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OCD as Part of Me

Joe Tenaglia

Joe Tenaglia

Notre Dame Vision Mentor-in-Faith 2015

University of Notre Dame,
Class of 2018

“Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.” I’m sure when you read those words you automatically think of certain things. Maybe you or someone you know has OCD, or maybe you’ve never really understood what it means. Regardless, those words have a connotation that comes with them. For me, those words bring to mind thoughts of sweaty hands, a lump in the back of the throat, and a heartbeat that feels like it’s going about five times faster than it really is. Those are the things that I think about, because I have OCD.

OCD works differently for all people. The things that I obsess over are ideas. Thoughts and emotions will get trapped in my mind and it can be incredibly difficult for me to get rid of them, no matter what I might try. I like to use the image of plugging a guitar into an amp: I feel the exact same things emotionally and think about the same stuff as everyone else, but those thoughts get amplified and can overwhelm my normal and rational way of thinking.

The hardest part about my OCD is not feeling like myself. When I first started having feelings of anxiety and fear, I was in the fourth grade. Out of nowhere, I started to become uncontrollably terrified at all hours of the day. When I say terrified I truly mean it. I would be unable to sleep because I was crying hysterically, scared that I was going to get cancer. I’d have a bad dream where I was eaten by a
shark and be unable to get through school the next day because I was convinced that it would come true. As a young kid, I had no idea what was happening to me or why. My parents were at a loss, too. Here I was, the happy and energetic boy they knew and loved, reduced to a puddle of tears. Not knowing what to do, they took me in for help, and I was diagnosed with OCD. Through the grace of God, I have been able to get some great help, and through my therapist and the medicine that I take every morning, I have been able to live a mostly normal life.

However, my OCD is still very much a part of me and it does still rear its ugly head in a big way from time to time. I have had a few really tough times when I’ve struggled with it, and when I’m feeling really anxious like that I feel incredibly lonely. I look around at everyone else and wonder why I can’t be “normal” like them. At those times, it even feels like God has left me.  I ask why this is my cross to carry, and when I get no answer in return, I feel even more lonely.

sad man 2Toward the end of my freshman year of college, I went through a tough stretch with my OCD. I was having trouble with the end of the school year, and this transition brought up a lot of smaller fears and insecurities that I had been bottling up for a while. Altogether, it became really overwhelming. The loneliness I felt then because of the thoughts running around my head was too much for me to handle on my own. So I called Chad, my campus minister from high school, just so I could talk to someone. Over the phone that night, I vented and cried to him and let everything out. Chad helped me by being there for me. He let me know that I was loved and that I wasn’t alone. He couldn’t fix the problems that I was having, but he did so much for me just by listening.

I came to a couple of big realizations when I was talking to him. Ever since I was diagnosed with OCD it had always been a goal of mine that at some point I’d be able to deal with it on my own. I thought that maybe some day it’d just go away.  I would outgrow it, or I’d finally be able to push these debilitating thoughts aside. But when I was talking to Chad, I realized that none of that was ever going to happen. My OCD is always going to be a part of me. Even now, as far as I’ve come, it still bothers me from time to time. And when it does it’s really awful, but it is something I have to deal with.

In that moment I realized that in order to live with my OCD, I need to rely on the community of friends, family, and mentors who surround me. At college, away from my family, I had been trying to keep things to myself. But I found out the hard way that going it alone makes it more difficult.  It led me to feel alone and abandoned by my peers, and even by God.  I felt like there was no one for me to turn to.  Yet when it came down to it, I knew that I had to turn to somebody.  I had resisted being vulnerable with my friends because I was afraid of what they’d think of me, but once I started to let them in they were nothing but supportive and loving.  They helped so much by just being there for me and listening to me.  They were there for me all along, but I had to take the first step and let them in.

Through my friends, I began to feel God’s presence in my life again.  I had thought that God was leaving me alone to fend for myself, but He was there the whole time in the form of my friends.

Not only did my friends listen to me and offer their words of love and encouragement—they were always there for me right when I needed them. One time when I was feeling deeply lonely and overwhelmed, I walked out of my dorm room and saw one of my best friends walking by. I stopped him, and told him I needed a hug. We embraced and then spent some time together. In this brief exchange, I felt loved and knew that I was not alone. At another low point, I ran into a friend from St. Mary’s College (who I usually only see on weekends) and was able to sit down and have dinner with her. She listened to me in my distress and was a calming presence for me in the midst of my inner turmoil.

In these moments, I felt God specifically looking out for me, putting someone in the exact space and time where I needed them. I had thought God was nowhere to be found through my OCD, but here He was by my side, helping me get by. These experiences helped me to be grateful for all of the wonderful people in my life, but they also helped me be grateful for my OCD. I was taken aback when one of my friends told me that he thought my OCD wasn’t entirely a bad thing because, as he saw it, my OCD helped me connect more to other people in a deeper way. I had never thought of my OCD as anything but a hindrance, something that held me back from living the fulfilled life that I assumed everyone else had. But his words invited me to consider the ways that my OCD positively affects me.

I realized that if OCD is and will always be a part of me, it is a part of all of me: good and bad. Somehow, in ways that I cannot even comprehend, my OCD affects me at all times. It affects me when I can’t rid my mind of a worrisome thought, and when I become anxious. It also affects me when I empathize with another person, or when I develop curiosity to learn new things.

In these ways and so many more besides, my OCD is a part of me, making me who I am. And who I am is a child of God, created in His image out of love. My OCD is a part of that image, and I wouldn’t be who I am without it.

Over the years, my OCD has brought me a lot of troubles and has made my life difficult at times. As tough as it can be, it has also helped me recognize the love of God through those around me, who have shown me so much love and shown me that my OCD makes me who I am. My OCD may be a cross that I will carry throughout my life, but with the love of God and the support of those around me, I know that I can bear its weight.

cross

Rooted and Grounded in Love

Ellie Norby
Ellie Norby
Notre Dame Vision Mentor-in-Faith (2014)
University of Notre Dame,
Class of 2016

During my sophomore year of high school, I thought I had the basics down.  God loves us:  check. He should be worshiped in Mass and prayer:  check. He wants us to live according to the example set by His son: check.

But beyond the basics, I didn’t realize God cared about the details of my life – so when I was tested by the news of my parents’ intention to divorce, I couldn’t trust Him. When my family was dragged through a cycle of indecision that lasted from 10th grade until I left for college, I assumed my problems where too small for someone that listened to a gazillion prayers every day. My dad would decide he wanted to leave my mom, but stay because of the kids; my mom would convince him to work on the marriage, but they would not get along because my dad clearly wanted out. Then the whole thing would start over again.

As the only daughter, I was getting a huge share of the emotional splash. Life was messy, and I was bitter. I felt that my problems were strictly of human origin and would only be solved when the adults figured themselves out. I did not believe that God was a part of my life. Even though my mom encouraged me to trust Him, God seemed uninvolved in the gradual collapse of my family.

Although I couldn’t see it, I now believe that God was working in my life the whole time. His grace led me to keep seeking him, even though Mass and prayer led me nowhere. His Spirit helped me to attempt to trust, even though it seemed hopeless. His love allowed me to continue to care for my parents and my brothers, even when my bitterness made the situation miserable.  And then, after years of just surviving, God moved in my life so that I could finally see his presence.

In October of my freshman year of college, my mother (who I already worried about because of the divorce and her empty nest status) developed a freak intestinal condition and spent four weeks in the hospital. She faced two emergency surgeries, an infection, no eating or drinking whatsoever, and loneliness. All this was happening to her while I was nine hours away, so I couldn’t be with her! The situation was so far out of human control, I finally brought my problems to God. It was not my mom’s fault, or my dad’s fault, or my fault – it just happened, so God allowed me to turn to him. I prayed for her healing, and most of all I begged that she would feel God’s presence in my absence. Slowly, she started to get better. I couldn’t tell if her improvement was from God or the power of medicine, but I could not deny what happened when she finally got permission to eat after three weeks of nothing more than IVs.

eucharistTwenty minutes after the doctor gave her the okay, a volunteer knocked on the hospital room door and asked if she wanted to receive Communion. The first thing to touch her chapped lips in
almost a month was the Body of Christ. It was as if God proclaimed: She abides in Me, and I in her. She feeds on Me, and so she will live because of Me.

That moment was so powerful that I could not just accept it as temporary comfort during my mother’s illness and move on with my life as before. It forced me to realize how much energy I had wasted being angry at God, and angry at my parents. And in letting go of my anger, I realized that God had been present not just in the hospital with my mom, but in the entire mess of the last few years. While I was lost among each of my individual sufferings, He was actually drawing them together into one path that led closer to Him. I could not see God’s presence at the time, because I was blinded by sadness and confusion.

Somewhere in the emotional discussions with my parents, somewhere in leaning so heavily on the rest of my family and my friends, somewhere in seeing my mom and my dad vulnerable, broken, and crying – God was there. How do I know this? Because love was there. Love. We all easily could have drifted apart, but we remained committed to each other, and to what could be salvaged of the family. Those gritty situations, however painful, were rooted and grounded in love.

God didn’t want me to suffer, but He did use my burdens as an opportunity for grace. The divorce was a cross that free will and human choices placed on my shoulders, so under its weight I could not look to God. But He found me, with my head bowed, vulnerable, and His grace drew me down a certain path. And then, when he lifted my burden in the moment he came to my mom in the Eucharist, I was
able to look up again. And I saw that He had led me to a new place. A place where I was a little closer to him, and a little closer to the person He created me to be.

holy family iconIn the world’s eyes, my family is broken. But the Lord can always see the possibility of bringing more love into our lives with each other and with him. So as my family continues to struggle, I pray that our reconfigured relationships are based on love and devotion and not hurt or resentment. I pray, again and again, that I may trust in the Lord with all my heart, and lean not on my own understanding; that I may acknowledge Him in all my ways, and He will direct my paths.

 

Pieces of God’s Mosaic

BrianBrian Florin
Notre Dame Vision Mentor-in-Faith (2014 & 2015)
University of Notre Dame,
Class of 2016

When I was in high school, I had a lot going for me. I was well-known by my peers, found much success in the classroom, was involved in my Church, was a varsity athlete, had a girlfriend, was prom king. I even starred in the school play while helping my basketball team win the state championship on the same day. I felt like Troy Bolton. I wasTroy Bolton soaring. And I was flying. Except for the fact that I didn’t win the state championship. And I didn’t star in any school play…ever. Despite not having a voice as smooth as Troy’s, I still knew what I was better at in comparison to my peers, and I liked that.

Things suddenly changed when I set foot on Notre Dame’s campus freshman year. By the end of first semester, I lacked all the confidence that I had in high school. I felt outmatched and out of my league in every aspect. Everywhere I turned there was someone who did better than me on an exam. There was a better athlete. Someone who told jokes better. A better friend. People were even better than me at praying. I quickly fell into a habit of comparing myself to other people. I gained and lost my self-worth with every failure and success of another. No longer was I top in my class or the best on the basketball court. I found myself overwhelmed by the talent of those around me; with that, I lost sight of my own gifts and abilities. I remember thinking time and time again, “I’m not smart enough, not funny enough, not sociable enough, not even holy enough to be here or anywhere.”

In the summer of 2014, I helped at Notre Dame Vision for the first time as a rising Junior. I joined a group of some of the most faith-filled and talented students at Notre Dame, St. Mary’s, and Holy Cross. For the first week and half, I constantly looked around me and found myself jealous of other mentors. I felt inadequate, and this impacted just about every aspect of the week; I would say to myself, “Why can’t you lead a small group like him or make your group laugh like her?” It even got to a point where my victory waffle wasn’t good enough anymore. The phrase “I’m not good enough” soon became one that I turned over and over in my head day after day.

VisitationOn a Tuesday night, during the Reconciliation service, I gazed at the paintings that lined the ceiling and walls of the Basilica. Just above a group that awaited their turn for reconciliation was the painting of the Visitation that I had seen many times, but never quite from this angle. While I would normally glance over this, I was struck by the way that Elizabeth greeted Mary with such joy and happiness. A sense of peace washed over me as I looked in awe at the depiction of this beautiful exchange. Elizabeth wasn’t jealous of Mary for being chosen as the Mother of God. Rather, she rejoiced in the faith and belief of Mary that allowed for such a miracle to take place. Elizabeth’s joy was so incredible that John the Baptist even leapt in her womb!

In this moment, I began to realize that we too are called to leap for joy at the beauty of one another’s gifts and successes. The jealousy that I’d had of those around me blinded me from being able to recognize their gifts. Not only that, but I had lost sight of what I was good at too. I had become so focused on “not being good enough” according to my comparisons that I rejected the idea that in God’s eyes, I was enough.

Each Sunday at my parish during the collection, the priest invites the children to come forward and place their offerings in a basket at the front of the altar. Some kids immediately sprint up to the front of the altar while others tentatively make their way to the front, looking back at their parents for reassurance. There are always some kids though that stand on the altar and watch in amazement as another child places their envelope in the basket and runs back to their seat. In this moment, these children are content with themselves, yet completely awestruck at the sight of another child. Jesus tells his disciples to be like the children. I began to realize how beautiful it is to have a childlike recognition of others.  “Lord, give me the eyes to see as they do” became my silent prayer.

Now, if you’ve ever seen
Mosaic making a mosaic,
from far away you see a beautiful picture or image. But as you move closer to the image, you begin to see that the mosaic is made up of many tiny pieces that contribute to the larger picture. Without one of the pieces, the image would be distorted in some way. Through our own unique gifts and talents, quirks and idiosyncrasies, you and I are the many tiny pieces that make up God’s grand mosaic; His beautiful picture of creation. Comparing myself to others was in fact distorting my perception of this beautiful image. I didn’t realize that I didn’t have to be, nor was I supposed to be exactly like the person next to me, and they weren’t supposed to be exactly like me. We each contributed something unique to God’s Mosaic.

I have definitely realized that comparing myself to others is a lifelong struggle. But, when I find myself falling back into this cycle of jealousy and comparison, I recall the joy with which Elizabeth greeted Mary; I pray to see as the children do when they look with amazement upon one another, and I am reminded of my own giftedness and worthiness in the eyes of the Creator. I am reminded that He calls each of us by our own name, and claims us as His own. I am a piece of God’s grand design. We are all pieces of His beautiful picture.

 

Answering the Call To Mercy: Notre Dame Vision 2016

unnamedMegan Shepherd

Associate Director, Notre Dame Vision 

As the Church enters into the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis in Misericordiae Vultus (11 April 2015), the Notre Dame Vision program responds to his call to “gaze even more attentively on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father’s action in our lives” (Misericordiae Vultus, 3).

In the summer of 2016, we will focus all of our programing (including keynote speakers, small group discussions, prayer experiences and personal reflection) through the lens of “Answering the Call to Mercy.”  Vision CYM, which is tailored specifically to Campus and Youth Ministers, will include a week of presentations exploring different dimension of mercy ( the below titles are subject to revision):

  • A Vision of Mercy
  • Answering the Call to Mercy (shared session with Vision conference) 
  • God’s Mercy Endures Forever
  • Mercy in the Biblical Tradition
  • Create in Me a Clean Heart, O God
  • Be Merciful; Become Merciful
  • Practicing Mercy (shared session with Vision conference)
  • Proclaiming Mercy (in collaboration with Catholic Relief Services)

These explorations of the Call to Mercy invites us into a contemplation of the movements of mercy in salvation history and in our own lives.

God’s Mercy

unnamedGod’s mercy is revealed from the first moments of creation, establishing the covenant with Abraham, leading the Israelites out of Egypt, and through the time of kings and prophets. As humanity struggles with sin, God listens intently to our cries and draws near, creating new space for life and blessing.

For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing wrath for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you, says the LORD your Redeemer…. For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the LORD, who has compassion on you (Isaiah 54:7-8,10).

This enduring love is revealed in its fullness in the incarnation of Christ. Throughout his public ministry, Jesus not only proclaims his Father’s mercy but also lives out this mercy in his acts of compassion and healing “for the least of these” (Matt 25:40). Yet it is on the cross where he most fully embodies God’s salvific will for all. “For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

In St. John Paul II’s encyclical Dives in Misericordia (1980), he writes that believing in the crucified Son “means believing that love is present in the world and that this love is more powerful than any kind of evil in which individuals, humanity, or the world are involved. Believing in this love means believing in mercy” (Dives in Misericordia, 7).

The Gift of Mercy

The gift of God’s mercy is bestowed on each of us in the Holy Spirit. The Christian life is the story of our reception of mercy through a journey of trusting in God, choosing to accept God’s mercy, and a continual process of conversion – drawing ever closer to the source. In the words of the psalmist:

A clean heart create for me, God; renew within me a steadfast spirit.

Do not drive me from before your face, nor take from me your holy spirit.

Restore to me the gladness of your salvation; uphold me with a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:12-14).

God is at work within us, capacitating us to receive the gift of mercy through the work of the Holy Spirit. As Pope Francis writes, “The assistance we ask for is already the first step of God’s mercy toward us. He comes to assist us in our weakness. And his help consists in helping us accept his presence and closeness to us” (Misericordiae Vultus, 14). In the Spirit, we choose to embrace mercy, to embrace the reality of love because mercy has first been shown to us.

The Practice of Mercy

Our embrace of mercy compels us to practice mercy. “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). It is through the concrete acts – the corporal and spiritual works of mercy – that we demonstrate to others the mercy we have received.

The Corporal Works of Mercy: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the name, welcome the stranger, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead.

The Spiritual Works of Mercy: counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offenses, bear patiently those who do us ill, and pray for the living and the dead. (Misericordiae Vultus, 15).

Developing the habits and practices of mercy requires us to move beyond preoccupation with ourselves, and to cultivate attentiveness and sensitivity to the concrete physical and spiritual needs of others we encounter. This conversion of heart becomes enfleshed in our participation in the school of mercy in response to the needs of the world. It is through the practice of mercy that we become merciful.

The Proclamation of Mercy

Our lives of merciful love give witness to God’s mercy in concrete acts that offer hope in the midst of suffering and death. As disciples, we are called to proclaim with our lives the gift of God’s mercy. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matt 5:7). As campus and youth ministers we also carry a responsibility to foster the practice and proclamation of mercy with the youth we serve. As Pope Francis proclaims:

“mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life. All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers” (Misericordiae Vultus, 10).

Our ministry with young people calls us to intentionally form others to receive, practice and become mercy. Our formation efforts with young people thus focus on cultivating their awareness of the gift of God’s mercy, attentiveness to the needs of the world, and responsiveness through habits and practices of mercy. Our speech and acts reflect our lives of praise.

We offer praise to God as we embrace our Eucharistic vocation to respond to the mercy of God by becoming mercy ourselves. When we cry “Kyrie Eleison,” we proclaim the truth of our need for mercy as we participate in acts of mercy for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Drawing near to the source of mercy in the Eucharist, “when we eat this bread and drink this cup” (1 Cor 11:26) we cultivate our capacity for self-gift, to “love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Our proclamation of God’s mercy with our lives is prophetic. In the midst of poverty and suffering, we respond with concrete acts of love while also holding fast to eschatological hope where the fullness of mercy and justice will be realized.

Mercy & Notre Dame Vision 2016

We, the staff of Notre Dame Vision, in preparing for Vision 2016: Answering the Call to Mercy, enter into a contemplation of the movements of mercy in our own lives and in the programing we develop for our undergraduate Mentors, the high school students, and our campus and youth ministry partners.

We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it. Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness (Misericordiae Vultus, 2).

We invite you to join with us in this call to contemplate, receive, practice and proclaim mercy in the year ahead and to gather together for Notre Dame Vision CYM next summer. May our lives and our ministry give witness to mercy we receive as we proclaim “Kyrie Eleison.”

Visit our website to learn more about Notre Dame Vision and register for our programs.

The Prayer of Another

IMG_0798Andy Miles
Notre Dame Vision Mentor-in-Faith (2015)
University of Notre Dame, Class of 2017

Growing up as an ultra-early riser, I would sometimes awake just as the sun was coming up to catch the early hours of Sports Center for no reason other than to be able to say I woke up before my younger brother – 10 year olds can be competitive about the strangest of things.

But, I was never really first up.  My mother always beat me.

No matter how early I seemed to rosary 2rise, there was my mother, in the den off to the corner, reading from a tattered book, shuffling rosary beads through her fingers: praying.

It’s a tradition she continues to this day.  She wakes up early and prays.  And for so long I didn’t get it.  I would say my prayers, but only to clock in my time, do my duty, my penance.  I’d rattle off a few Hail Mary’s, shuffle in a few Our Father’s, and cap it off with a rushed Glory Be.  What was there in prayer that was so intriguing for my mother, so urgent and important that she would wake up early and pray?

As I got older and delved into my studies more, reading the works of the great theologians, prayer time became thinking time; I would spend my time reasoning through theological issues, trying to come to conclusions, trying to fix my problems with clean explanations.

Sometimes I would marvel at myself.  Here I was exploring the “big questions,” while I remembered the naïve prayers of my younger sister long ago as she went to bed, praying about petty things that happened to her during the day.  I thought there was no way God could be remotely interested in her minuscule problems at school, her spelling quiz the next day.  The God who created the vast space of the universe had time for that?  Certainly not, I thought.

But how wrong I was.

During my second year in college, things became much less simple.  All those problems I had always chalked up as pettiness, problems of no concern to a great all-powerful God?  They were crushing me.  A break-up.  Friends that seemed to have little concern for my problems.  Trouble focusing in class.  Trouble focusing outside of class.  Gossip.  Feeling alone.  I never spoke of these problems aloud.  I certainly never spoke of them in prayer.

I never really spoke to my mother about these things either.  I was never the kind of person who shared things.  But, after going home for a weekend, it was clear she knew something was not right.

So the next week she sent me a text.  All she said was that she wanted me to know I was in her prayers.  That each morning she gets up and prays not some strange impersonal prayer, but a prayer for me, a prayer for each one of her children.  I told her thanks and tried to move on, tried not to be affected.

alarm clockBut something about that image, about waking up to a piercing alarm, about waking up in the cold of winter long before the sun rose, about walking out into the den to pray, not for some abstraction, not to figure something out, but for me?  That haunted me.

A few nights later I broke down.  I woke up in the middle of the night and could not fall back asleep.  All that petty gossip, all those troubled friendships, they were not petty at all.  I muttered in my head all those distressing trivialities that I once thought God could care less about.

I released it all then.  Part of me appreciated the humor of it all.  The same kid who once chuckled as his younger sister muttered to God her worries about who to sit by at lunch the next day sat there distraught about a break-up and college drama.  Part of me was intent to go back to bed that night angry.  I could lie there and bring this all before God and it wasn’t going to change a thing.  It wasn’t going to be fixed.  But, as I dozed off a seed of a thought hit me that would grow into greater understanding over the coming days:  maybe I was finally learning how to pray.

There was not some grand moment of clarity, no sweeping movement of peace.  But after releasing all my concerns, I had the strangest desire to pray for someone else.  Maybe I was finally discovering why my mother could wake up so early all those years.  For the strangest reason, in that moment, the only thing I could think to do was to pray for someone else.

Over the coming days I started to think about how often I had told others I would pray for them.  I used it as a meaningless phrase to convey that they were in my mind.  But had I ever really prayed for them?  Really prayed?  The kind of prayer where you feel such care and urgency that you would wake up early like my mother has all these years?

And so a few days later, I prayed for her, my moMary mother of Godther.  I prayed that above all she could know, despite how little I ever told her, how important she was to me, how she was the model for my faith.  I prayed that for one day I could bear some of her anxieties and worries, for I understood how long she had been asking to bear mine.

I count these days as one prayer in my mind—the first real prayer I might have ever prayed.

It began in bringing forth all my petty problems to God, for there are no petty problems for him.  It began in bringing those to the Cross and not trying to fix them, not trying to figure something out.  Simply allowing them to be.  Simply being in the presence of my God.

It continued as I felt love for someone other than me.  To pray for the person I always thought I was going to pray for but never really had.  This was prayer: an experience of nearness with God that is far from alone, an experience of deep communion and love.  By giving something of myself, my deepest concerns, I began to desire to be something for someone else.  I desired to pray.

God is nearer to us than we could ever imagine, so deeply attuned to the small things, our relationships with one another, and the little pieces of our life.  Was that text from my mother not an answer to the prayer I was too proud to pray?  Though I had not prayed with that level of concern and vulnerability before, the seeds had been there, a prayer was nearly there, for that text struck such a chord in my heart and touched so many worries that I had longed to express.

The response to my prayer, the answer to my problem, was the prayer of another, a sign that I was and am loved.  All those days I was too proud to come before my God with my problems?  Well, God had placed someone in my life to pray that prayer for me.

My problems were significant to my mother, and they were significant to my God.  Absolutely nothing is unimportant to him.  He never tires of our prayers.

Running to God through Injury

Katie MoranKatie Moran
Notre Dame Vision Mentor-in-Faith (2014)
University of Notre Dame, Class of 2014

One of the many blessings that God has given me is the ability to run.  Going for a run gives me great joy and it is one of the times when I feel closest to God.  Unfortunately, I have not always treated running as the gift from God that it is—at times it has drawn me away from God instead of bringing me closer to Him.

When I came into college my freshman year, I got very caught up in the mentality that running is everything.  As a student athlete on the cross country team, it was an easy trap to fall into—I loved being on the team and feeling the security of belonging to a group right from the beginning, I was surrounded by people whose whole lives were about running, and we all spent a ton of time and energy doing everything we could to become the best runners possible.

Being very dedicated to track and field 4one thing is not necessarily bad, but I was becoming dependent on running.  It had become the very center of my life—the point from which I derived the meaning of my life, my purpose, my value…in essence, running had become my God. Training was going really well and I was getting psyched for the first home meet.  It was on my birthday, my mom was coming out to watch, and I just had this feeling that I was going to have a breakthrough race.  It seemed like everything was perfect.

Then, the Tuesday before the race, I was cooling down from a good workout when all of a sudden, my left calf started cramping up, and within a half mile I had shooting pains going all the way up my leg and could hardly walk.  I hobbled back to the training room and learned that I had gotten a stress fracture in my shin, which meant that I would be out for the rest of the cross-country season.  I was absolutely devastated.

But I refused to let this keep me down.  I poured out all of my frustration into cross training, and almost three months later, after finally getting back into running, I was training better than ever, feeling happy to have the injury behind me and stronger for having pushed through it.  I was gearing up to race again and was set to run the mile on the last Friday of the semester; but, as if I were reliving a nightmare, the Tuesday before the race, I was cooling down from a workout, and I re-fractured my shin.

I could not believe it.  Knowing how lonely and wearisome the past months of cross training by myself had been, I could not imagine going through that again.  My only consolation was that I could hopefully make it back for the majority of the indoor season.  With this goal in mind, I did the same thing again—cross trained my heart out and clawed my way back, this time being more cautious and attentive to my rehab so that I would not get injured again.

Triumphantly, I made it back for the first home meet after Christmas break, and I even set a PR.  I was so excited to be back and running well, and I felt like I could finally see a successful season ahead of me.  Yet, to my complete horror, less than a week later, same shin, same place, third stress fracture.  This time, it completely took the wind out of my sails.

Sad runningWhy was this happening to me?  I was doing exactly what the doctors, trainers, and coaches were telling me to do, so why couldn’t I stay healthy?  Would I ever be healthy again, or would my shin never completely heal?  When I realized and fully acknowledged the possibility that I may not be able to continue running on the team, I was terrified.

It was then that I realized my complete dependence on running and the way that it had become my God.  I imagined my life without running: without hours of practice and meets, I would lose my sense of purpose; without a spot on the team, I would lose my sense of belonging; and without workout splits and race times to my name, and (I am embarrassed to admit) without my identity as an “athlete,” my sense of personal value would be greatly diminished.

God showed me the fragility of placing all my value in something other than Him and the anxiety and unhappiness that it was causing me, and I realized that I needed to surrender my running to God.

This surrendering was—and is—an extremely difficult and gradual process; I am definitely still working on it.  At first, I truly could not bring myself to consider my life without running…it was too frightening.  Quitting was just not an option in my mind.  It was as if I had a white-knuckled grip on running, but God, with patience and persistence, gently massaged each of my fingers, gradually coaxing them out of their death-grip, until finally my hands could rest in His. Jesus hands When I would panic at the prospect of losing the security I found in running, God would lovingly comfort me with a sense of true security in Him.  God brought me to desire and seek that true peace and joy in Him even more than the superficial security and self-satisfaction that I derived from running.

When God had finally brought me to the point where I was willing emotionally to give up running if physically my body were to force me to do so—when I had finally surrendered it to God—He gave it back to me.  It was as if He said to me, “Now that it no longer rules you, I give it back to you for you to rule and to use for my glory.”  I finally healed and remained healthy, and now I derived even greater joy from running because I recognized it as the gift from God that it is and felt His joy and presence with me as I ran.  The temptation to make an idol out of my running still arose, and I still struggle with it today, but now I know the danger of centering my life on something other than God.  Only with God’s help am I able to fight this temptation, and it requires a daily renewal of my trust in Him.

At the time of my injury, it seemed like one of the greatest disappointments and frustrations of my life.  I used to believe that it was God’s way of reprimanding me for not focusing on Him, but looking back, I hesitate to say that God caused my injury, because I don’t think God works in that way—causing bad things to happen.

What I do know for certain is that God was with me in my suffering and brought incredible blessings from it in showing me that my true value is found in Him alone.

Sports, school, jobs—even relationships—can never be one-hundred percent secure, and depending on them as the center of your life is risky, because you could lose them and with them, your sense of value, belonging, and purpose.  The only thing that you can completely depend upon is God.  You are valuable because He made you.  You belong with Him because you are His sons and daughters.  And your life’s purpose is to receive His love and share His love with others.  God is utterly dependable, and what is more, He wants nothing greater than for you to surrender to His love for you and depend entirely on Him.

My (Pudding) Cup Overflows

MLewisMadeline Lewis
Notre Dame Vision Mentor-in-Faith (2014)
University of Notre Dame, Class of 2017

When I was little, I would always jump at the chance to go with my mom to the grocery store. Not because I wanted to help her out, really- I was pretty much just in it for the perks: being helper at the grocery store gave me a considerable sway in which items my mom purchased. And there was one food in particular that I wanted to make sure she didn’t screw up: the pudding. Obtaining my favorite kind of pudding was actually a strategic art. I would make sure I was extra nice and helpful when we got to the aisles leading up to the pudding section, and once there, I would casually slip in a request for my Grocery store aislefavorite pudding pack. Looking back, I realize what a blessing it was that my biggest crisis as a child was whether or not our cabinets would be stocked with my favorite kind of pudding. My cup overflowed with childhood blessings: my parents cared for us with a beautiful fullness of love, and my childhood is one happy blur.

This is why it came as such a shock when, the summer before my junior year of high school, my parents sat my brothers and I down to have a talk with us. That whole conversation is one unhappy blur, but I know they said these words: your dad… prison… three to five years. I could tell that my parents were just as surprised to say these words as we were to hear them.

There was a whole lot I didn’t understand, but the short version of it is that my dad was a lawyer who represented a man who turned out to be very bad. When this man got caught he told the authorities that my dad was part of his scheme. The important part, though, is that suddenly, I was so far away from that little girl whose biggest crisis was obtaining her favorite pudding at the grocery store. I was confused by what I thought was now a very broken version of the life I had formerly known and loved. My cup of blessings, I was sure, had been knocked over, and all of my blessings were quickly spilling out.

prisonIt was this tangled heart, sorrowful and confused, that I carried with me the first time we visited my dad in prison. I tried my best to pretend like I didn’t see everything: the security guards, the barbed wire, the paleness that washed out my dad’s tender face. We couldn’t touch or sit next to my dad. Still, there was one thing we could do: buy him food from the vending machines. Of course, there was always a constant battle amongst my brothers and I over who would take the bag of quarters and go buy the food. But my mom managed to convince me to go pick out some treats for our family: “You can pick out whatever you want” she said.

After a quick perusal of the mostly stale and overpriced options, I came across a glimmer of hope: there, waiting for me in the vending machine, was the most glorious looking pudding cup, handcrafted by the prison kitchen. With haste, I shoved $4 worth of quarters vending machinedown the coin slot. I may be in the strangest and most saddening place I have ever been, I thought, but gosh-dang-it, I will get this pudding cup.

Unfortunately, it was right at that moment that the vending machine ate all of my quarters. Not only did I not get the pudding cup- I had also wasted all of the money my mom had given me.

So, it is at this point that I started to heave heavy sobs in front of a vending machine in a federal prison in southern Michigan. And at this point, my thoughts were somewhere along the lines of this:

I have nothing.  It’s not fair.  My heart is so very, very empty.  

(I think you can tell that this wasn’t really about the pudding cup anymore.)

Now, I know it may seem strange, but something started happening once I got to college and started eating at the dining hall. I couldn’t get pudding for dessert without thinking of that prison pudding cup. At first, this was just another reminder of the brokenness that I thought was surrounding my family from all sides. And my goodness, I was so tired of all of those reminders. I was tired of having to awkwardly change the subject each time someone asked what my parents did for a living. I was tired of my new friends wondering why my dad wasn’t there to move me into my dorm room at Notre Dame, why my dad wasn’t in any of my graduation pictures, and why I’d sometimes leave the room abruptly and excitedly to catch one of my dad’s rare phone calls. I didn’t want to share the story of my family with anyone because I only saw the brokenness.

But as I thought more about that prison pudding cup, I began to realize something important. Me, sobbing in front of that vending machine? That isn’t the whole story.

There was something deeper than the brokenness, something that gave my family the grace-filled opportunity to love each other more fully, in the most unexpected of circumstances. In fact, when my dad came back home this past spring, I saw this love present in my family more than ever before, and coming home from college was so exciting.

Now, being a typical college student, one of the first things I did when I got home was head to the fridge in search of food. To my surprise, there was a little gift waiting for me there: a pack of my favorite pudding, that my dad had picked up at the grocery store just for me.

The thing is, this little gift of pudding was a reminder of a whole lot my cup overflowsof love- and the surprise of those pudding cups waiting for me wasn’t the only surprise. For, even in the years that I had thought were broken, there had been so many surprising gifts of love: the gift of a new friend hearing my family’s story and not loving us any less, the gift of generous strangers who helped my family make ends meet each month, the gift of family and friends that visited on holidays and birthdays so that our home would never feel empty, but filled with love- love in overflow.

I never wanted to tell a soul about my family situation when it was, to me, only a story of brokenness. But as time passes, and God’s grace abounds, I am starting to see the fuller story. It’s not the story of a cup knocked over. It’s not the story of a cup emptied to the last, desolate drop. It’s the story of a strong, loving hand- a God that steadied and filled my cup with blessings even when I couldn’t see it: Blessings in overflow. I’m still learning that I always need God’s help, even today, to see all of the stories of my life as a story of love. But He always steadies my heart, giving me the grace to see the real and hidden story, with joy and in thanksgiving.

pudding cups

Drinking and the Culture of Sexual Assault

Leonard DeLorenzoLeonard DeLorenzo, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Vision and Student Engagement

Contact Author

Editors’ note: This is the first of a series that we will be doing on examining the culture that makes possible sex assault not only at Notre Dame but throughout the United States. 

Editors’ note 2.0 (September 1, 2015): This piece offers one narrative-based perspective on the culture of sexual assault that permeates college campuses. It is directed fundamentally to men, inviting them to recognize their own culpability is fostering a culture in which assault is possible. Future posts, occurring throughout the fall of 2015, will attend more to the situations that foster this culture. These pieces, presently being assembled through dialogue among Notre Dame undergraduates and those involved in residence life both here and beyond will deal with power dynamics among men and women; the role of pornography in misshaping sexual desire; the problems of the hook-up and party culture in forming assumptions about sexual activity among undergraduates that leave women in particular vulnerable to assault; and, what it means to discuss “healing” in terms of these assaults.  

Some classes had yet to meet twice when those of us at the University of Notre Dame received the first email of the year reporting an alleged sexual assault in a campus residence hall.  Two days later, another email arrived, this time announcing two possible crimes at once: one was described as “non-consensual sexual contact” and the other was the second reported assault of the week.  To be honest, I sort of forgot about emails like this over the course of the summer.  Even still, when I opened the first one I wasn’t immediately shocked because, for better or worse, the email looked quite a lot like all the other ones I received last year regarding similar incidences.  It has almost become standard in a college environment like ours to exchange these emails every few weeks, sometimes with campus or local news stories to follow, and sometimes not.  If not for an unclear decision made under the influence of alcohol more than 15 years ago, I could have been the reason for a similar report.

I was a freshman living in an undergraduate residence hall at the very same institution at which I now teach.  On some weekend night in the middle of the unending winter months, some of my Zahm Hall dorm-mates were hosting a party in the 1A section.  These guys were very good friends with a group of girls that all the rest of us thought were incredibly attractive (we used different language then).  I don’t remember what we drank that night, but I do know that we consumed plenty.  I was drunk but still had some of my wits about me, while Mandy (not her real name) was probably less aware of herself than I was.

I don’t know how or why I ended up back in my own room—148 Zahm Hall—in the B-section of the first floor while the A-section party was still going strong, but I do know that Mandy ended up back in there with me.  I remember sitting next to each other on the floor next, in between our cheap couch and our cheap TV, and I remember the surprise that, despite what I would have expected, Mandy was coming on to me.

The reason I know that I still had some of my wits about me is because I remember that very moment in clear and vivid terms.  I remember what I felt and what she looked like—that is, I remember that she was as stunning as she ever even as I was dimly aware that she was not fully herself.  Noticing that about her made me feel some kind of inner pause or some stir of conscience or maybe just fleeting fear.  All the same, I also felt excitement.  This was the kind of moment with the sort of young woman that, in some unspoken manner, I wanted to find myself in.  And there I was, and there she was; we were in my room and she was willing, or at least it seemed so.  And then something happened.  I really don’t know if or how I made this decision, but instead of responding in kind to what I perceived as her advance, I took her to her friends and I went back to mine.

I want to be clear about this: though my memory of that encounter is clear, whatever decision I made or instinct I followed was not at all clear to me.  It was not a conscious act of virtue.  It was also not the first time I had been drunk with a girl who was also drunk, but it may have been the first time I noticed the difference in how we were functioning, cognizant of the situational power differential between us.

I want to be clear about something else, too: though I probably went in to that night vaguely or maybe even actively hoping that, by some turn of luck, I would find myself in a situation very much like the one I found myself in, I know for certain that I had no intention of taking advantage of anyone.  I don’t think that thought has ever crossed my mind, thanks be to God.  All the same, had I acted otherwise, I would have had a very hard time convincing myself that I had not taken advantage of her in that situation.  This is the realm of sexual assault, or at least “non-consensual sexual contact.”

I don’t know why I didn’t act otherwise: all the momentum was going in that direction. And yet some momentary flash of recognition passed before me, and for some reason I didn’t ignore it.  But for that, I might have been the reason for one of those emails I received this week.  (The story of my moral growth since then is another story.)

I have observed that when the “issue” of sexual assault on college campuses bubbles up because of some new incident or report or set of statistics, some will point to alcohol and the culture that builds up around it, while others will say that predators are predators and alcohol isn’t the reason they act the way they do.  While research does support the claim that the majority of assaults are perpetrated by a small group of (mostly) men, the environment that makes many of these assaults possible is just the sort of environment my friends and I created at that dorm party.  If only I had had a couple more shots or if only someone who wouldn’t respond to that flash of recognition the way I had was in that room with Mandy instead of me, the night could have ended very differently.

This isn’t only about alcohol impairing my judgment and it certainly doesn’t mean that Mandy was responsible for the situation we found ourselves in—what it means is that that entire night carried the implicit danger of what almost happened.  The line between implicit and explicit in that case was an unwilled thought in the mind of a drunken 19 year-old freshman guy.  It is still hard for me to believe I responded to that thought rather than to what I at least perceived to be Mandy’s invitation.

Here’s my point: those who persist in trying to separate the sexual assault “issue” on college campuses from the alcohol issue are dead wrong.  If this were an academic article, I would try to veil my opinion in some jargon that we academics are trained to assume so that I could back-peddle a bit if need be to give those who disagree with me some room to operate—that’s just part of the game.  Well, this isn’t an academic issue and nothing about this is a game.

So, with all due respect to those who think that sexual assaults and alcohol are separate issues, it has come to the point where all of us involved in higher education are responsible for this culture where section parties in campus residence halls become the occasions for potential or actual sexual assaults.  Even when there is not an outright party, this is still a matter of underage or heavy drinking, or both, on campus and off campus.  I do not lay this at the feet of the administration: we all bear responsibility.  Faculty and staff bear the responsibility for addressing this issue head on, along with the administration, rather than letting it fall back out of view in between emails or academic terms.  Students bear the responsibility of cultivating the kind of environment for themselves and their peers where the likelihood of such acts is dramatically reduced.  That means taking alcohol out of the equation.  This does not just pertain to the partiers; it also pertains to those of us who allow this culture to continue.

In the most direct terms, however, the greatest responsibility belongs to those who continue to create, actively contribute to, or engage in the parties and other events that are the occasions for these crimes against the law and against human dignity.  To those students who think they can manage this issue, I say that while it may very well be true that you can hold your liquor, that you would not assault anyone, and that you stand against sexual assault, it is also true that you have a responsibility to take away the most common conditions in which these assaults occur, as do I.  You have a responsibility to the community of which you are a part and to the students who may otherwise become victims or perpetrators or something in between because of the culture you endorse.  Cutting against that particular culture will certainly cost you some really fun nights.  So be it.

Now in my mid-thirties, I would absolutely choose four years of okay college nights for my younger self if it meant avoiding one really fun night where I contributed to an environment that made a sexual assault more likely.

Surprised by God

Currey, AshleyAshley Currey

Notre Dame Vision, Mentor-in-Faith (2013 and 2014)

University of Notre Dame, Class of 2015

I have a lot of wonderful memories from the year I spent living in Dublin, Ireland—but it’s the less glamorous parts of living in a foreign country that I’d like to share with you.  For example I once spent an hour at the grocery store because I was dying for some homemade cookies and I could not, for the life of me, find sugar anywhere.  I honestly walked down the baking aisle a thousand times with increasing frustration, finding nothing that even resembled sugar.  I finally gave up, deciding that the Irish must be aMI-Lidl-Grocery-store-Ireland sugar-less people and  I turned to leave, resigning myself to an evening sadly devoid of chocolate chip cookies. I happened past another aisle and spied the sugar sitting on the shelf next to the boxes of tea bags.  Which makes perfect sense, if you’ve grown up in Ireland where drinking tea is practically a way of life—if you’re Irish, the sugar  obviously belongs with the tea, not with the flour and the baking soda and the little cupcake tray liners.  Of course, if you happen to not be a born and raised Irishman, you might—like me—waste a frustrating hour fruitlessly searching for sugar in all the wrong places.

The grocery store wasn’t the only place in Dublin where I felt lost and frustrated—in fact, I was usually at my most bewildered and discouraged at the one place where I thought I’d be most at home: church.  The Masses I went to were sparsely attended; I usually had a whole pew to myself and I often drew curious stares from the grey-haired parishioners around me, all easily forty or fifty years my senior.  I was coming from two years spent at Notre Dame and a
summer spent at Notre Dame Vision; I had, admittedly, been spoiled by the Band of St. Cecelia, by vibrant dorm masses, frequent Grotto visits, and by a campus culture where discussions about faith and God were frequent and welcomed—basically any church outside of the Notre Dame was bound to seem rather Spartan in comparison.  Ireland was no exception.

I constantly reminded myself that Mass isn’t about how it makes me feel and that Christ is present—wondrously, sacramentally present– no matter how unenthusiastic the priest or my fellow parishioners might seem.  Knowing those things intellectually, however, and really, truly knowing them are two different things.

Grotto in springSo despite knowing that bare-bones Masses shouldn’t be a big deal, I could tell that they were wearing away at my spiritual life. Some Sundays came and went where I couldn’t work up the will to make it to Mass at all.  I missed Notre Dame Masses, I missed my friends, and I especially missed the grotto. There was nowhere prayerful or peaceful in Dublin to retreat to when I needed a break from the constant noise of the city.  Some nights I felt like all of my frustration with the Irish church and my own rather lackluster prayer life would all be put to rights if I could just spend one hour at the Grotto.

In the middle of all this, I decided to tag along on a trip to a small village in the southern part of Ireland.  We arrived to our hostel Saturday night and realized that the heater was broken, the showers were freezing and-worst of all- the wifi didn’t work, which was a catastrophe not simply because it meant I would have to do without Facebook for the next thirty hours.  It also meant that I couldn’t look up Sunday Mass times for the next morning.  All the hostel manager IrishStreetswas able to tell me was that he was sure there was a Catholic church somewhere in town, although he wasn’t sure exactly where, and that he thought that 7:00 AM might be when they held Mass.

So I left the hostel before sunrise and spent the next forty-five minutes hopelessly wandering the streets in search of the church. I spotted a handful of steeples rising above the other buildings and started a process of elimination, walking from steeple to steeple and successfully finding the Methodist and Presbyterian churches.  Still no sign of a place to celebrate Catholic mass.  At this point, I was not at all in a charitable or prayerful mood; it was cold and raining, I’d been wandering the town for an hour without any success, and it seemed like I was never going to find the elusive Catholic church.  Honestly, I was angry and annoyed and ready to give up on the entire endeavor—it wouldn’t be the first Mass that I’d missed during my months in Ireland.

I was still angry when I turned the next corner and found myself face to face with a perfect replica of the Grotto at Lourdes, exactly like the one at Notre Dame; there was St. Bernadette knelt in prayer, there were the candles sheltered under the rocks, and there was Mary, Notre Dame, looking down on the whole scene.  You know how sometimes God is in the quiet things, the still, small voice, the subtle parts of life—this grotto seemed like the very opposite of all that—it felt like God was shouting at me, since I obviously hadn’t been listening to all the other, more subtle attempts to catch my attention.  God didn’t take away my frustration about Irish Masses or magically grant me a stellar spiritual life, but somehow God gave me a grotto down a random street in a tiny village in the middle-of-nowhere Ireland and that was enough to make me realize how silly I’d been.

It was like the sugar at the grocery store all over again—I’d made the mistake of thinking that I couldn’t find God in Ireland just because I couldn’t find Him in all the familiar places I was used to looking for Him, like music-filled masses, or talking through faith with my friends, or quiet evenings at the Grotto.  I’d been so focused on the lack of those things that I failed to notice all the new ways that God was inviting me to encounter God; in the beauty of the liturgy itself, stripped of all the extra frills, in the unexpected friendship of the elderly parishioners at church, and in the breathtaking splendor of the Irish landscape that surrounded me.  Suddenly the sadness over the things I missed was nowhere near as important as the gift and joy of getting to seek God in new ways, to search for Him in surprising places and to find him in the strange and unfamiliar.

Even more of a gift was the realization that while I’d been busy seeking God, He had been patiently and lovingly seeking me, even if that meant giving me a familiar place to pray in an unfamiliar land.

Light in the Midst of Darkness

1Ryan McMullen University of Notre Dame, Class of 2017 Notre Dame Vision, Mentor-In-Faith 2014 I remember a particular darkness which surrounded me recently. I did not even recognize it until it had passed; it was something so familiar that it seemed normal. I was truly blind to God for my whole life. I thought I had seen Him, yet when I finally started understanding the real truth I realized how engulfed in this darkness I was. I grew up going through public school, and my parish experience was not the greatest. My involvement in Church was no more than a fulfillment of familial duty; an obligation. Yet my greatest obstacle was my lack of knowledge. I did not understand what it really meant to be a Christian, and therefore, I was unable to praise as I should have been. I was never really taught how to pray or even what exactly to pray for. I was never taught what it means to thank God for his many gifts to humanity. Because of this lack of knowledge I thought of the Eucharist—God’s great sacrifice for the salvation of humanity—as merely a formality. When I would go to Mass on occasion, I would sit and be troubled. I did not feel present because I had no substance to my faith. Deep down I understood that I was in a place far behind where I needed to be. Instead of striving to leave that place, I timidly clenched inward, fearing that I would fail if I tried to move away. I was not refusing to be Catholic, yet I was not really agreeing to be Catholic either. That indifference was caused by my lack of reflection and engagement with faith. Because of my experiences, I had never been introduced to the fact that I could reflect on anything through a lens of faith. Also, coming from a public school, there was never conversation about spirituality, and if there was, it was not the most welcoming atmosphere to be doing so. Consequently, there was no meditation, thought, or even gratitude for my faith. Thankfully, my apathy would soon diminish when I started to think about my faith a little more seriously. The hall director of my college dorm, Fr. Patrick Reidy, C.S.C., first kindled this transformation in me. We were having an ordinary conversation about my integration to Notre Dame. Standard stuff: how was I doing away from home, how were classes treating me, was I enjoying extracurricular activities? I remember being very comfortable in his room. Usually, one-on-one conversations get me a little bit on edge, yet I felt calm speaking to Fr. Pat. At some point in this conversation, he casually mentioned to me the incredible importance of sharing meals. He explained to me that breaking bread with friends and family is an intimate way in which we can share the bountiful gifts of God. It seemed a fine notion to me; eating together for the sake of camaraderie and friendship! That is a nice idea in itself, but it was not the point that was trying so hard to work its way into my life. It would take more time before I truly understood this, yet my mind was, for the first time, being led in the right direction. Then I started taking my ordinary meals more seriously. When I ate with others, I could feel something different. There was more to the interaction than idle small talk. I was actually connecting to others through this act of sharing food. It was one small blessing which I was just beginning to understand. Just one of God’s many gifts which I had not been properly thankful for up to this point. Awoken to the awareness of grace present at the table, I hungered to learn more about my faith. Some weeks later, I was armed with new understanding when I came to Mass. The thoughts of meals kept finding their way into my mind, and I could only wonder why. I pondered this until I walked up to the altar to receive the Eucharist. I said Amen, as usual, yet when I placed the Host in my mouth, I felt something. I resumed my spot on the pew and felt my hunger melt away. My soreness from the day vanished. My mind went clear, and my heart raced in my chest, yet in a calming way. Just as my meals with friends had nourished me, God’s Word in the Eucharist nourished my soul. I look back on those words written in such joyous fervor and see the errors in my speech and what little sense they made. Ironically, I finally felt unquenchable desire to pray as I had never felt before and I barreled through the act blindly. Despite my incoherent prayer, I will always remember the feeling of the Word dwelling within my chest; this gift of the Eucharist which opened my heart—that moment in which I felt the veil of darkness flung from my being. Although I had lived my life without praising His graces, I have recently begun to understand how intimately God calls to each of us. I had been disregarding His Love for too long, but I can finally say that I am stepping in the right direction. I have to make it clear that this is not a story of God entering into my life. He has been in my life from the beginning, even in the midst of darkness.