From the Greek syneidesis (“with knowledge”), the word “conscience” has been in the English language since the 12th century. Many of us were taught as children that we should know the difference between right and wrong, good and evil. The right actions bring about good consequences and the wrong actions bring about the bad (or evil) consequences. Yet, we seldom consider what it means to have a Christian conscience. Often, while growing up, I wrote off my conscience as the most basic moral standard required to live in society. This wasn’t my error. My error lied in the fact that I never called myself to a higher standard to follow my Christian faith. As Christians, disciples of Christ, we should not be satisfied with the basics. We should be eager to improve our consciences within the context of our ancient, beautiful faith. To put it simply, we should develop our consciences in a way that when other people meet us, unbelievers and believers alike, they see more of Christ and less of ourselves.
Conscience reminds me of the word “conscious”. Like I said before, it took me a while to truly be conscious of myself as a Christian. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of college that I realized what it meant to be conscious of my Christianity: to be conscious of my attitude during Mass, of my not-so-carefully worded responses to people who struggled with their faith, of how little I seemed to care about how my actions effected others. In essence, although I was going through the routines of Christianity, I wasn’t entirely present in my faith. I met the basic moral obligations of the secular world but that wasn’t enough. I had to make a decision. If I wanted to live an authentic Christian life, I needed to be fully conscious of how my actions reflected my faith. This sometimes means making a lifestyle change. It sometimes involves placing an uncommon trust in God to guide you on an unknown path. This was difficult for me at first, as it should be. I had a major fear of missing out on what seemed to be the ideal friendships, relationships, and college experiences because I was now becoming enthralled with my life with Christ. Really, my fear of missing out was what kept me from trusting God fully. Upon strengthening my Christian conscience, I actually worried less. I made friends who built up my faith instead of tearing it down, I began “dating” Jesus instead of fretting over finding the perfect boyfriend, and I found my calling in ministry with the Catholic Church. It is much easier to make decisions when you know that your conscience is guided by He who holds your deepest dreams and fears close to His heart.
Finally, forming a Christian conscience isn’t over just with a decision to live a better life. It is a life-long decision, as is choosing to be Christian. The root of “disciple” is discipline. It takes discipline to love Christ and to choose Him everyday. As the Catechism says, “The education of the conscience is a lifelong task. From the earliest years, it awakens the child to the knowledge and practice of the interior law recognized by conscience. Prudent education teaches virtue; it prevents or cures fear, selfishness and pride, resentment arising from guilt, and feelings of complacency born of human weakness and faults. The education of the conscience guarantees freedom and engenders peace of heart.” (CCC 1784) The life of a practicing Christian is difficult at times but in the end, it is worth it. For in the end, we will live and we will live most joyfully.
CMLIStudent Leader 2016
Catholic Campus Community at the University of Louisville
Lately, it’s seemed to me that our college years can be a lot like a flash of lightning across the sky: burning with energy, slightly terrifying in thrilling sort of way, and – perhaps most of all – gone before you can even figure out what just happened. These are some of the most formative years of our lives, but sometimes it is easy to forget this. I’ve often found myself anxious and wondering, “How in the world I am supposed to become the person God wants me to be when I have so many commitments? In fact, it feels like I’m not even committed to myself!”
Here’s the thing: while it is definitely true that we can stretch ourselves too thin sometimes, I’ve come to realize that all of our schoolwork, activities, and responsibilities are exactly what God is using to shape us into the incredible individuals he created us to be. We don’t have to wait to attend a conference, go on a retreat, or join a faith discussion group – our personal development starts here and now, wherever it is that we find ourselves. The aforementioned experiences provide valuable guidance for our journey, but they only last so long, and we eventually have to get back to our “daily routine.”
It’s precisely in our day to day lives, though, that we have to carry over the wisdom we gain from these experiences, so we can recognize and respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. For me, this has taken the form of doing little things with love, learning not to disregard the value of a particular chore or task just because it seems tedious. More importantly, though, our interactions and relationships with the people we see on a regular basis are fertile ground for cultivating mutual growth in virtue and grace. We truly become family to each other when we selflessly commit to having each other’s backs every day, no matter what. As C.S. Lewis describes in Mere Christianity, “the more we get what we now call ‘ourselves’ out of the way and let [Christ] take us over, the more truly ourselves we become.”
This is one of the great paradoxes of our faith: we must die to ourselves in order to truly develop and become who we really are. Because of this, it is so important for campus ministry to “function as the friend of genuine personal development and as an ally in the quest for healthy self-fulfillment” (EBTS). As student ministers, we are friends to our peers by caring for their needs, offering them compassion, respect, and honesty. To be allies, though, we must also be actively seeking the same goal with them – namely, self-fulfillment as intended for us by God. By doing this, we can lift each other up, reminding each other that our personal development is happening every day of every semester we are in school. Then, when the time comes for our next big adventure, we will hopefully find ourselves that much stronger and closer to God for it.
Campus Ministry Leadership Institute 2016 Directing Team
St Mary's University
Pray. Fast. Give. These three words shape both our vocabulary and ministry during the Lenten season. We provide extra retreats, days of reflection, reading materials, and sacramental opportunities -- all of which seek to energize these three words in the lives of our students. The challenge that we as a Campus Ministry community can attest to is bringing these three simple words to life in our own Lenten practice. Let’s not to be caught up in the busy-ness of lent, but rather embrace prayer, fasting and giving as a way to bring new life to ourselves and our ministry.
We, at EmpoweredCampusMinistry.org, are also in a time of new beginnings in regards to our team and ministry.
Help us welcome Pam Tremblay as the new program coordinator for the Empowered Campus Ministry team. In addition to joining Empowered Campus Ministry, Pam is a full time campus minister. She is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame Echo Program and has worked previously in parish life and campus in-residence ministry.
Empowered Campus ministry is also thrilled to be starting up our blog again. Bringing together the voices of ministers and students leaders throughout the country, we hope to bring to you all a platform to share wisdom and encouragement to one another. If you are interested in writing or know of a campus minister or student who would be please have them e-mail Pam at Pam.Tremblay@catholicapostolatecenter.org
Lastly, our webinars are back! Our next webinar will be on the V Encuentro coming to you on April 4, 2017. Join the Empowered Community to hear how campuses across the country have brought V Encuentro, a USCCB initiative to engage all generations of Hispanics and Latinos, to their campuses. Register here to join us!
We, as an Empowered Campus Ministry, invite you to participate in opportunities to learn, grow and share your campus ministry experience. Join our webinars, check out our blogs and be part of our online community at EmpoweredCampusMinistry.org.
I’ve been teaching a lot about discernment lately, encouraging students to include prayer in their decision-making, listening for God’s voice in the choice. Of course, we all know that decisions are easier if there is a positive and negative or pro and con. But, efforts for prayerful discernment are required when we have two good choices and only one can be chosen.
At this time of the new semester, which is traditionally a very busy one precisely because we wanted it to be less busy than the fall was, one topic for discernment which presents itself to me most often is how to engage in healthy self-care—or more precisely, how to say those three little words, “No. Thank you.”
Self-care is particularly critical for campus minsters because we are watched by our students almost constantly. We become “passive teachers” like our bulletin boards and display cases, passing along ideas without really being fully engaged in the process. One thing we may indeed be teaching them while we are busy with programs, projects, and a multitude of demands is that we have no control over the violence which surround us. I’m not talking about guns or weapons of war. I’m referring to the violence of busy-ness, even when trying to “save the world.”
Thomas Merton, in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander remarks about this when he says, "The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist...destroys his own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful."
Some of us understand this messiah complex more than others. But, even those of us who do not desire to save the whole world, can still fall into the trap of having over-crowded, Sabbath-free schedules. And, these over-busy times which deprive us of God’s gift of Sabbath rest, are times of violence against ourselves, as Merton suggests. They deprive us of sacred breath; they smother us. Our response to too many good choices must be a careful discernment about what this means for us and for our ministry.
When all of the valid requests — the liturgies, crises, meetings, spiritual direction sessions, spring break service fund-raisers, interfaith initiatives, prayer groups, and phone calls come together, it can be overwhelming. We must discern what is a priority and what can receive a gentle, “No. Thank you.”
Perhaps this Lent is a time to begin some new practice. While that seems like “one more thing” I invite you to give it a chance to change your heart. Begin with at least 10 full minutes of silence. This means silence without words to read or recite; silence, without words to type or construct; and silence, without phones to answer. Before you turn on your computer or check your voice mail each morning, create a space for your Guardian Angel to do her job—to stand guard so you may listen as God reminds you that you are loved, that you have enough, that you do enough, that you ARE enough.
At the end of the ten minutes, ask God to enlighten your hand as it types or writes your list of things to do. Ask God for assistance as you give a priority to each item on that list for the day. An A denotes a must do; a B denotes a might do; a C denotes can wait. And, when new requests come across your desk, delay deciding which letter can be attached to it.
Ask God again to give you wisdom to know which of the A’s is a 1, a 2, or a 3, etc. End your To Do List with a prayer for continued perspective and calm. Attempt to follow your numbers and not to take a short cut by doing the C’s first. Check each item off of the list. Do not scratch through the item to obliterate it; leave it with a check so you will be affirmed when you see what you have accomplished.
Finally, after six days of doing this, sit in silence to prepare for your Sabbath day of rest. Create a space in your calendar and time in your life to ask yourself or to read how others explain what Sabbath really means. I recommend Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s The Sabbath or Norman Wirzba’s Living the Sabbath, though there have been many wise teachers who have also written excellent guides.
On that last note, I close by remembering a professor who reminded our class that the Sabbath was not made so that an almighty God could rest, it was created because we need to rest. May we use Lent to give ourselves a chance to discern our best Yes to God by living with a sprinkling of three little words, “No. Thank you.
Melanie-Prejean Sullivan, DMin
Director of Campus Ministry
This summer I had the opportunity to attend the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Lay Ecclesial Ministry Summit, which convened on the 10th anniversary of the bishops’ pastoral statement on lay ecclesial ministry, “Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord.” The summit gathered bishops, pastoral leaders, and academics to explore the challenges and opportunities facing the field of lay ecclesial ministry and to consider possible next steps for advancing conversation about the co-responsibility for the new evangelization among all the U.S. Catholic faithful.
The format of the summit itself modeled the spirit and short-hand title of the pastoral letter on lay ecclesial ministry, “Co-Workers.” Bishops, priests, lay pastoral leaders, and lay academics were all welcome at the table. We worked together, side by side, exploring topics of lay ecclesial ministry. Each small group table was intentionally comprised of bishops, pastoral leaders, and academics, to invite dialogue among all participants. As a lay ecclesial minister, I felt like my own sense of call to ministry was honored and my insights as well as the insights of those at my table were appreciated.
As we look at our shared mission in the vineyard—to proclaim the Gospel—a talk by Santa Fe’s Archbishop John Wester sparked conversation at my table. Archbishop Wester reminded us that one theme of Co-Workers is that we cannot look at the ordained without looking at lay ecclesial ministry, and we cannot look at lay ecclesial ministry without looking at the ordained. We are co-workers and we truly need one another.
Archbishop Wester went on to say that we are more than complementary to one another. Instead, he proposed that we compete with one another! He explained that being complementary suggests that we are simply helpful to one another. Though being complementary is to be helpful, but not necessarily in need of one another. We are, and must be, more than simply helpful to one another. We must compete. Much like two competing teams, we need one another to play the game. We need one another to proclaim the Gospel. Like competing teams we drive each other to practice and to get better. We bring out the best in one another. This is the fruit of healthy competition.
As a Benedictine oblate, I immediately thought of Benedict of Nursia and his insistence that the only competition in the monastery is to ‘outdo one another in love.’ To paraphrase the Rule of Benedict, just as there is a wicked zeal and wicked competition which separates us from one another, so too there is a good zeal and good competition. Archbishop Wester’s reflection sparked my own reflection. As co-workers in the vineyard, as competitors in the field, we “should each try to be the first to show respect to the other, supporting with greatest patience one another’s weaknesses…earnestly competing in obedience to one another…” (Rule of Benedict, Chapter 72).
My prayer moving forward is this: With God’s grace, may we as ordained and lay ecclesial ministers compete with a humble spirit; may the joy of the Gospel exude in our manner of relating to one another and to all God’s people; and “in all we do, may we prefer nothing to Christ, may Christ bring us all to everlasting life.” Amen!
Kelly Adamson, Associate Director of Campus Ministry: Residence Life Ministry and Graduate Assistant Program at University of Dayton
Within the Catholic Church, we have been blessed to celebrate the Year of Consecrated Life this past year. Pope Francis named the year beginning November 30, 2014, to February 2, 2016, as a year to remember and honor the gifts that men and women religious have given to the Church. There is some overlap with this year, and the Year of Mercy, which we have been celebrating since December 8, 2015. So, why was the Year of Consecrated Life longer than 365 days? Liturgical years start on the first Sunday of Advent each year. This is why the Year of Consecrated Life began on November 30, 2014, which was the first Sunday of Advent. February 2 is celebrated each year as the World Day for Consecrated Life, so that is why Pope Francis chose to close the year on February 2, 2016.
The Year of Consecrated Life also was an encouragement for all members of the Church to learn about religious orders, their founders, their members, and what they do. The theme for the year was “Wake Up the World”- a reminder of the call to joyfully help build God’s kingdom here on earth. Men and women religious all over the world have shared so generously because of a deep desire to dedicate themselves to a life completely lived for God. This Year of Consecrated Life provided us the opportunity to learn more about religious life, to pray with them, and to join with the religious in acts of service.
There are so many different religious orders and each adds a unique beauty and gift to the Church. That diversity adds depth and strength, as well. So many needs are served. Across the different orders, prayers are offered continuously for the world and all its people. God is honored and the Gospel is lived within each order’s charism, which is the specific gift and grace of the order, given by God to that order. Because of this, ministries across religious orders can vary. For example, Benedictines strive to seek God through prayer, work, and community life together. Dominicans desire to spread the word of God and proclaim the Gospel everywhere. Franciscans are especially committed to live out the Church’s preferential option for the poor. Over time, religious have served in hospital ministry, teaching, retreat ministry, service to the poor and marginalized, and many other ministries.
In the Archdiocese of Louisville, where I minister, there were several events for people to learn more about the religious orders serving here. In February 2015, religious communities held open houses that attracted lots of visitors. Over the summer of 2015, several different religious came together to sponsor and help build a Habitat for Humanity house. The house was named the “Wake Up the World” house and was dedicated in August 2015. In September 2015, a beautiful evening prayer service was held at the Cathedral of the Assumption. All religious orders were invited to participate and to be present to share with others more about who they are and what they do. To close the Year of Consecrated Life, a special Jubilee Mass was celebrated to all those religious men and women who have special anniversary years. Many dioceses throughout the Unites States had similar activities.
Each of us is called to put God first in our lives, no matter to which vocation God calls us. Each of us is called to take the time to pray and discern where we see God working in our lives and how we can best live God’s plan for us. When we live out God’s plan, we will truly make a difference and we will feel peace. God can, and wants to work through us in powerful ways. When we are open to that reality, and trust in God’s action within us, there will be a joy inside us that nothing can take away. These men and women religious have been a tremendous example of that for us.
Sr. Sarah Yungwirth, OSB, Associate Director for Vocations, Archdiocese of Louisville, KY
Abby (pseudonym) is a third-year college student who first encountered depression as a freshman after losing several significant people in her life within a short period of time. Her family physician, noticing her lack of energy, did a quick depression scale in the office and suggested that medication might alleviate her symptoms.
“I wasn’t feeling a whole lot of anything at that point,” she said. Abby is quite open about her struggles with depression. She said that “feeling numb was getting old” and self-awareness about depression motivated her to get back to doing everyday activities which, along with medication, helped her get through this rough time in her life.
She has since moved on to a fulfilling college life and says she’d “rather feel that loss than feel nothing at all.” With a sense of mission in using her experiences in ways that might be useful to others, she is a great advocate for depression awareness here on campus.
Abby’s experience is fairly common with college students who are dealing with losses of significant others, divorce of parents, abortions and struggles to move into adulthood. We, as campus ministers, hear these stories on retreats, listen to these life experiences in other settings and are key in spotting depression and in discerning when professional support might be useful. Most college campuses have mental health services available to students to get through these transition periods, and we need to develop working referral relationships with these professionals.
The most common self depression test (Patient Health Questionnaire, known as PHQ-9) assesses nine key symptoms that interfere with everyday life:
Depression is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental and psychological factors. There are different types of depression, some situational due to life events and some biochemical which only a health professional can assess. There are many different treatment options and drug therapies for all forms of depression.
As campus ministers, we have the ability to recognize these key signs of depression and offer not only referrals but invitations to meaningful activities that can increase mood, offer social contact and improve resilience. Asking how students are feeling and assessing if their mood is affecting their life is the first step in providing the care and concern they need during these college experiences.Current data from the spring 2015 study by the American College Health Association) found that more than half of college students have experienced ‘overwhelming anxiety’ sometime over the past year. More than 37 percent of women (and 30 percent of men) report feeling so depressed “that it was difficult to function.” Nearly 48 percent said they “felt things were hopeless” and 60 percent “felt very lonely.” With suicide as the leading cause of death among college students and nearly 10 percent of college students reporting having seriously considered suicide, we need to be alert to the moods of our students and the resources available to meet their mental health needs.
Jane Steinhauser M.Div, D.Min. LPC is a licensed counselor, certified spiritual director and director of Campus Ministry for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and Sinclair Community
When you head off to college people say, “You'll have the time of your life. You'll make lifelong friendships. You'll find yourself.”
As you walk onto campus, and hundreds of students at dozen of tents are there to greet you, those phrases began to look very real. It is easy sign up with any group, but there can be a cost for many Catholic students. Club meetings, socials, friends and events can completely consume your time and soon you can very easily find yourself not attending mass and even losing your faith in the noise.
I know this because I have experienced this first hand. By mid-September I was busy every day with classes, friends welcome events. I had not been to mass in almost a month, there was little talk of faith and I sure wasn't taking charge of what faith I had. The break in the noise came on a rainy September night when there was nothing to do, nowhere to be and I felt lost staring at the soaked ground. I walked aimlessly until I stumbled upon a group of people playing capture the flag and they invited me to play. Turns out they were a retreat group from the Newman Center. What I thought was another distraction, was actually God shouting above it telling me he needs me back. From that day forward, I started regaining my faith and now I am a leader among my peers at Newman.
A simple invitation is all it takes to change someone's life. The past three years that I have been here, the Campus Ministry has sought to form a faith community. From Aggie Awakening to the Aggie Catholic Experience and even a project on bringing people to church on Sundays the CMLI teams and campus ministry teams at New Mexico State University have been working hard to form a faith community. Our core participant group has grown from a couple dozen to nearly 100 with another 200 plus showing up to the different masses. All of this was through simple invitations to friends and strangers to come share in our experiences.
In a time where it is easy to go down the wrong path and lose your way, it is important that we reach out to our fellow students and offer them a helping hand to return to the right path and to grow in faith. Community is the first aspect that many people experience when they join a faith group. As more people join, the community grows stronger. Our community started with one, Jesus Christ. And now, with a billion others with us, we must continue to be "fishers of men" and bring people into this community and closer to Christ.
For us, this starts on campus.
Steven Garcia, Student Intern to Campus Ministry, New Mexico State University
Our Interfaith Center recently hosted a discussion called, “When I was a stranger…” A Discussion of Refugee Resettlement in Louisville. In a time when such a conversation seemed timely and necessary, I learned a lot from the talk. As far as people who come into the country go, refugees are the most intensely screened. After numerous checks, they are finally allowed to enter the US, but often they know little English and need an advocate to help them find places that accommodate their bare necessities. Catholic Charities works with the refugees to find them housing and employment. I didn’t realize that they work with private landlords to find refugees housing since most refugees have no credit score or Social Security number.
This discussion reminded me of the US Conference of Catholic Bishop’s document on Campus Ministry, Empowered by the Spirit. In the section, “Educating for Justice,” the Bishops state, “Campus ministry is called to make the struggle for social justice an integral part of its mission.” This is important to remember, that as much as our faith is for our own development and experience, we should be learning about social justice issues and advocating for those who are in need. Closed mindedness leads to fear, anger, and an unwillingness to help. Especially in the case of Syrian refugees and the political discourse surrounding the issue, we must remember to open our minds and hearts to these people who have come from a country ravaged by war. “For I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35).
Ben Vivona, University of Louisville, Catholic Campus Ministry Leadership Team
Charlie, as an eager freshman, couldn’t wait to get to college and have new experiences. When the quarter ended, he was joyful about going home for the holiday. There was his mom’s cooking, his younger siblings, and his many friends who would also be home on break. Home was where he grew up as opposed to school which was where he went.
Now a senior, Charlie confessed to me, in a moment of candor, that his mom had a puzzled look on her face the first time he told her, “I need to get home and do some work,” when the end of the holiday had come. His off-campus apartment with his roommates had become home in a way he hadn’t realized and his mother came face to face with the reality of her young adult son creating home in some other place.
As a campus minister and the mother of adult children, I have seen this transition take place in the lives of students hundreds of times. In our house, it began with our daughter’s great desire to come home at Christmas and in the summer of her freshman year and came to fullness the summer of her junior year when she opted to stay and work on campus, returning to our house only for a brief couple of weeks before school began again. The transition from childhood to adulthood takes every parent and child through a range of emotions and reactions. If you are a student, it’s important to keep some things in mind:
Mary Deeley Pastoral Associate and Director of Christ the Teacher Institute
Sheil Catholic Center at Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill.
What is the ultimate goal in life? For Christians, it is to one day join our Lord in His heavenly kingdom. We have quite a journey to get there. We strive to become more like Christ and encourage others as well to do so. This happens in decisions we make everyday. We search for self-fulfillment through Jesus Christ, the service of common good, and the source of all growth.
Personal development is a stepping stone to this life-long adventure to reach our ultimate goal. As Catholic author and speaker Matthew Kelly believes, becoming more like God causes us to become the "best version of ourselves." That, of course, easier said than done.
There are several ways a person can practice personal development. Realize you are here for a reason and, whether you are aware of it or not, things are unfolding just as they should be. The right circumstances and opportunities will emerge. Day in and day out we are submerged in noise—television, music, social media, computers, phones—and we may not even know what silence is. Some may find that terrifying. In silence, we see the person we are now and the person we are capable of becoming. We are challenged to change and grow. Some may avoid silence, because when silence is present you learn about yourself and are exposed to challenges of change. We need change in our lives in order to become better people than we were yesterday. Change is growth.
In college, there are numerous opportunities to work on personal development. College is where many individuals learn about themselves and search for the person they truly are meant to be. There are also as many distractions as there are opportunities. As most students may know, it is easy to fall into the traps of negative environments and situations. In order to avoid these circumstances, we must keep the ultimate goal in mind and strive every day to reach it. Each of us has special gifts, talents, and abilities. Developing all these for the benefit of all.
Personal development carries the importance of helping you understand yourself better, assisting you in creating goals in life. Spending time your efficiently, enhances your ability to handle stress, adversity and change, and to live a balanced lifestyle.
Being open to personal development will lead you to experience a leap in your faith. You will gain a more positive outlook on life, be more proactive and begin creating the life you want to live instead of letting circumstances create your life for you. You will be able to find your true purpose and live your life to the fullest.
by Renee Baca, Student, New Mexico State University
As our college campuses begin to stir with the flurry of activity that signals the end of the semester, the Church will ring in the Jubilee Year of Mercy, calling us to give and receive the abundant blessings of God’s merciful love. According to newadvent.org, mercy is “a virtue influencing one's will to have compassion for, and, if possible, to alleviate another's misfortune.” How can we bring this kind of mercy to the friends and classmates we encounter every day? This semester especially, I’ve found that it takes two key things: humility and selflessness.
In the midst of our busy, non-stop lives, it’s so easy to lose track of God and get caught up in our problems, our events, our hopes and dreams – and guess what? It’s exhausting. This year, I’ve begun to see how, with so many classes, clubs, and commitments, my own focus has a tendency to turn far more inward than I would like. Because of this, I’m constantly worried about what I have to do, what I have to turn in, what I have yet to accomplish, or what I wish I could be doing. But then, where does that leave me? Where does that leave any of us?
This is where it’s so crucial to turn to God and surrender to him the plans that we often fight to keep. It doesn’t mean that we are giving up, or that we’re going to lose everything we’ve worked so hard to achieve. Rather, it’s the simplest – but often most difficult – act of humility that reminds us that God is so much greater than all of that. He wants us to do marvelous, amazing things, to be sure, but we have to let Him work through us. We can only do that through His mercy.
I’m sure each of us can attest to those moments in our lives when, time and time again, we stumble and fall, and yet God is always there to heal us and pick us back up, no matter how bruised or broken we are. This is God’s amazing mercy: the unfailing love that takes us in and makes us whole. He forgives us even when we don’t feel worthy of being forgiven. He strengthens us when feel too weak even to pray. And He loves us beyond anything we can imagine, delighting in our joy and happiness.
Once we receive this gift, then, it becomes our responsibility to share it with our brothers and sisters – but we have to go outside of ourselves first. As tempting as it is to get lost in our daily struggles, we have to push past them to see the world and the people around us with Christ’s compassionate eyes. When we start to focus our energies and passions on alleviating the misfortunes of others, we begin to take on the Christ-like qualities that allow the Holy Spirit to truly renew the hearts of the faithful. In practice, this isn’t easy, but the more we dedicate ourselves to bringing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy to life, the more graces God will give us to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth, no matter where we are.
There is so much good we can do, as individuals and as a Church, in becoming merciful servant-leaders. In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis reminds us that "The Church must be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel." This might sound like a place beyond our reach, but in reality it isn’t – it’s right outside our front door. We are the Church, so wherever we are, we bring the Church with us. As we continue strengthen and build relationships in this coming Year of Mercy, may we remember to look beyond ourselves to the mercy and love God so freely gives us, so that we can practice that same abundance with everyone we meet.
Valeria Garza, Campus Ministry Volunteer, St. Mary’s University
Thanksgiving is this week, and we’re sure that everyone is looking forward to spending the long holiday weekend relaxing with family and taking a break from the stresses of school and work. This will be our second Thanksgiving together, and while some students from our campus have to travel hours back home and separate from their significant other for the weekend, we are very fortunate in that our hometowns are only thirty minutes apart. We have many things to be thankful for, especially the faith that we share and the love and support that we get from our Newman Center community. We look forward to spending time with each of our families and enjoying multiple Thanksgiving dinners together. Instead of looking forward, however, why don’t we take a few steps back to look at how the month started: All Saints Day.
In the Catholic Church, the entire month of November is dedicated to the saints, and rightly so. These were ordinary people who lived extraordinary lives dedicated to God’s holy will. They set the foundation of what it means to say “yes” to God’s call. The Thanksgiving holiday is not a religious one, but our faith is supposed to be in all that we do. So how do we, as Catholics, incorporate the season of the saints into our Thanksgiving?
To answer this, it is important to understand the role that giving thanks has in our relationship with our Father. Too often, we only turn to Him in times of need: when we state our petitions. Just like our relationships with friends, family members or anyone we love, a fruitful and fulfilling relationship with God requires us not only to ask and receive, but to give. In particular, to give thanks and praise.
One of the many things can thank God for is the saints who have walked on this earth. They are human beings, just like us, who are now our intercessors to God. When we pray to saints, we pray to people—not guardian angels, not the Holy Spirit, not our Heavenly Father—but people who have felt what it means to be weak, helpless and sinful at some point in their lives. Jesus became man, in part to become a sacrifice, and also to live among us. Although he felt human weakness and pain just like us, he was sinless and perfect. The saints were all exceptional people, but born into sin. The gift of empathy that the saints give us resides in their human imperfection.
Isn’t that something to be thankful for? These people have been given to us by God as uniquely human intercessors. This month, we should thank Him for giving us the saints, as well as supplementing our intercessions to the saints with prayers of thanksgiving. We should take this call as an opportunity to learn more about these holy men and women and the many ways that we can thank them in our daily lives. We should especially strive to grow closer to our confirmation saint, the one who we called on to guide us through our personal journey into the faith community and who continues to root for us every day.
As we reflect upon the things in life that we’re thankful for, let us not forget about the saints, the people who have lived on earth in weakness and also sanctifying greatness.
Stacey Forte and Paul Billig, students at Kent State University, OH
Educating For Justice- A Social Responsibility
My memory of first encountering homelessness seems like a trivial moment in my childhood. It was brief with seemingly little significance, but I mentally replay it with vivid detail. That moment helped shaped my perception of society and my decision to do social work in urban areas.
When I was about six years old, my family walked out of restaurant after eating on our vacation. My mom carried a box of food with her back to the hotel. In the middle of the city square, stood a man with a cardboard sign. My mom walked up to the man and handed him the box, while my dad reached for money from his wallet. For the rest of the walk, I kept asking my parents “why” questions about the man. I didn’t understand why he was on the street, why he didn’t have a home, why he needed food, why he needed money, why we couldn’t just take him to the hotel with us if he didn’t have a place to stay. My parents probably don’t remember the conversation, but I recall that as a pivotal moment in my life. Since then, I have always questioned how inequalities affect the health of society and how people can actively engage to solve them.
“None of us can think we are exempt from concern for the poor and for social justice,” (EG 201) Pope Francis said, in one of his many justice-focused statements, about the Catholic Church’s responsibility to take action. His stance on social justice education has proliferated through the global Catholic community. His statements send a simple message: Don’t turn a blind eye, know that social justice issues exist and advocate for them.
What does being a “social justice advocate” necessarily mean? The title of advocacy can seem quite daunting; it indicates a sense of action and engagement in contemporary issues. Social justice advocacy does not only mean rallying and lobbying for a specific cause. It can mean something as simple as being aware of the language used to talk about inequalities. The pope is not calling Catholics to flood the streets with picket signs. He is asking us to know about the issues and have genuine concern for them.
As Catholic students, the opportunities to engage in social justice advocacy can be overwhelming. Volunteer options, forums, discussions and classes about social justice permeate college campuses. It is the responsibility of college Catholics to partake in all the provided opportunities and gain a holistic perspective on justice. The combination of action and thought creates the ability for people to experience inequality and then reflect intelligently on it. College students can delve into both active and reflective advocacy and use it to shape how they enter into their careers and adult life.
Justice education gives a voice to those who may not be able to be heard through social stratification. Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Catholic college students are called to pick up the weapon of knowledge and help change the world.
Take a class on a social issue or Catholic Social Teaching. Read a blog or a magazine about different places in the world. Talk to professors about what they see in society. Watch a documentary as a study break. Go to a forum discussion on something you don’t typically study. As young adults in the Catholic Church, we are called to use our time in college to help form our future as social justice advocates. Whether that entails a career path into ministry or social work, or learning how to be comfortable talking about uncomfortable issues, we need to acknowledge what is in the world around us. We are all called to know we have the ability to change the outcome.
- Marisa Quiery
The College of Wooster
Justice is defined as “just behavior or treatment.” However, a simple sentence cannot capture the magnitude of importance the word possesses. Being a student at a Catholic Marianist University has helped me to understand a little more in depth as to what exactly justice is and how important of an aspect it is to the Catholic faith. The curriculum the institution holds focuses on educating for social justice and peace. As a result, I have been able to recognize some of the issues my campus embodies but have yet to recognize powerful solutions to alleviate some of the problems. Nonetheless, it all begins with education. Unfortunately, it is a common occurrence to see people asking for money on the side of our streets, hear of people stealing, committing fraud, or even people dying just because they want to make ends meet for their family or themselves. Our Catholic faith teaches us to be humble and love thy neighbor as ourselves. Although many people do charitable acts of kindness that make a whole world of difference to other people, I feel that we fail to pay attention to the root of the problem. By educating for justice, we are able to make the needs of the world come to life and take that first step towards peace. Especially as lent begins, it is an even greater reason to be more conscious of what is happening around us. Lent is not only about “giving something up” or “doing something more” but also about finding God and serving others in the process. Instead of using profane language, a great alternative would be to speak about things that concern oneself. Who knows, we may not be the only ones who feel this way! Regardless, it starts with talking. Just recently, our professor went into detail about Cesar Chavez and how through patience, he was able to take his union to a new level and raise wages for chicanos all across the board in support of the movement. Just as Chavez did, we are responsible for voicing our concerns and leading our fellow peers, whether at a college campus or other environment, and joining with them to achieve a result for the common good. Results take time, but education is the starting point.
St. Mary’s University student
Attending the University of Dayton, a Catholic institution, has provided me with many opportunities to practice and grow in my faith. One such opportunity was attending the Papal Mass on September 27 in Philadelphia. Due to a generous donation from the President, Dr. Dan Curran, the school was able to send one hundred and ten students for a very low cost to the students. When I originally heard about this opportunity, I decided not to go because I was worried about being exhausted for class on the Monday after. However, a couple of friends convinced me to go and I ended up taking one of the last spots on the trip. I may have been stuck on a bus for eighteen hours, walked eleven miles, didn't accomplish any of my homework, and was exhausted for my classes the Monday after, but I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.
Of all the times that I can say that I have been in the presence of the Holy Spirit, I only realized it after the fact while reflecting on the experience. That was not the case for the Papal Mass. The Holy Spirit was very prevalent at the moment There was just this feeling. In his homily, Pope Francis said “Faith opens a ‘window’ to the presence and working of the Spirit. It shows us that, like happiness, holiness is always tied to little gestures”. That couldn’t have been truer for me at this mass. It was our shared faith in Jesus Christ that brought us together to participate in this mass. From where I was located, it was hard to hear the mass at times, but it didn’t matter. I was surrounded by a million other people who were all acting in unison. We didn’t need to hear; we knew exactly what was going on. This feeling will be something that will stick with me for the rest of my life.
Another take away from this experience is how blessed I am for my friends. Without them convincing me to attend, I have never had this amazing experience. God was truly present in my friends as they convinced me to attend. He knew just how great of an experience it would be for me, so he used them to give me the extra nudge that I needed. It is impossible to know exactly what God wants for all of us, but I do know that he works in mysterious ways.
Overall, getting to attend the Papal Mass has given me hope for the future. If there is ever a time that I am feeling any doubt about God, I will just need to look back on this experience. No matter how much stress I may be under due to the amount of homework I have or the various activities that I am involved in, God will always have my back, whether or not I have his, and his love will always bring me back to him and his mercy. That is all I need to know to get through the struggles of life.
Steven Cap, University of Dayton
On my campus, about 62% of the undergraduate population are Hispanic. I believe there is an identity crisis among our Hispanic young adults that requires immediate attention. I feel compelled to be a catalyst for such outreach. I am a Catholic campus minister at a small Catholic University in San Antonio, Texas. I am Mexican-American, a Hispanic, and with the growth of Hispanics in the United States Catholic church today, am concerned for the Hispanic young adult Catholics who go to college and universities.
Although the number of Hispanic students in colleges and universities in the United States continues to grow, the number of those completing degrees is low. The rigor of the academics, in many cases very different from most high school learning experiences, and the shock of culture Hispanic students encounter are a couple of challenges that make it difficult for Hispanic young adults to succeed. I believe the current political environment in the U.S. regarding immigration makes it that much more difficult.
One’s identity as a Hispanic, a label placed on a group of individuals, is so complex that instead of helping young adults it has a negative effect. Young adults need to establish a firm foundation in who they are so they can form lasting relationships and develop their talents. Labels lead many to abandon their culture and values in order to survive in higher education. The time has come for us in campus ministry to reassess how we serve Hispanic young adults. Is singing a song in Spanish or offering a reading in Spanish at Mass the best we can do as a means of engagement?
Culture and identity are complex issues. We have an opportunity in Campus Ministry to take empowering the spirit of Hispanic young adults to new levels. College is a time where young adults establish their identities that lead to choices of life-long commitments both personally and professionally. Some of our greatest leaders in the Church today are our Hispanic young adults. The time is now to explore and discover great gifts and talents Hispanic young adults bring to the Church and world.
I went to college immediately following my high school graduation with a deep desire to serve the Church. It was during those years in college where I came to know myself better than ever and found myself surrounded with peers, adults and friends who helped me discover my talents. My time in college truly shaped me and laid a foundation for the path and vocation I now live. Thirty years ago I was introduced to Campus Ministry and to this day, I continue to serve!
Director of University Ministry
St. Mary's University
San Antonio, Texas
“Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” (Matthew 25:40)
Even as a Catholic new to taking my faith seriously, I’ve heard this passage used again and again, imploring us to serve the poor, or donate to a visiting missionary in my local parish, or volunteering at the local food pantry. That is not to make light of or dismiss this passage. The corporal works of mercy, listed right before this passage, are crucial components to living out our faith and loving God.
In isolation, this passage can take on another meaning, which may be even more powerful. The emphasis on “even to the least of them” brings images of the poor and vulnerable to mind. However, these are not Christ’s only brothers. We are all called to communion with Christ, and we must remember everything we do is done not just for Christ, but to Christ as well. Since we are called to serve God in all that we do, service to others, from the least to the greatest, becomes a constant in our lives.
As a college student, I often find myself thinking and acting selfishly. I go to class to learn for myself. I write for the campus newspaper to hone my craft. I read or watch television to keep myself amused. None of these activities are inherently wrong; I’d argue they are all good things to do with my time. What troubles me is the “why”. Am I serving God or only myself?
Campus ministry, however, is different. I do not go for myself, but to serve, to be reminded by the campus ministers and the community members of how to keep Christ at the center of my life. We come together to worship God. We come together to reach out to others.
Three years ago, I found myself returning to mass to accompany my grandma. I went to replace my grandpa, a daily mass guy whose dementia placed him in a nursing home, unable to continue his long-time habit. I wasn’t so much going for my own faith, but to go in my grandpa’s stead. When I moved an hour south from my Cleveland suburb to Ashland University, I found the Newman community to appease my grandma. It wasn’t about my personal faith, because I didn’t have much faith of my own on which to rely.
The campus ministers and the members slowly dragged me deeper and deeper into the community. Even as time commitments to class, work and the campus paper increased, my time spent in Lower Chapel, affectionately called God’s Basement, increased, in both quantity and quality. I went from helping out during our weekly Newman dinners to blocking off that time before I scheduled anything else. I became an alter server when no one else was available, despite my discomfort with facing the congregation I had so recently joined. It was finally becoming my faith.
Even as I become more involved in the ministry, what I do is not about me so much as it is about the group, about serving with and for others. I found myself on the leadership council, becoming a small group leader and flying halfway around the world with other Newman members on service trips. Traveling to Nicaragua to help out special-needs orphans taught me something about love, about a truly universal faith. Yet I never planned on doing something like this, nor was this something I particularly wanted to do. I didn’t think, I just did. I followed my gut instinct, confident I am serving God in whatever I do with this group. Campus ministry has afforded me opportunities to serve the least and the best of my brothers and sisters. As I’ve grown into the group, the group has grown into me. I hope and pray the humility and willingness to serve will infuse itself into my life, just as it has my days at Newman.
Zack Lemon is a student at Ashland University in Ashland,
Ohio and a student leader for the
Campus Ministry Leadership Institute 2014.
I had the wonderful pleasure of attending the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering on February 7-10, 2015 in Washington, D.C. There were several things I liked about the conference that proved beneficial to my growth spiritually and professionally.
The opportunity to network with other attendees was immensely enjoyable. I talked with both individuals who were leaders and innovators in their local communities, as well as individuals who were active on global levels. I shared my ideas and aspirations and got advice on how to effect change in my local community. I was also blessed to meet students from all over the country and world, including Georgia, Ohio, Maryland, and Australia. It was great to meet other students who were just as passionate about social justice as I am. I was able to share with them my own ideas and hear about the projects of their local Catholic Relief Services. Many of the student leaders touched my life. For example, one specific student who was disabled used her physical state as a platform to advocate for other disabled people. She was the most heartwarming and encouraging person.
Our daily workshops and presentations throughout the conference came to fruition once we visited Capitol Hill. I had the opportunity to speak directly with Louisiana politicians and the staff of our representatives. Our delegation included students from Xavier University of Louisiana, a few priests and myself. In the meeting, we advocated for a more streamlined reform for immigration policies, a peaceful two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, and the sustainment of Nutritional programs like WIC and SNAP. Having the opportunity to advocate for issues that have directly impacted myself and loved ones is something that I will cherish.
I have always aspired to be the hands and feet of Jesus to others. The Catholic Social Ministry Gathering has given me insight on how to do just that. I experienced a personal change in my own mindset and heart. Since the gathering I have become more motivated and passionate about ideas that I need
to work on in my community. I want to start several programs for students in my hometown, and I am indebted to the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering for giving me a new drive to pursue this endeavor.
A scripture passage from Matthew’s Gospel remains close to my heart:
"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me... whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." -Matthew 25:35-36, 40
I pray that I may live in service to my fellow man in whatever capacity God leads me so that I may truly serve God.
G. Minor, Catholic Relief Services Ambassador, Campus Ministry Student Volunteer at Xavier University of Louisiana
Links for CRS: