At times, life is terribly difficult to discern and navigate through, but that is probably even more true at a time when nothing is yet decided and there is so much to be done—a position I find myself in at this moment as a college student. Dante’s Commedia opens with the image of losing the right path of life and being lost in a dark wood. When we forget why we are here and what we are doing, we seem metaphorically to be lost in the dark wood of uncertainty, doubt, and confusion.
This weekend, one of my greatest teachers and role models, a Jesuit priest named Father Raymond Fitzgerald, passed away after his battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Fr. Fitz was extremely humble and one of the wittiest, most insightful people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. He not only was the president of my Jesuit high school but also co-taught a seminar class on the works of C.S. Lewis. He was deeply concerned with teaching me and my classmates that we have a purpose in life: to glorify God in all that we do. Every time I asked Fr. Fitz how he was doing, he always responded with “Better than I deserve” or “Better for having met you.” Fr. Fitz eventually revealed, after my class with him had ended during my senior year of high school, that he had been battling ALS and would have to step down as president. He also wanted us to know that his illness would not stop him from trying to serve God as best as he could and to develop relationships with everyone around him.
For many of us, we are in Dante’s dark wood. It seems impossible to find one’s way at times, and we lose sight of what we are meant to do. I find myself in this position often, but we must strive to find the right path. During his talk last Thursday at Notre Dame, Archbishop Chaput said, “Leon Bloy, the great French Catholic convert, once said that—in the end—the only thing that matters is to be a saint. That’s the ultimate task of a place like Notre Dame. It’s not to help you get into a great law school, or to go to a great medical school, or to find a great job on Wall Street, as good as those things clearly are. It’s to help you get into heaven—which is not some imaginary fairyland, but an eternity of life in the presence of a loving God. If you don’t believe that, you’re in the wrong place.”
It is important to realize that, as members of a Christian university, we should be thinking of ways to evaluate ourselves and embody our Christian principles more fully. Sainthood must be the end of a Christian university; there is no other purpose that trumps the need to embrace Jesus’ teaching of redemption and resurrection. This is not an easy task, but it is a task that Notre Dame is called to take seriously across the broad range of disciplines taught here.
I constantly forget that I am here at Notre Dame to become a saint, and while it is true that we often forget that we are in this world to become saints, we must take the pursuit of sainthood seriously in the culture here at Notre Dame. We must remind ourselves constantly that the human person must be protected and loved, that love is the uniting principle that brings the beautiful, diverse community of Notre Dame together, and that the most important task of a Catholic university, in the words of Blessed Basil Moreau, is to make God known, loved, and served, and thus save souls.
Fr. Fitz knew that the purpose of education is to develop our Christian vocation, and that is exactly how we should approach the issues facing our lives and the issues facing this university. While Notre Dame contains an inclusive environment of many different people, we must still fight to discover and serve the common good, a vocation that ultimately enables us to serve God. Our time here at Notre Dame has to be a period of developing the skills and dispositions necessary for sainthood for the rest of our lives.
Fr. Fitz lived his life in service and gratitude to God, and his example teaches me that my time here must be about learning how to say “yes” to God in everything I do. When explaining his diagnosis to me and my classmates, Fr. Fitz said, “And so the longer-term future will be what it is. This day, each one of us has a task in becoming the person that God calls us to be today. Let us now be about this task.”
Let us be about our task of making Notre Dame a place for developing into saints, beginning in our lives and relations with everyone we encounter.
Brendan Besh is a coffee connoisseur who is from Stanford Hall and originally from Louisiana. When he isn’t trying to recreate a Platonic dialogue with his annoyed friends, he is usually running pointless errands or trying to figure out if he is in the Matrix. He is a PLS major with an Italian Studies supplementary major, and you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.