Tag Archives: Why We Minister

Why We Minister: Fr. Joe Corpora, C.S.C.

Fr. Joe Corpora, C.S.C., Coordinator of “Need to Talk?”, Chaplain to Latino Student Ministry

Not long ago someone asked me this question.  “Father, if you had your life to live over again, would you?”  And my first response was, “No way.”  The person was surprised and asked why I wouldn’t want to live my life over.  I said, “There’s absolutely no way that I could be so blessed a second time around.”

Fr. John Dunne, C.S.C. (RIP) used to say this.  “The worst thing that can happen to you in your life is not that your life plan fail, but that it work, because God’s life plan is always so much bigger and better and deeper than anything that you could have ever thought up for yourself.”  That has certainly been the case in my life.  My life has been fuller and richer and deeper than anything that I could have ever put together for myself. 

My life has been filled with more opportunities and richness than I could ever have imagined.   God has been unspeakably good and generous to me.  God has seen me through ups and downs, successes and failures, hopes and disappointments, and so much more. 

I often ask myself if I love God.  I know, for sure, that I want to love God with all my heart and soul and being.  But I don’t know if I do.  On the one hand I think that I would not want to love God with my whole being if I did not already do so.  I hope that this is true.

Fr. Joe Corpora, C.S.C. gives the sign of peace at the weekly Spanish Mass

Recall the seventh chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke.  When Jesus goes to dine at Simon’s house, a sinful woman washes the feet of Jesus with her tears and dries them with her hair.  Jesus says of her, “She has loved much because she has been forgiven much.”  Well, if this is true, then it is very true of me.  God has forgiven me so much that I hope that it can be said of me, “Joe has loved much because he has been forgiven much.” 

And so the question for me is not “Why I Minister” but how could I not minister?   God has been so generous, so lavish, abundant in loving me.  God has been so reckless with his mercy and forgiveness towards me that I cannot not minister.  How could I not want to share with others all that God has given to me?  God has given me so much that were I not to share it in ministry, I would be hoarding such great gifts that God has given to me.  And all the gifts that God gives to one are given for the good of the community, not for the individual. 

There is a great story about St. Therese of Lisieux.  She would go to confession often and she would confess the smallest of faults.  And one day her confessor said to her, “But Sister you don’t have to come to confession to confess such small faults.”  She replied, “Yes, Father, but who are you to be stingy with a treasure that is not yours?”   So were I not to minister I would be being stingy with a treasure that is not mine.  Whatever I have, I have been given by God, and for others.

And so I minister, out of deep gratitude for all that God has given to me and always hoping that others might experience how rich and blessed they are by God, how loved and cherished they are by God, how God always has their back, how God is always on their side.

Fr. Joe Corpora, C.S.C. exchanges a greeting with Pope Francis

And so I gratefully and willingly celebrate the Eucharist in dorm chapels, at the Basilica, at the Milkshake Mass, at Mass in Spanish, in parishes, always looking for opportunities to preach about the mercy and love of God. 

And so I gratefully and willingly hear confessions inasmuch as is possible whenever asked because the sacrament of confession remains a unique opportunity to extend the mercy of God to others. 

And so I gratefully and willingly minister in Campus Ministry trying to accompany students on their journey toward God, walking with them, side by side, helping them to know that they are immensely cherished and loved and redeemed and forgiven by God. 

And so I gratefully and willingly live in Dillon Hall with about 300 undergraduates where I try to share life with them, always trying to be a sign of God’s mercy and forgiveness.

And so I gratefully and willingly do what I can do because God has given me so much and has been so good and generous to me.  In the end, how could I not?  When I was named to be a Missionary of Mercy, I said, “God has shown me a lifetime of mercy.  How could I not share it with others?”

And it’s true, so true.  The question that I have to ask myself is not why I minister, but how could I not. 

Why We Minister: Christian Santa Maria

Christian Santa Maria, Assistant Director of Retreats and Pilgrimages

On the top floor of the then AT&T building in downtown Los Angeles, I grabbed a drink from the bar and looked out the 25-foot floor-to-ceiling windows just like everyone else. I was an intern at Fox Sports West in Los Angeles and the 2009 NBA champions, the Los Angeles Lakers, were parading in a cloud of ticker tape below. The parade viewing party was buzzing with excitement and I, an eager broadcasting student, was in the midst of the celebrations in one of the most historic television markets in the country. However, my eyes were fixed toward the east on the unending landscape of rail road tracks, factories, cement, and metal. Down below, there were workers and Los Angelinos going about their day working or driving across town doing whatever it is they need to be doing.  I gripped my drink pondering how my experience was tied up with theirs; what was it that connected us? Then, I felt a tap on my shoulder, “What are you looking at over there? The parade is on this side!” It was one of my fellow interns. I had not realized I was looking through the wrong windows. My palms were sweaty.  I turned around, followed him, and took a sip of my beverage. My drink was getting warm.

Senior year of college hosting “Sit Down with Christian Santa Maria.” Yes, I’m wearing white socks with my dress shoes. Super trendy.

That afternoon, was a pivotal episode in my discernment. Here I was, in the midst of a great opportunity and there was a deep voice within that knew this life was not for me. Now, television broadcasting is a noble profession, one that I had dreamed about since I was a kid, but an inconvenient truth was brewing inside. This line of work was not something I could see myself doing.

So, here I am. A little short of a decade later sitting in my office as one of the new campus ministers here in Campus Ministry writing about why I have chosen to do this work. Better yet, why in some ways it has chosen me. I often tell this story because it serves as the beginning of my journey toward becoming. Becoming is a place of transition, it’s about gently shedding ourselves of the things we have come to know as untrue so we can gradually live out who we are. It is on this road of becoming that we encounter our need to forgive, to be forgiven, to reconcile, to accept, to listen, to love, to grieve, to heal, to recognize our limitation,  and essentially, to become more human. How tempting it is to run away from our humanity and live as if we have an alternative choice. Yet college, if we choose to recognize it, is a time ripe for becoming. It is time set aside to ask the real questions that lie within the heart while being lovingly accompanied by a God who not only invites us into our own humanity but radically joins us in it.

I minister because, in this crazy experience of life, becoming the person God made us to be is one of the most joyful and challenging things we can choose to do. Often, our becoming is drowned out by the noise of our daily lives. Between all the “likes”, “tweets”, football games, crushes, relationships, friendships, emails, club meetings, familial expectations, and of course, school,  students in college are constantly navigating the game of busy, busy, busy.  I am thankful for the people in my own life who invited me to stop awhile and be still. These ministers helped me hit the pause button and drew my attention towards God’s movement within my own heart.

Pictured on retreat with students at Gonzaga University, my first ministry job. Recalling the gifts of this community gives me great joy.

Retreats and pilgrimages are like these long pauses; a chance for our students to catch their breath, find again what has been lost, and discover what they need to continue on their journey toward becoming. These sacred moments give students the permission to ask the real questions that get ignored amidst the clutter. This is how a Holy Cross education is different from other institutions. In Campus Ministry, we invite students to take some time and pause. Whether students are trying to discover new friendships, discerning life after college, or somewhere in between, our hope is that they take some time away from the busyness and enter back on their journey toward becoming just a bit more whole hearted than before.

So here’s to you fellow companion on the journey towards becoming! It’s the adventure of a life time. But, if it ever gets too bumpy or you just need someone to walk alongside you, let’s get coffee or go for a walk sometime. It would be my pleasure. After all, that’s why I minister.

 

Why We Minister: Kayla August

Kayla August, Assistant Director of Evangelization

As he hobbled toward the obstacle course with certain confidence, I realized “why I minister.”

This camper was a boy about 10 years old.   I had first met him a few days before, as his parents checked-in him, his bags, and his brother at the camp drop off location.  The father carried his son’s crutches, wrapped in army duct tape, as this camper cautiously walked up to the camp check-in location.

“You want us to put these under the bus with his luggage?”  I questioned, as his father handed us the crutches along with his suitcases. It seemed to me that if someone took the time to bring crutches, they must want to use them.

“He shouldn’t need them,” his father responded, “they are here just in case.”

At that point, I noticed this camper’s metal leg complete with tennis shoe as he strode away to join the other kids in the main lobby. His name was Dylan, and I later learned that he had lost his leg only a few months before and was in the transitional period of learning to walk in a new way.

This was not a jarring moment because this encounter is not unusual for the camps I work for in the summer.  Camp Pelican, a camp for kids with pulmonary diseases, and Camp Challenge, a camp for kids with Cancer, Sickle cell, and other blood disorders, have become a regular part of my summers. For these campers, the result of these ailments is not only the loss of health but the loss of other things kids are not prepared for: hair, the ability to walk, and the general security of being a “normal” kid. The awkward innocence that is prevalent in most prepubescent’s is replaced with adult considerations like the reality that life may not only be different from that of their peers, but shorter as well.  

When I first started working these camps 13 years ago, I realized that this week gives these kids what their hearts desire most. Not a cure, but that sense of normalcy that the disease takes away in their day-to-day life. The opportunity to not stand out in the crowd but to just “fit in.”

Kayla August, second from right, pictured after the “Stormtrooper Training” course

After an early morning preparing for a new day of camp, I set up an obstacle course for a Star Wars themed morning of physical activities. This course designed as “stormtrooper training” was compiled of tunnels to crawl through, crates to hop over, chairs to dart around, round tire-like objects to step through, and it ended with a Jenga block minefield that was only complete if you passed through it with all blocks standing unmoved.

The majority of male campers that came to the course that day rushed through the course with glee. In fact, it quickly became an intense competition for each one reaching the end asking, “what was my time,” in an attempt to be the best of the day! As each camper went through, I did my part to keep them pumped and excited using their competitive nature as a way to keep them motivated throughout the hour.

But, in my morning effort of creating a course brimming with kid intensity, I had not considered Dylan. When Dylan approached, we started the time as usual. Then, I quickly realized that this was an endeavor where the lowest time was not the prize but completion was the victory.

Accuracy was Dylan’s goal. Dylan started out slowly on the course placing his legs in each “tire” and the determinedly crawling through the tunnel ahead. He was determined but not hasty. As the goal of completion became the forefront, one of his counselors yelled “Go Dylan!” and the boys in his group turned to watch and cheer on their friend. The room was at a standstill, and all eyes were on Dylan as he made his way through the course. While it had previously been a competition, Dylan’s victory would be a win for everyone.

The slow rise of his name first crept in from the voices of the campers behind me…“Dyl-an! Dyl-an! Dyl-an! Dylan!” Then, his name echoed from the mouths of his group mates and his counselors as he steadily walked around the chairs meant for darting, walking over the crates meant for hopping and made his way through the “minefield’ without dropping a single Jenga block. As he crossed the finish line, there was no time called out as before. There was no need. He’d won more than a reduced time. He’d won a greater victory, and with this, he beamed as he noticed no difference between the friends that went before him and his completion of the course. His goal was accuracy and he achieved it with a room of fans cheering his name.

It was this moment that I realized this camp, which I’ve been a part of for almost half my life, was a ministry, and a beautiful one at that! While creating costumes, skits, and activities for the week long sleep over camp experience, I was also sharing with the kids the love of God, and that love is powerful.

For me, ministry has always been about that love. The Christian community contains a family that loves us for exactly who we are, a love that calls us to more than what we thought we could, and a faith that reminds us that we are capable of miracles if we let that love guide us.

Kayla walking with students as she ministers

This is why I minister. That love gives us courage. It gives us hope. It propels us. It gives us the power to complete the obstacle course of life with smiles on our faces and cheers in our hearts. Camp isn’t the only place people encounter the struggles of life. It’s all around us. Our society is filled with hardships, poverty, crime, illness, natural disasters, broken relationships, unhealthy attachments, and unearned struggles that people face which are far from fair but are actualities nonetheless. When a student comes before me in tears dealing with the hardships of life, I am the reminder of God’s love. A reminder that God hasn’t left them, but is instead holding their hand through the Jenga minefield of their day to day struggles. In ministry, Christ is the one screaming their name and I get to cheer them on along the way. I get to be there as they realize the beauty of what God made them to be.

That moment with Dylan reminded me that I’m not just a part of a camp community but a church family and that the power of love and support has been a motivating force in my life. Everyone is welcome to that family, and as Dylan made his way through the obstacle course, the kingdom of God manifested in a way that brought to life a clear vision of the world. One where a pure love was the ultimate unifying source. A world we all want to live in. A world that we were meant for.

Thirteen years ago, this view of the kingdom motivated me to make the whole world that small campsite in southern Louisiana. It showed me what the radical love of Christ can do. Everyone was invited to share in that love and receive the hope it brings.

As the Assistant Director of Evangelization, it’s my job to share that love.  Evangelizing is being able to spread the good news. That this love is for everyone! In my ministerial life, my goal is that everyone comes to know the power of that love. I’m reminded of this as I read the gospels and see the revolutionary way in which Jesus’ love touched and changed the hearts of those he encountered. In fact, after his resurrection, Christians risked death to preach of this life-changing love. The love that not only made the blind see or the lame walk, but also called people to walk away from all they knew to follow a new path of hope.

With each student I encounter, I mirror that love of Christ, so that they may experience it as I have. That inner awakening that resounds in the soul. The love that affirms who we are now and have always been while still calling us to more. The love that unites us all. It is an open invitation that I have the privilege to share, and I watch as that transforming love changes the lives of the students before me. In ministry, I’m blessed to witness the miracles that come from that radical love and also to be the vessel to bring it to those in need.

That love is God. It’s why we’re here. It brings us to life. It keeps us moving forward. It gives us hope. It’s why I minister.

Why We Minister: Patrick Kronner

Dr. Patrick Kronner, Choral Program Director and Organist, Director of the Women’s Liturgical Choir and Community Choir

God speaks to his people in many different and varied ways. For some it may be through the comfort of the Mass, or for others, the silence found when we’re open to it. For me, I’ve always felt God’s presence most in beauty. Whether it’s in his creation, the words of a prayer, or in the kindness that people show to one another. However, the beauty that has taken the deepest roots in my life has been the gift of music.

I vividly remember first finding this beauty in Beethoven’s symphonies when they were originally introduced to me in my second grade music class. From then on I would, as most grade-schoolers do, save up my pennies to buy cassette-tapes of Mozart and Bach (Oh, wait—was that just me?!) I felt a strong pull to immerse myself in this beauty. At the same time, I remember falling in love with the beauty of the Church as I experienced it in my community. It wasn’t until high school, though, that these two areas of my life began to intersect.

Dr. Patrick Kronner and the Summer Community Choir

Through the encouraging guidance and example of a high school mentor, I began to see the peace found in a life devoted to serving God and his people through music. Through my mentor, I was introduced to the pipe organ, the human voice, various monastic traditions, and the vulnerability that necessarily accompanies creativity. This, along with his inspiring love for his family and vocation, became a powerful model of a music minister’s life. It is a life which strives towards holiness through prayer and creativity.

As in most areas of my life, my sense of vocation did not come to me quickly. While I had a passion for music and the Church, it wasn’t always clear that these things should work together in my life. I don’t think I can pinpoint any one moment when I realized my vocation was to be a music minister. Rather, it has been through small moments, encouragement, challenge, and loving examples, that this picture has slowly come into focus.

I feel compelled to bring others to the beauty that I find around me. All of us are created in God’s image and should strive to reflect this beauty in ourselves and in all that we do. I take comfort in the fact that we’re all struggling together as we strive for holiness, just as many saints have done before us.

When I first arrived at Notre Dame for an interview over two years ago, the beauty of this campus was immediately apparent. Despite the gray and cold outside on that particularly frigid February day, I found warmth in all the people I encountered and in all the sights I saw. As I had felt at similar moments of my life, I was drawn to this beauty and curious to explore it further.

Basilica of the Sacred Heart

Having now spent two years as a campus minister at Notre Dame, I’ve been blessed with many moments of beauty. I’ve experienced it in the musical offerings of our choirs, in the familial care our students have for one another, in the intricate details carefully painted in the Basilica, and in the calm of a walk around the lakes. Most powerfully, I’ve seen it in the examples of service for the body of Christ that many of our choristers are boldly living out through their daily lives. All of this has enlivened my own zeal for ministry here on campus.

I minister because I hope to leave this world more beautiful than it was when I first found it. Jesus, through the greatest act of beauty, gave his life for us that we might fully experience his love and mercy. In the same way that my mentors, choristers, and students have inspired me to delve more deeply into this love, I pray that my work in campus ministry might do likewise for those around me. One of the most loving things we can do is to help others find this in the person of Jesus Christ.

Particularly in the spring, this simple quote from the Greek playwright Nikos Kazantzakis often pops into my mind: “I said to the almond tree, ‘speak to me of God,’ and the almond tree blossomed.” If we use our creativity for the pursuit of beauty, we’ll surely find God.

Why We Minister: Mary Olen

Mary Olen, Administrative Assistant, Retreat Administrative Coordinator

Why do I stay up watching one more episode of Fargo when I have to work in the morning? Why do I eat that third piece of chicken when I was full after the second piece?  Why did I offer to write this blog when I despise writing?  Those are the difficult questions!   Why we minister?  That is much easier.

Tender, Strong and True // Freshman Retreat

Leaving Martin’s supermarket, I have a trunk full of groceries and two kids strapped into the backseat. As I pull out onto Elwood Street heading home, I notice a young woman struggling to juggle groceries and a toddler while standing at the bus stop. I pull up to the curb and ask if she would like a ride. She eagerly and gratefully accepts. We make room to pack them into our little Saturn wagon. Driving several miles to the west-side on Indiana Avenue, she points to the building where I should pull over.  Mentioning how far she has to travel to grocery shop, she tells me the commute takes her downtown where she transfers buses. The block we are on is not residential and she motions to a door on the side street.  We gather her bags and trudge up the stairs which empties into a single dingy room above an abandoned business front.  There is one wooden table with 2 chairs, a bed, and a sink. I am ready to drop the groceries and get the heck out of there as she reaches for a bible from the bed and tells me how she is trying to get her life together.  She has done a lot of drugs in the past and knows that she needs to stop. Calling me an angel, she believes that God sent me to help her that day.  I laugh and tell her I am about as far from an angel as there could be but that I was happy I could be of some help.  “Keep praying,” I say “I will pray for you, too.”

Days later, my daughter asked why I picked up a person on the street that I did not know.  I told her it was because she seemed like she needed help and I felt sorry for her.  As soon as the words were leaving my lips, memories shot back into my mind: my mom taking prepared meals to elderly neighbors, buying extra groceries for a single mom who lived in a rundown house at the end of the alley- witnessing those acts of kindness made a deep impression on me.  Are we born with compassion or are we taught compassion?  Is caring and compassion what fuels our desire to minister?  Did 12 years of Catholic education make a difference? I believe yes is the answer.     

The Plunge // African-American Freshman Retreat

The awesome part of ministering is that it often has a retroactive effect.  I left the apartment of a stranger I helped and it made me more humble, more grateful, more present and alive to all the blessings in my life.  “There, but for the Grace of God, go I.” My encounter with a stranger ministered to my children.  You do not need an invitation to assist.  Ministering is just aiding someone in need or just sitting still for someone who needs a listening ear.  We do it every day.  Why?  Well, that depends on who you are.  

So, here I am in Campus Ministry.  I am not a minister by definition.  I do not hold an MDiv., not even a minor in Theology.  As an Administrative Assistant, I minister all day long: to students, to the staff I support, to the people who just drop by because they are visiting campus. But, that is my job. I believe that the true ministering is done with perfect strangers, not expecting anything out of the ordinary who are suddenly given a smile, a hello, a ride as they are standing in the rain waiting for a bus, or given a place in line at the store because they look like they’re in a hurry.  Each of these people are being noticed.  In that small instance of acknowledgment, they feel loved. Isn’t that what everyone really wants?  We seek to minister because we love and we are able to minister because we have witnessed it.  Amen.

Why We Minister: Mike Urbaniak

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.

Mike, second from left, with student leaders on the retreat he led as a Campus Ministry Intern.

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.

Mike, pictured in back with his arms wide open, surrounded by student leaders he works with.

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.