Fr. Jenkins addresses students and faculty at 2016 Opening Mass
A variety of familiar events and emotions marks the beginning of each school year. The university’s opening Mass, though not laced with the same anxieties as Welcome Weekend’s Domerfest, nor with the same anticipation as the first home football game, summons students and faculty of all ages, colleges, and departments around the Eucharistic table. Together, members of the Notre Dame community have the opportunity to receive grace and strength from this sacrament, gifts that no other beginning-of-the-year event can supply.
Held in the Edmund P. Joyce Center in the evening of the first day of classes, the Mass began with a lengthy and impressive procession of students, faculty in academic regalia, and clergy attired in red vestments. Several university choirs, accompanied by the Notre Dame Band, played a selection of liturgical music. University President Father John Jenkins, CSC, preached the homily.
Fr. Jenkins’ statements reflected the necessity of placing a higher valuation on faith than on temporal pursuits in what he described as an “anxious and uncertain world.”
“As important as it is to buy our books and supplies, complete our class syllabi, and prepare lectures,” he counseled, “it is equally important to invoke God to send the Holy Spirit into our minds and hearts as we begin this new academic year.”
The alternative is dangerous, Fr. Jenkins noted. In prioritizing academic success over faith, we can, unwittingly, become unmindful of our ultimate, eternal destiny as human beings in our daily lives. “We come from God … we will return to God,” he explained. Thus, in light of this eschatological hope, our lives must reflect a desire to discover and follow the movements of the Holy Spirit so that we might transform ourselves and society.
We should not, however, underestimate the challenge of discerning God’s will in our lives. Drawing inspiration from addresses by John Quincy Adams and Abraham Lincoln, Fr. Jenkins suggested that we must approach discernment with humility, recognizing that although we might not know God’s plan with certainty, we can nevertheless be faithful.
“Often, those who seem to be most sure that they know God’s purposes do the most damage,” he said. “But what are we to do, then? How are we to do God’s will in this world if we are uncertain about what God’s will in the world is and how we are to help in bringing it about?”
Fr. Jenkins sought the answer to this question, which is particularly familiar to college students struggling to be attentive to the movements of grace in their own lives, in 19th-century British convert to Catholicism and theologian Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman.
“Newman, like Lincoln, is skeptical that he can know God’s purpose in the world or even in his own life. He urges that we strive simply to be faithful to God and trust that He will use our actions for important service, some valuable mission, even if we do not fully understand what that mission is.”
He continued, “But if we have faith, we need not presume that we must understand the larger plan of bringing about God’s purposes, nor certainly, that we must accomplish them by our own efforts. We should pray for the humility to live a good and just life, and trust that God will have us serve the purposes we should do.”
How can the Notre Dame student body better prioritize faith? How can we lead lives that are “good and just” amid the challenges and uncertainties of seeking God’s will in our lives? Precisely by gathering as we did to mark the beginning of the semester around the source and summit of Christian life.
In an August 2015 article published in the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy’s blog Oblation, theology Professor Timothy O’Malley addressed the class of 2019. He wrote, “[I]t is precisely in the midst of beginning one’s college career that we most need the Eucharist. We need to be present at the altar on a regular basis so that we can offer to the risen Lord the sorrows and joys that accompany the earliest days of college. We need the familiar ritual of the Eucharistic Prayer in the midst of a life in turmoil. We need to practice gratitude for all that we receive each day as a student, all that we are learning.”
By refusing to be overcome by the mundane anxieties of day-to-day life, and, ultimately, by fixing our hearts and minds on the “eschatological hope” that Fr. Jenkins described, “we already unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life, when God will be all in all,” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1326).
Nicole O’Leary is a junior theology and history major living in McGlinn Hall. She also dabbles in Italian. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.