Mike Urbaniak, Assistant Director of Leadership Formation
During my sophomore year as an undergraduate at the University of Notre Dame, I was invited to attend a Campus Ministry retreat. One would naturally think this conversation took place after one of the weekly residence hall masses, at one of the many events hosted by Campus Ministry, in my Theology class, or maybe even in the dining hall. All of those sound like good plausible answers, but they would be incorrect. This invitation came in the cozy and somewhat smelly confines of the Siegfried Hall weight room while bench-pressing with a friend. It was a simple invitation in a completely commonplace environment that I look back to as one of the major guideposts as to why I am where I am- why I minister. It wasn’t that the retreat I subsequently attended was revolutionary or changed my life forever after a weekend of prayer, fellowship, and fun. Rather, it was the beginning of an awareness of the often slow and subtle movement of God and to a life’s trajectory that I had never expected. This retreat, while wonderful, was not earth-shattering. What it did for me, however, is introduce me to people, spiritual practices, and a consideration of life that would gradually lead me to reconsider my vocational call (up until that point, I had wanted to follow in the footsteps of my mother and enter the medical field).
Fast forward three years and I find myself coordinating that same retreat as a graduate intern. As the Campus Minister present on the retreat, there was a point at which I was available for individual conversations with anyone who wanted to talk. Although I only had a handful of people come and talk with me that night, I heard a common sentiment within each of the conversations: “I am not worthy of love.” I listened at that time, and on many occasions since, to so many people who don’t think they are worthy of true and unconditional love. They are often convinced or operate under the pretenses that their worthiness to be loved is conditional on a certain status, role, achievement, income, weight, look, performance, or some other standard of perfection that can never truly be met. My own experiences in life from my upbringing in an imperfect but loving family, to schooling, to friends, to my encounter and relationship with Christ in prayer, to sharing the grace of marriage with my wife, and parenthood to our precocious and ever-joyful daughter has shown me otherwise. I am not worthy of love because I am a “double-Domer” (graduating twice from Notre Dame), because I was a high school valedictorian, because I am a regular attendee at Sunday Mass, or because I work in Campus Ministry. No. God loves each and every one of us. Period. It does not matter our grades, our occupation, our income, or whatever different ways our culture often pressures us to consider ourselves worthy or “successful.” We are simply loved as beings created by God.
This is my fundamental call as a minister- to help others to recognize and better understand who they are fundamentally. I encounter a lot of students who have crises of vocation, who have a world of options in front of them, who wonder if they are making the right choice if they major in Accounting, take a consulting job in Chicago, win a Fulbright scholarship, or enter the seminary. In and of themselves, none of these things are good or bad. But, the path and decisions we make, when done with an understanding of being loved by God and in relation with God, are oriented to something eternally good. It puts us in a position that no matter our circumstance in life, we are oriented to serve others and show one another the same love that each of us is granted in our very existence. This is the love of God that no teacher, parent, adversary, politician, or judge can ever take away. It is the same love that fundamentally causes us to consider how it is we are to live in this world. It is the greatest gift we can ever receive and it is my deepest heartache to know that there are people who don’t think they are worthy of love.
The role I currently hold in Campus Ministry at Notre Dame works in the formation of student leaders. Fortunately, most of the students I work with on a daily basis have a grasp on their belovedness by God (though in the stressful and overachieving environment of college, they too need frequent reminders). I love to be on the frontlines, to be the listening ear of compassion, to be the presence of God to another, reminding them or letting them know or feel for the first time that they are loved just for being.
I would like to return to that opening invitation from my friend. I had already seen the retreat posters several times. I had known of the retreat, read emails about it on multiple occasions, and heard from Campus Ministry staff. None of those things actually convinced me to sign up. I don’t know if I would’ve ever gone on the retreat without that invitation and wouldn’t have had that reminder of God’s love. It was the confidence of a peer in faith that invited me into that love and is exactly what I hope to inspire in the students I work with. Through their simple invitation and witness to the love of God, they can bring others to God. We each have that power and capacity, and students are uniquely suited in this college environment to make that invitation, to have a meaningful conversation, and to pray. I can only pray and trust in the work of God that I have been and can continue to be an instrument in the same way that my friend was by helping someone along their journey to recognizing the love of God.