Working on the Irish Rover can be a seemingly thankless task. Staff members endeavor to gather news and present important issues to our readers, but it can be quite challenging when the administration refuses to answer our questions or professors often decline to comment for stories. This struggle is compounded by the fact that stacks of the newspaper get thrown away, sometimes accidentally but also occasionally on purpose, and we must fish the papers out of the trash.
With so much work and little visible reward, I have, at times, questioned whether I should continue to devote time and energy to this project. I have been tempted to prematurely pass on the job to a younger student with a fresher spirit, not laden with the pessimism I have acquired over the years.
However, I have realized I simply have to change my attitude about success in order to see the true purpose of writing for the Rover, or of fighting to preserve Notre Dame’s Catholic identity in any way. Success is not, as is commonly believed, measured by the extent of our influence. Instead, it should be measured by the good we can do for another.
This false notion of success is programmed into our minds at Notre Dame. We are told that we attend one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the world. Because of this fact, we must be prepared to go out into the world and solve some of the most pressing issues of our day, such as water pollution or the building of bridges.
This idea of success is perpetuated by the countless emails we receive from the Career Center giving us tips for “success” and our excessive emphasis on job placement after graduation. The university perpetuates this careerist mentality by equating success with landing high-paying jobs or obtaining positions of authority with the idea that students will be poised to make sweeping change in the world.
Unfortunately, this deceptive view of success fundamentally misunderstands our role as human persons in communion with one another and our ultimate end in God. For this reason, to talk of success is in itself limiting. Rather we should speak about our true fulfillment.
Success as a fulfillment of our true purpose is not an individual endeavor but requires union with others also journeying toward our true end in perfect union with God and the blessed saints in the Kingdom of Heaven. To that end, “success” is about growing in faith and aiding others in their own relationships with God through our love.
When efforts at campus activism seem unsuccessful because they fail to attract large crowds and make little difference to the campus at large, we must remember not to judge the outcome by the common standards of progress. We are victorious if in these endeavors, we allow God’s grace to work through us to change just one heart or win just one soul for God.
I received a strong reminder of this truth a few weeks ago after teaching a Catechism class for high school students preparing to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. After class each week, it often seems that I have utterly failed because most of the students do not participate in class and seem to care little about learning the faith. The weight of the subject matter and its relevance to their lives of faith compounds my failure.
One day, though, a student approached me after class and confided in me about her problems of faith and family and shared several stories with me. I am not sure what I did to deserve her confidence, but I know it was not because of some clever activity I cooked up for class that day. I was able to help her because I allowed the Holy Spirit to work through me and witness to the love of God.
Small moments such as this one can reorient our goal toward changing hearts rather than “changing the world” and give us a cause for hope when our labors seem futile. While we may not change the world through “preserving our heritage,” “understanding our history,” “precision medicine,” or “clean water,” in the way the university advertised during the football season, we can change the world for one person simply by offering her the love of Christ.
There is nothing wrong with the type of success Notre Dame advertises, but the problem arises when this success is improperly prioritized above outwardly simpler acts of charity.
The world does need Notre Dame students to become diplomats who negotiate peace between warring nations or doctors who develop cures for deadly diseases. However, with so much attention on these larger temporal problems, the university forgets those little flowers who may not achieve worldly success but have fulfilled their call to love others, which is in itself no small task.
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux sums up this sentiment in the philosophy of her “Little Way” with which she asserts that some of us are not made to accomplish great deeds in this world, but rather are called to love God in the way he has laid out for us. In her autobiography The Story of a Soul she writes of the little flowers, “but He has also created little ones, who must be content to be daisies or violets, nestling at His feet to delight His eyes when He should choose to look at them. The happier they are to be as He wills, the more perfect they are.”
With intense focus on temporal success, Notre Dame students are pressured to neglect our purpose to change hearts through our witness to the love of God. We must banish this notion of success, as it can lead to despair when we measure the amount of good we do by the standards of the world.
So, in spite of the difficulties and little reward, I continue to write for the Rover hoping that maybe just one of my articles will help one person think about a topic in a new way and lead them to truth. And, with this hope in mind, I will continue digging the paper out of the trash every time I see it.
Hailey Vrdolyak lives in a room not fit for a federal penitentiary. Don’t visit her, please, unless you want to sit on the floor. Email her instead at email@example.com.