily struggles be transformed into a beautiful journey with Christ.
Jenna Morgan, Senior Anchor Intern – Retreats and Pilgrimages
André House will always hold a special place in my heart.
For the past two fall breaks I’ve had the privilege to travel with a group of Notre Dame students to the André House of Hospitality in Phoenix, Arizona on a Seminage (a collaboration between the Center for Social Concerns and Campus Ministry). Last year was the first time I had ever been to André House, let alone Arizona. It was a whirlwind of a time to say the least. The experience and the people I met launched me on a yearlong path of heightened awareness, growth, and continued self-discovery.
After my first visit to André House, I knew immediately that if I was ever in Phoenix again, I wanted to return and volunteer for a few days. However, I never expected to have the opportunity to return so soon. That was until I accepted a position as a Senior Anchor Intern in Campus Ministry for Retreats and Pilgrimages and was asked if I would help co-lead the Hands of St. André Seminage over fall break 2018. After much prayer and reflection, I accepted the role not fully understanding all that my “yes” would entail, but feeling nudged in that direction none the less.
The series of meetings leading up to the immersion were a blur of Friday planning meetings with my co-leader and long Monday nights of class and leadership formation. On paper I was prepared to help lead this Seminage, but I can honestly say that between the businesses of academics, events for Campus Ministry, planning for my post-grad future, and simply living the life of a senior at Notre Dame, I didn’t fully comprehend that I was going back to André House until it was 4 am at the O’Hare airport waiting for our flight to Phoenix. As I sat at the airport I reflected back to a year ago, another early morning start, and to that experience, the people, the encounters, the moments, and the feelings. I was caught in this sort of tension between wanting the experience to feel familiar, to recognize faces around me, and at the same time realizing that if it was too similar and I saw too many of the same faces from last year, then sadly in the intervening year nothing would have changed in the lives of the homeless and impoverished guests that rely on the services of André House.
To give a bit of background for those unfamiliar with André House, the André House of Hospitality in Phoenix, Arizona began in late 1984 when two Holy Cross priests from Notre Dame rented a house in a working-class neighborhood in Phoenix with the mission to respond to the basic needs of the poor and homeless, while encouraging others to do the same. On November 29, 1984, the first guest was welcomed. This began a long tenure of hospitality inspired by the life of St. André Bessette and the traditions of the Congregation of Holy Cross. This mission of André House has continued to be supported by many Holy Cross religious and countless volunteers over the years. Today, André House serves an average of 600 plates of food per night, six nights a week, as well as providing other needed services such as a free clothing closet, laundry, showers, an office with a phone, basic medication and first-aid, lockers, legal services, blanket distribution, restrooms, access to clean water, and a welcoming porter by the gate.
Upon arriving in Phoenix with all my fatigue, stress, and worries, I wondered what the week ahead would look like for us. As soon as we pulled up to the gate to begin our week at André House, all those thoughts dropped away and I was fully immersed back into the André House community, that crazy, caring, blessed, sometimes dysfunctional family. In a way it was like going home; a place that was familiar but still different then the last time I had left it. A place where so many elements of life are beautifully and messily juxtaposed against one another.
A few significant moments from this year’s trip particularly stand out to me:
My first shift this year was in the office with a member from our group and a member of the core staff. I remembered being in the office last year and the fast-paced, request filling agenda. This time was no different. Some requests for hygiene kits or aspirin were easily fulfilled, others were more of a challenge. The office is a balancing act between upholding the established rules and procedure, and determining when they can be stretched or broken to meet the varied needs of the guests. A special moment was when a guest asked for a rosary and I was able to go downstairs into the basement and find one for her. Her gratitude was sincere.
There was the encounter while portering by the gate (a legacy of St. André Bessette’s hospitality) when I was walking amongst the guests on the rows of benches. I sat down across from one guy with a Syracuse hat on and started talking to him, asking if he was also from upstate New York. Our conversation was slow, fragmented and waning when another guy further down the bench woke up and started talking. He shared that it was his first day at André House, he had just been released from the hospital, and his mother had recently died. This was a lot to comprehend in the span of a few short sentences. Immediately he was seeking a blanket for the evening when the temperature would drop substantially outside, but his need was much greater than that and less tangible. He came back a few minutes later and straddled the bench right next to me. He repeated his story, this time with a few additional details. At what seemed like the end of our conversation, I told him that I would be praying for him. At that, he could not resist embracing me in a hug, and then another hug, and then finally another hug while lightly kissing my cheek and gently patting my back which was then followed by the question of if I had a boyfriend. In that moment I realized multiple things; the importance of extending genuine prayers to others, the need to be truly listened to, the need for human connection and embrace, but also my own vulnerability, particularly as a young woman. Without wanting to cause him any additional suffering, but also recognizing my vulnerability in the situation, I gently extracted myself with a quick self-protecting “yes” and a need to go help inside. Looking back on this encounter, I wonder if this was not the face of Christ present to me in that moment, an opportunity to encounter and embrace another broken individual in their time of need, despite my own hesitations and misgivings.
André House is a huge family sharing in life together. During lunch one day we celebrated the 50th birthday of the hardworking maintenance worker with a special lunch and lots of cake. As a community, we mourned the loss of a guest’s beloved dog and comforted her with empathy and a framed picture of them together. Signs of hope were present with the “weddings” of two couples; one that began the day before with the most unique version of Say Yes to the Dress you could probably ever see in the basement clothing racks. We had the opportunity to experience André House as a guest by grabbing a meal ticket to go through the service line for dinner, sit in the dining room, and talking with the guests. André House truly blurs the line between those serving and those being served in the most beautiful ways that lead to solidarity, empathy, and community.
The way Mass is celebrated each day at André House is unique. It is not in a fancy basilica or chapel, but directly in our place of service and community; the St. Francis dining room with all the staff gathered together sitting around a series of circular tables pushed together. Last year and this year again, this celebration of the Mass struck me as the closest I will ever come to being at the Last Supper with all the faithful disciples gathered around the table for the consecration of the bread and wine. For me, one of the most beautiful moments in this celebration of the Mass is the passing of the Body and Blood around the table, each person receiving from and giving to the other. On Wednesday my idea of what Mass looks like expanded even further when we brought the Mass outside to the guests on the rows of benches. This isn’t the peaceful, quiet, reverent Masses we might be used to at the Basilica on campus, no this is truly sharing the Gospel with the masses, hearing real, messy petitions offered up for prayer, smelling the stench of who knows what, and placing the Body of Christ into dirty, weathered hands while looking into the eyes of strangers, who aren’t really strangers, but brothers and sisters in Christ. This might not be what we initially think of when we think of the Mass, but it is beautiful in its own way none the less, and might actually be more related to our everyday lives then we may initially believe or want to admit.
In the end, André House is a lot about listening to the stories of others, calling each other by name, and cleaning away the dirt, both literal and metaphorical, to discover the glimpses of grace sparkling throughout our lives. My André House experience was a beautiful reminder of the joys and sorrows that accompany the sometimes crazy life I lead, but above all, it was an important reminder of how truly blessed I am, as I keep all those who call André House home in my prayers.
St. André Bessette, Pray for Us!
If you are interested in learning more about André House, or how you can get involved, please visit andrehouse.org for more information.
Marissa Griffith, Senior Anchor Intern – Sacramental Preparation and Catechesis
During the summer following my freshman year of college, I went on a mission trip to Uganda. As we encountered the poor, I saw how so many of them were completely reliant on charity simply to survive. I wondered if this was a parallel for my relationship with God. When he says “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” is he asking me to rely completely on His charity, on His Love? (Matthew 5:3) To accept the reality of my brokenness – my poverty – and rely completely on the Lord meant that I had to learn to trust Him.
The following spring I was preparing for an ISSLP in Tanzania, and in learning about international development, I saw how seeing the poor as passive recipients of charity instead of active protagonists in their story is an unhealthy social dynamic that fosters continued dependence on developed nations that stunts the growth of developing nations. I was so convicted that this was true, but what did this say about my call to be poor in spirit? I didn’t want to ignore the reality of suffering in order to explain the Gospel.
Seeking a space to grapple with these questions, I signed up for a theology class called Mercy and Liberation. There I was introduced to Oscar Romero, the archbishop of El Salvador during the oppression leading up to the Salvadoran civil war. Reading Romero, I was struck by how he preached the Gospel. He didn’t try to explain away the suffering of the poor as God’s will or tell them that if they suffered patiently God would reward them. He made no attempt to say that everything was fine if they just trusted in God. In fact, he was very comfortable saying that everything was not fine and that suffering was not God’s will for His people. He was convicted that his people were worth more than a pat on the shoulder, a trite saying, or any false preaching of the Gospel that ignored the reality of their pain. So, every Sunday homily, as he announced the Gospel of the Lord, he denounced structural sin right along with it. He called his people to a deeper trust that when God saw the suffering of his people, he did not stand by and watch, but came and dwelt among them. Just so, Romero came to his suffering people and stood with them. He acknowledged the depth of their suffering and, by standing with the lowest in society, had the eyes to see the reality of injustice that the poor experienced, an injustice that was maintained by oppression. Any “peace” that covers up injustice is false peace, he saw; true peace is rooted in justice.
The next semester, everything was going great. I had a good group of friends, I was enjoying my classes, and nothing was going particularly wrong. However, just when I thought I was fine, life threw me some gut punches and it became clear that everything was not fine. First, a bad job interview. Next, waitlisted for the Campus Ministry Internship. Then, a friend unexpectedly called me out for a habitual sin I was unaware of that was hurting many of my relationships. Each one of these was a blow to my ego, but the last one really knocked the wind out of me. I place so much value in my relationships that it physically hurt to think that my behavior had harmed those that I treasure so deeply. Confronted with the reality of my sin, I couldn’t ignore the state of my heart anymore. It was only by facing my brokenness, sin, and inability to get out of the mess I had made that I saw my absolute need of God’s grace to lift me out of it. God can’t heal something that I won’t give to him; I had to expose my heart so the Divine Physician could do His work. I had to trust Him enough to uncover the hidden sin in my life so that it could be rooted out, and I learned not to be scared to pray for “everything hidden to come into the light.” (Luke 8:17)
This semester, I’m continuing to walk with Romero as I write my thesis on his ministry and preaching. As the hidden sins of some of our Church leaders come into the light, Romero has given me a way to grapple with these horrific realities. Confronted with the reality of shockingly widespread sin, I have been given strength to pray that everything hidden will come into the light so that the work of healing can begin. Although it is overwhelming to think of the scale of our brokenness as a Church, people deserve more than just picking up the pieces of the wreckage sin has left behind. It’s going to be a painful process, but Romero reminds me that it’s not enough to say that our Church is “fine.” The Church isn’t fine, but she is holy; not because her members are holy, but because Christ is holy. Romero says that “the Church persists because she is composed of people who place their fragile trust in Christ, and Christ is in God, and God is in Christ and in us.” Romero preaches that the Church, the Body of Christ, is made up of individual members and if we are to address root causes of widespread sin we must begin with the heart of each person. We the Church are part of the culture that forms its members. A culture of sin begins with the personal sin of individuals, so a culture of truth and healing begins with each individual who has the courage to expose their heart to the Lord. That we may have the courage to let the painful healing process begin, St. Oscar Romero, pray for us!