Reflections on a Summer of Service, Faith, and Fun

When I stepped into my preparatory theology class for Notre Dame Vision this past spring semester, I did not have the creativity to come up with all the ways in which I would be challenged, changed, and inspired in the following six months. I had never before taken a class that was so focused on recognizing God’s presence in every day and seemingly insignificant moments. We read Saint Augustine’s Confessions, Flannery O’Connor’s vivid and striking stories, and Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son, diving deep into the lives and motives of the saints, characters, and authors. Each piece was written to show how grace may be received into one’s life––whether in the stillness of contemplation, through relationships, or through something violent. Reading all of these different avenues in which grace was at the crux of the story allowed me to find grace, or the deep need for it, in and outside of the books I read. I found myself increasingly shifting where my perspective lied in stories, jumping outside of my own usual thoughts and feelings.

This time in class was very focused on articulating belief–knowing what you believe, standing firmly on it, and expressing your ideas clearly. Being raised Catholic, I know I could recite the Nicene Creed if asked. However, the lectures broke down this long and bold statement, opened my eyes to how important the Creed is, and illuminated the beautiful story that is woven into this declaration. Finally being able to articulate the meaning and implication of what my mouth has said so many times over again left me in amazement.

The season of finals had come and gone, and after a few weeks, I found myself moving back onto campus early for the Music Mentors’ preparation time or, as we fondly called it, boot camp. We had all practiced an hour each week during the spring semester, but once our feet hit the sidewalks on South Quad, we ran. Twelve-hour days rehearsing choral songs, musical numbers, acting out scenes, and eating left evenings for very intentional relaxation time and community. Long, painstaking hours of trying to figure out how Big Blue Moon, the Triangle game, and Snaps worked, impromptu jam sessions in the Pangborn Chapel, euchre, gelato runs, and other fun acting games provided for many moments of pure hilarity and occasionally utter confusion.

At first, musically ministering to the Small Group Mentors and the participants felt like a daunting task. I didn’t want to run out of energy. While I found that some days were much more tiring than others, at the end of each day and week, my heart was full. All my time was spent intentionally. That intentionally gave me a clear purpose, and that purpose required me to be fully present in everything I did. This made it so much easier to see the graces and gifts written on the hearts of those I spent my time with, and this awareness instilled a sense of hope to continue searching for the strongest qualities in those I talked with. When it was harder for me to feel like I was at my best, I had a wonderful and beautifully unique community of mentors to have deep talks with and to lean on.

Our mornings would start with praise and worship music in DeBartolo 101, followed by morning prayer for the Liturgy of the Hours. Different days called for certain musical performances. On Tuesday night, we would gather in the loft of the basilica to sing while participants participated in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I was even fortunate enough to play a song I had written revolving around one of my conversions that occurred after I had gone to Confession. For three days a week, music mentors would perform a musical on a particular parable––this year, The Prodigal Son on Tuesdays, The Unforgiving Servant on Wednesdays, and The Workers in the Vineyard on Thursdays. No matter what song was sung, the style of it, or the energy that it instilled in me, it was all pointed toward God and away from myself. Everyone, in entering into the music sung during ND Vision, was unified in pointing towards a just
and merciful Creator––one who loves with no limitations. Experiencing that kind of unity opened my eyes to the abounding love that is constantly present.

Throughout my time doing Vision this summer, I found that my spiritual life developed greatly. Songwriting became one of my favorite ways to pray, as it allowed me to internalize prayers like the Litany of Trust. I really connected with Saint Vincent de Paul, as one of the marks of his spirituality was simplicity and seeing reality for the way that it is. And occasionally the Holy Spirit would be kind enough to sucker-punch me in the soul when I needed it most, whether through a kind word, a profound keynote speaker, or in my own prayer time. Through my experiences with others this summer, I am convinced that awe and wonder, gratitude, and humility are sure catalysts for holiness.

Now, being back on campus for the fall semester, I have found a deeper sense of home walking from class to class. It has been somewhat of an impossible feat not seeing someone I knew so fondly from the program from week to week, and it has also been a joy to see the connections between old friends and new. Wherever I am, memories from ND Vision layer themselves on top of the views that overlook God Quad, DeBartolo 101, and the Grotto. I am left with a great and anchored feeling of hope that the goodness, beauty, and truth that I had witnessed is continuing to be revealed to others. And my hope is that I am able to do the same for others.

Lauren Rymsza is a Sophomore in McGlinn Hall majoring in Electrical Engineering and intending to minor in Theology. In her free time, she enjoys being a part of the Notre Dame Liturgical Choir, swing dancing, and playing guitar.