Tag Archives: Gods Love

Praying through Panic

Emily Greentree, Senior Anchor Intern

The worst place to have a panic attack might be in the middle of Mass. While I am praising the Lord’s name and listening to his word, my anxiety sits in the pit of my stomach, making me feel like I am at the edge of a cliff. I know that I am safe here in the Lord’s house; I know that God loves me, yet my body and my emotions are convinced that the world is crashing down around me as my hands start to shake and my breath catches in my throat. Forcing myself to take a deep breath, I try to focus on the things I know to be true: I am safe, I am loved, I am breathing, I am sitting in Mass, I will be ok.  I continue to repeat these thoughts until the anxiety that was creeping up the back of my neck recedes and I feel normal again.

Generalized anxiety is a mental disorder that is characterized by excessive worrying about a number of things. The worry is out of proportion to the impact of the events that are causing it. This means that something as small as wondering if my friend had a good time when we went out can cause me to physically panic with worry that I failed them unless I was personally ensured that they enjoyed themselves.  My emotional response to everyday situations can be over-the-top and physically painful. But through my faith in God, I can always find ways to cope with the gap between what is truly happening and my emotional response. My faith acts as a bridge connecting how I feel to my belief in God and His plan for me. 

Grotto candles refracted in a crystal ball.

When I experience a panic attack, my thoughts will race. With no control over what I am thinking, negative statements start playing over and over in my mind tearing me down. This is usually when I start to pray.  Not trusting my racing thoughts, I often just pray the Hail Mary repeatedly as a plea for God to grant me peace. The rhythm of familiar prayer helps slow my thoughts down just enough that I can gain some small measure of control. Then I list out the things I know to be true:

  1. There is a God.
  2. God loves me.
  3. My worth comes from God.
  4. My worth cannot be diminished by anyone but God.
  5. My worth to God does not change because I made a mistake.
  6. I am not any less loved by God because I made a mistake.

By focusing on God’s love for me and the worth his love gives me, I can begin to slow down my breathing and my thoughts.  Taking deeper and deeper breaths, I begin to focus on the truth of my situation, whatever they may be.  Whether I got a bad grade, or embarrassed myself in front of the class, or simply felt overwhelmed by the amount of work I must get done, I can now start to look at it for what it is: a situation that I can handle with God’s love to strengthen me.

This knowledge does not always mean that the feeling of panic goes away. My body may still feel as if I am being physically attacked, even though mentally I know everything is fine. My heart may still be beating fast, my stomach may still be in knots, and my hands may still be shaking. By focusing on God, my faith keeps me on the bridge between how I physically feel and the truth of the situation.  Faith is my bridge between anxiety and reality.

Lent: A Season of Renewal

Rosemary Agwuncha, Senior Anchor Intern

Ahh, the unofficial “Catholic New Year” is upon us, friends! Lent has arrived and it’s time for us to enter into the purifying period, a.k.a. the “40-day Good Friday,” am I right? One of my professors joked that this is how we often view the season of Lent. He articulated, however, that Lent is meant to be a time of baptismal renewal and for reconciliation with God and others. Our death and resurrection in Christ is meant to be what our thoughts and hearts are fixed upon. The fruit of these meditations are then meant to manifest in our increased attention to prayer, fasting, and works of love (or almsgiving).

“But seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  – Matthew 6:33

Now that you have a small glimpse of what my major in Theology has been about…let’s think about what this actually means in real life. I’ll share a little story.

The beginning of my final semester at Notre Dame has been off to an interesting start. I’m caught in a space of tension. Though I want to relish every moment with all the incredible people I have met over the past 3.5 years, I am also preparing for the infamous medical school application process. Let me just say, it’s hard out here y’all. I feel like I have a to-do list that will never end and there will never be enough time in the day to get caught up. Dramatic? Maybe.

The past month has honestly felt like a blur of non-stop movement, and I’m still super behind on a number of things. Honestly speaking, on many days I have reached the point of tiredness that makes me become more emotional than usual, then I frantically agonize over every tiny decision, and negative self-talk becomes louder than any other thoughts in my mind. This is the absolute perfect recipe for premium level stress and anxiety, folks.

Walking by faith: “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” -Phil. 4:19

As a result of my current situation, I feel like I have taken many steps backward in my social life within the past four weeks. I sunk into the “you can only socialize on the weekend” and “if you’re not working or studying, you’re wasting time” mentality. I thought it would be so great to stay committed to “the grind” day in and day out, but it’s been extremely exhausting and not as fulfilling as I imagined.

I realized how much more draining my days have become in my attempts to avoid “unnecessary human interactions,” because as I sit before my work I start to realize how much I still crave these meaningful interactions. On top of that, my prayer has been less intentional and more “on-the-go.” As I toss up disjointed thoughts to God in bits and pieces, my heart is heavy with the burdens I haven’t truly laid before the feet of Jesus. During the past month, I have drastically narrowed my perspective on what is supposed to be meaningful in my life and what I make time for. Things obviously haven’t turned out as I intended them to so far.

The lack of community and intentionality that I imagined would spur me on towards greater productivity has, in fact, deprived me of so much of the energy that I need to persevere. Every bit of strength I have has been directed towards meeting deadlines, checking off items on an unending to-do list, and moving from one obligation to the next. Everything feels like a chore.

These pursuits of mine have honestly become idols and I have been sacrificing the most valuable possessions of time and my very self before them. I thought that I would receive blessings of joy and fulfillment for my earnest offerings, but I am realizing that these idols can’t offer me what I was seeking. They can’t reciprocate what I offer them or replenish me with anything meaningful. These idols will only continue to demand more of me and only be critical and denigrating when I don’t sacrifice enough for them. This then simply becomes a black hole of negativity that perpetuates self-violence.

Okay that was a bit bleak…but… devoid of an authentic relationship with God and with others, our lives don’t turn out to be as meaningful as we hope for them to be. I’m not advocating that we all become socialites who reject the notion that work or education has any value, but there’s a balance we should strive to maintain. Everything I do has to be rooted in love of God, neighbor, and self. I have to extend mercy towards myself and to others, just as God is unfailingly merciful towards me.

Yes, I will continue to strive to be diligent in order to accomplish my goals. However, the way I interact with God, myself, and others will definitely be more loving and more intentional because that’s how our lives ultimately find the most meaning. The Holy Trinity, in whose image we have been created, is love and relationship. We were made for relationship with God and with one another, this is something we cannot deny.

There are so many moments that the devil will try to steal my joy as well as my true identity in Christ away from me, but God is calling me in the season of Lent (and in every moment of every day) to remember that my hope and my joy are rooted in Him and Him alone.

I’m looking forward to this season of renewal and restoration of right relationship within the various dimensions of my life. Through greater attention to prayer, fasting from the things that are preventing my heart from loving God and others well, and intentional works of love, I will seek to entrust Jesus with more and more of my heart. All God wants is to love every part of my being – to fill every weak and broken place with His love and tender mercy. Jesus wants to restore the hope and joy that He won for me in His Resurrection.

Understanding Love Through Divorce

Emily Greentree, Senior Anchor Intern

One Sunday morning after church when I was 8 years old, my mom took my sister and me to the park and sat us down on a bench. She calmly told us, like it was any other day, that she and my father decided that they no longer wanted to live together, that they still loved us very much but decided that they were better as friends than as a couple. She then pointed to an apartment complex across the street and explained that’s where my dad would be moving. We would see him, of course, but he would no longer live with us. My parents were getting a divorce. I don’t remember being very sad when my mom first told me the news. I could not comprehend in that moment the way my parents’ divorce would affect my life or my understanding of God’s love. Now, 14 years later, I can see how this event was a turning point in both my life and my faith.

After the divorce, the biggest change in my life was the newfound balance of time split between my parents. I lived full-time with my mom, and she became my superhero. I watched her work a full time job, take my sister and myself to and from school, make us breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and plan every birthday party and holiday celebration. With her superpowers of multi-tasking, I knew I could depend on my mom for anything and she would be there. She took on the role of both parents alone, and I never felt like I missed out on anything.

Emily and her mom

When my dad moved out of the house, he went from being my parent to my biggest cheerleader. During an average week, I might see him once and talk to him maybe twice, but he did his best to never miss a soccer game or art show and even drove me to my prom. We would spend afternoons at the movies and listening to music. I knew he always supported me in my actions, but he was no longer a constant presence in my life. Between working long hours and consistently moving around South Florida, I would go many days without talking to him. This is when I started paying more attention in church and being intrigued by the idea that God was always present.

When my parents divorced, I struggled to maintain my previous understanding of love. Until then, I had understood that my mom and dad loved each other and from that love, they had my sister and me. I didn’t understand then that a love between two people could crumble and disappear. Watching my parents go from lovers to friends who could drive each other crazy made me wonder if all other love could fade as well. It was with that fragile understanding of love that I questioned how God’s love could always be present. But through both God and my parent’s modeling of God’s love, I learned what unconditional love really meant.

Emily and her dad

1 John 3:1 says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” God’s love for us is often compared to a parental love, so unconditional that no matter the circumstances, we can always return to Him. Growing up, it was hard to comprehend a love so vast and unconditional that it would always be present in my life. But that was God’s love that my parents modeled for me, even in their separation. During and after the divorce, I always felt my parents’ love, even when they would fight or on the days my dad was not there. They continually showed their love for me and my sister even during times of struggle. It was clear to see in the way my parents put my sister and I first in everything. I saw it in the way my mom kept my life stable through the change. I was it in the way my dad carved out time individual time for both my sister and I, so that neither of us felt abandoned. I was privileged to see in action the ways that parental love can withstand trials and flourish, even when the givers of that love had suffered their own losses. So when I sat in the pews at church and learned that God loved me like a father, unconditionally and always, I could feel the presence of his love in my life in the same way I felt my parents’ love for me. I understood that God would always be there for me, always willing and ready to work through life with me. I learned to talk to God as a father, asking for advice and guidance in the same ways I asked my parents, trusting in his love for me above all else. I understood God’s love for me in a real and deep sense.

My parents modeled unconditional love that could not be affected or diminished by any earthly issue, showing me how to understand and connect to God’s unconditional love for me.


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.