Challenges and Gifts for the Community

The University of Notre Dame continued its long-standing tradition of gathering students, faculty, and staff together for the Opening Mass of the Holy Spirit to mark the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year. University President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., presided and gave the homily for the Mass, which took place at Purcell Pavilion on August 21.

Prior to the opening prayer, Fr. Jenkins addressed the clergy sex abuse scandal that has racked the American Church. He shared how much pain the recent reports from Pennsylvania and elsewhere have brought to him and the other priests gathered to concelebrate the Opening Mass, “whose commitment can seem so tarnished, so soaked in filth, by those who so badly abused it.” He explained the sadness he felt upon learning of “members of Catholic institutions perversely exploiting the vulnerable and corrupting the young.”

Using the analogy of bishops as shepherds, Fr. Jenkins described how the findings have been “appalling because some bishops, shepherds called to protect the flock, seemed often to have opened the gates to let the wolves prey on the sheep, and seem sometimes to have done more to protect the wolves than the sheep.” He stressed the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend’s and Notre Dame’s solidarity with the victims, as well as their commitment to fostering environments of safety and protection. He asked the congregation to join him in praying for the graces to heal wounds within the Church, recalling that “where sin abounds, there grace abounds all the more” (Rom 5:20), and in offering the mass for victims of abuse and the prevention of any future abuse.

In his homily, Fr. Jenkins stressed the importance of using our God-given gifts in service to the greater community instead of only using them for our own benefit. Fr. Jenkins drew upon the thirteenth chapter of the First Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians in order to convey this message. Fr. Jenkins described the struggles of the nascent church in Corinth which had fallen into disarray due to factions that adhered to different leaders and often took each other to court. He also explained that disparities in socioeconomic status threatened to fracture the community’s Eucharistic celebrations.

For Fr. Jenkins, the most concerning vice of the Church in Corinth was boasting of spiritual gifts within the fractured community. He believes that arrogance surrounding individual gifts is indicative of the vice of personal pride and a desire to raise oneself above others. He spoke about the “zero-sum logic of human pride—[that] ‘my light shines brighter if I can dim the lights of others in people’s eyes’”—and called such behavior poison for both individuals and the community as a whole.

Father Jenkins contrasted this destructive behavior with St. Paul’s vision for the community in Corinth—one body with many parts that each offer something unique for the health of the body. The way to promote this type of unity is to view our gifts as from God and not just for our own benefit, but for the community as a whole.

Father Jenkins referred to the goals of Notre Dame as diverse and inclusive, but stressed that while the rights of the individual are to be upheld and promoted, they must never come at the cost of the community that the university strives to uphold. He reminded the congregation that “we can tend to see our abilities, our talents, our skills as designed for our own fulfillment, for our own good, but Paul encourages us to find our fulfillment, our happiness, in contributing to the wider community.”

Incorporating the analogy of the good soil from the parable in the Gospel of Luke proclaimed during the Liturgy of the Word, Fr. Jenkins explained the need for our community to provide this “good soil” and recognize the gifts each member brings so students can truly grow. He recounted a story about a first-year student who was very dissatisfied with the lack of community and support she was experiencing at Notre Dame, saying that she “felt Notre Dame had failed her.”

When she told Fr. Jenkins more of her story, he discovered that she had a very challenging childhood living in foster homes while serving as her younger sister’s primary caregiver. Unfortunately, she could not afford the cell phone bills to stay in touch with her sister. This obstacle was identified and removed by ensuring she was able to pay the necessary bills, and by the time this student reached her senior year, she felt at home at Notre Dame and ultimately “flourished” in the good soil provided for her.

Father Jenkins concluded by challenging the community to ask God for the disposition necessary to be generous with the gifts and talents they have been given, and he expressed his dream that “Notre Dame be a place where our gifts serve others, where the gifts of all may flourish and bear fruit.”

Mackenzie Kraker is a senior studying biochemistry and theology. She lives in McGlinn Hall, but lived off campus while working in a research lab this summer and much to the surprise of her family did not perish due to malnutrition or frugality or any other trials and travails of “adulting.”