Hail the Cross, Our Only Hope

Julia Erdlen, Senior Anchor Intern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overcoming Pride

Mike Anderson, Senior Anchor Intern

“The day I thought would be the death of me was my saving grace.” – Luke Combs

This line from Luke Combs’ song “When It Rains It Pours” has in some ways become my mantra as I reflect on this semester. Coming back from Christmas break, I looked to close out my time at Notre Dame with a positive note, so I wanted everything to be perfect. It was all supposed to work out perfectly where I could finish everything on my Notre Dame bucket list, do fun things with my friends all the time, and finish off undergrad on the best note possible. Unfortunately for me, none of this came true. My semester started off with too much going on, some strained friendships, and nothing going my way. Rather than trying to work on my overwhelming stress and anxiety, I put on the “it’s fine, I’m fine” attitude, internalized all my emotions, and continued on my path. This just further perpetuated my negative feelings, putting more stress on my relationships and isolating me even more. Eventually, I broke down and thought it was the death of me. I completely lost it at the simple question, “Mike how are you?” The strong facade I had been putting forth for weeks had finally broken down and everything I built myself up to be – strong, independent, put together – was lost. It was difficult to admit that I could not do everything on my own and I needed help, but, as said perfectly by Combs, it was my saving grace. I finally started to seek the help that I needed to healthily work through the stress and emotions I had been internalizing. Upon further reflection, I realized that I was holding onto much more than emotions – I was holding onto my pride by trying to maintain the semblance that I could handle everything by myself and didn’t need help. In hindsight, it’s a laughable thought. I not only couldn’t handle everything myself, but I was surrounded by people who were more than willing to help me. Every person that I have talked to since I finally decided to get help said something along the lines of, “Mike you know that I was and always will be here for you right?” Yes, I did, but pride kept me from seeking the help I needed.

Mike bearing a storm with the support of his community.

What I know now is that this pride was also keeping me away from God. Throughout this whole time, my faith and prayer were suffering. I wanted to hide my feelings from everyone, including myself and God so I avoided things that would force me to face my emotions and be honest. I had put on this feeling that I could make it through by myself and did not need or want others or God to help me. As I reflect upon this time, I can see that there was plenty of times that people reached out to me asking if I was okay because something did not seem right. Every time I put on my mask of pride and said I was even though I knew I was not. Only through the death of this pride was I brought back to God and able to work on this relationship again. Rather than avoiding conversations that could lead to talking about my relationship with God, I have sought out meeting with people in order to improve my relationship. In this way, it was only through death that I was able to be brought back to life.

Mike’s community literally lifting him up.

As this Lenten season comes to a close and Easter fast approaches, we look for things in our lives that need to die in order for us to come back to life. For me, I needed to stop telling myself that I could do everything on my own and didn’t need anyone’s help. While I still continue to struggle every day with not letting my pride get the best of me, I always remind myself that I have a supportive community around me. While I might feel like I’m burdening someone by putting my emotions and stress on them, I have to realize that this is exactly what community was made for. And in an odd paradox, I actually found that by trying not to burden my community by keeping everything to myself, I was actually hurting it. The stress I was keeping to myself manifested itself in irritability toward my friends and a general sense of disconnect from everyone around me. This made it less likely for me to hang out and have an enjoyable time with my friends. It may not have felt right at the time, but I have now learned that bringing my problems to my community will actually help my relationships with others as well as with God. This is just another example of how the “death of me” has truly become “my saving grace”.

 

“Where is home for you?”

Regina Ekaputri, Senior Anchor Intern

Where is home for you?”

It’s a question that I get asked quite often here at Notre Dame, and I’m sure it’s one of the most common conversation starters for many of us. Most of the time, I would always take the question literally, answering that I grew up just a little bit outside Jakarta, Indonesia. It’s easy; it’s where most of my family is, and where my childhood home is. But now that the end of senior year is looming, I have gotten to reflect more on what “home” means to me.

Regina pictured with her mom and sisters

Lately, my concept of ‘home’ has expanded. I have come to realize that home is not just about a particular place. In addition to where my family is, I now associate home with the other places, communities, and times when I have been so welcomed, accepted, and embraced with warmth and hospitality, when I have felt at peace and comfortable to be my authentic self, to share my thoughts, beliefs, and values, to engage in heartfelt conversations, and to be vulnerable.

This shift in my perspective came about over this year’s fall break trip to André House of Hospitality in Phoenix, AZ. I was with a group of fellow Notre Dame students, and we were there for the week, serving and engaging with people who are experiencing homelessness. We would start each day by rotating through different jobs from helping with meal preparation in the kitchen, clothing distribution, managing and cleaning the shower facilities, helping at the main office, serving food during dinner time, handing out tickets to the guests, or washing the dishes.

One of my favorite jobs, however, was being a “porter.” It involved staying outside the building, by the entrance, and welcoming guests as they come in. I personally think that ‘portering,’ which sounded like such a simple job, was what makes André House such a special place. The duty comes with opportunities to encounter the people, to engage in thought-provoking, humbling, vulnerable, and genuine conversations with the guests who would come in for the services. I had the opportunity to hear about their day, their struggles and frustrations, and also their hopes and joy. One person sat with me and shared about his few but prized possessions, which included his Bible. He chattered excitedly about the last passage he was reading, and his favorite verses. Another guest shared about his hope of getting housing soon, after having lived on the streets for months. One guest sat down with me and shared about his injured legs, about his daily struggles, tearing up as he stuttered his words out to me. Another came to me and asked me to pray with him right there at the parking lot. We sat down at a bench, and he told me about his experience of being recently evicted from a shelter, and his hope of finding nice housing. He gave me his outstretched and open hands, and we prayed together under the awnings of the parking lot.

Fall Break 2017 at Andre House

The way these people were willing to open up and share such personal and profound things really moved me throughout the time I was there. At first, I was baffled with how much they seem to embrace vulnerability with people they barely knew. However, as the week went on, I also observed the way the core staff and my friends interacted with the guests: asking their names and making the effort to remember them all, listening intently to each guest they encountered, embracing them in warm hugs and greeting them with wide smiles, sharing laughter and tears as the guests shared some of their stories. I realized that they were willing to be so vulnerable because of the way the people at André House reach out to them, offering companionship and human connections with such love and openness.

It was this realization that slowly brought me to see that home is more than just a physical roof above our heads—it’s a place of refuge, hospitality, and solidarity, a place where we feel safe, supported, and loved. In the case of André House, it’s a Christ-centered community that acknowledges and celebrates everyone’s dignity as God’s creation, welcoming people as they are, treating everyone they encounter like Christ himself.

This realization leads me to feel a deep gratitude, as I reflect on the communities and the people that have made me feel at home. I have been blessed to have found ‘pockets of home’ here at Notre Dame, and also in various places I have been since I left my childhood home—in the loving and supportive friends who willingly accept me with all my quirks and occasional sarcastic tendencies and share moments of vulnerability and solidarity, the caring mentors and professors who believe in me and push me to grow as a person, the faith community that walks with me and helps me see God in every little thing I encounter, and also in some moments of prayer and reflection where I feel a deep sense of God’s peace and love. This feeling of gratitude also comes with a sense of hope, as I grapple with the uncertainties of what my post-Notre Dame life would be like. The future becomes *slightly* less daunting as I know that I have not only my loving family back in Indonesia, but also these various ‘homes’ to return to. I also learn to trust more, as I grow in my understanding that ultimately home does not have to be attached to a place, but instead refers to authentic relationships, welcoming communities, and the unconditional love and constant companionship God readily gives for us all.

What a Ski Trip Taught me about Love

Danny Jasek, Senior Anchor Intern

Over Christmas break, I was fortunate enough to travel to the Denver, Colorado area to spend time over the holidays with my dad’s side of the family. My immediate family, my grandparents, and my aunt’s family all rented a house together up in the mountains. This house had everything – a panoramic view of the Rockies without another house in sight, rustic wood-burning stoves, a huge deck with a hot tub, and so much more. During our week there, we visited with a few extended family members, hiked, and even snowshoed.

What was my favorite part of this trip? Skiing for the very first time! We spent three days on gorgeous slopes. While there was definitely a steep learning curve for me, I fell in love with the sport halfway through the second day. It was exhilarating to be able to control myself while hurtling across the snow at twelve-thousand feet. This family trip quickly became one of my favorite vacations ever. Everything seemed perfect. At the same time, I knew this trip was not cheap and that it was a special gift.

Danny and his sister on the slopes

A few days into the trip, something significant happened during prayer. Now, I don’t usually receive any clear guiding words from God, but this time I think I did. While I was praying and reflecting on the many blessings I had received over the past few days, the words “Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give” suddenly came to mind. I truly felt like the Lord whispered this verse from Matthew 10 into my ear because I had done nothing to prompt it, and I felt a sense of great peace after hearing these words. I thanked God for revealing Himself to me. At the same time, these words posed a great challenge. Their logic made perfect sense. I was in the midst of receiving so much, and God was encouraging me to learn from this and increase my own generosity.

Self-giving love, agape in Greek, is something so central to the Christian life. In some ways, the role we play is quite simple. We are called to step out of ourselves and our self-centeredness and move towards God and others. In short, we are called to agape – “willing the good of the other”. But this stepping out of ourselves is also a very challenging process. It is simply not in our fallen nature to be so invested in the well-being of others. Radical love for our neighbor makes no sense evolutionarily. Only through God’s grace can we do this.

Agape is something I constantly need to improve upon. I often get caught up in my own desires and fold in on myself. The first thought in my head when I wake up in the morning is usually something like “What do I have to do today?”, and if I am not careful, I default into a mode of existence that involves checking off boxes throughout my day without much of a care for a friend struggling beside me.

So, how was I going to respond to this call from God? Thankfully, the other spiritually striking thing that I experienced over break fit the first one like a puzzle piece. On the Solemnity of the Holy Family, during Mass, the deacon preached to us of the words of Mother Teresa:

“If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.”

These words struck me like a bolt of holy lightning. I knew at once that they were significant.

I think we all have a desire to change the world in some positive way. However, most of us simply won’t be able to do this on a grand scale. But imagine what the world would be like if all families loved each other just a little more perfectly? The chain reaction effect would be amazing. When we are loved more deeply, we become capable of sharing that love with others. I think the same concept of “family” applies to close friends as well.

After that homily, my mission for the remainder of my vacation seemed pretty clear, and I dedicated myself to attempting to love my family more deeply and truly. I tried to share kind words, be obedient to my parents, and put the wishes of others before my own. And while I certainly didn’t do this perfectly (just ask my family), I was filled with a certainty that this simple task was what God wanted of me at that time, and I found a sense of peace in attempting to fulfill it.

A Jasek family game of “Catchphrase”

I think more often than not, God wants us to love Him in little ways, especially by the way we treat others. Our seemingly insignificant interactions can have a profound effect. It is through the ordinary moments of life that we learn agape. Ultimately, the world will be changed through the summation of small loving actions. What part will you play?

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.