Taking advantage of campus’s overlooked gift

I recently finished reading Robert Cardinal Sarah’s autobiographical account of faith, God or Nothing, and was particularly struck by one of its central themes: silence. Throughout his ministry, Cardinal Sarah identifies that the depreciation of silence has, in large part, led to the decline in faith within modern society. “Silence,” he powerfully asserts, “is really the moment where I construct myself as a human being, related to God.”

His reflections on the centrality of silence—both exterior and interior—to a life of prayer, and thus to our integral spiritual formation, seem to me particularly important within the context of university life. Notre Dame, as a Catholic university, makes a commitment to educate the whole person, to form students not only academically but also spiritually. We tend to be more attentive to how Notre Dame, from an institutional perspective, upholds this commitment. But we, as students, also often forget that this is a time for building a profound spiritual foundation. And there are few better places to do so than Notre Dame. 

Think, for instance, of the countless places on campus that were purposefully developed for silence and prayer: the Grotto, the lakes, the Basilica, the multitude of daily Masses, and the chapels in nearly every single building on campus. It is easy for us as students to take these for granted, to overlook how great a gift these places are. Most other college campuses, public or private, are not planned with an eye towards the spiritual development of their students. 

Beyond the spots on campus, the fact that Notre Dame is located in South Bend, and not in a major city, is—beyond an opportunity to focus on academics—an invitation into a kind of retreat from a distracting world, and to cultivate spiritual roots as we prepare to fulfill our Christian vocation.

But, I can’t help but feel that many of us miss that invitation. On the contrary, we seem to want to fill up as much of our days as possible with noise. Most students wear headphones while walking from class to class. Not many of us make time every day exclusively for prayer. From the moment we get up in the morning until that last second of the day, our days seem to be stuffed with work, entertainment, friends, and other activities and responsibilities which—though far from bad in themselves—are nonetheless not God. And, as Cardinal Sarah reminds us: “When we are cut from God, we are lost. It’s like a tree without roots; it’s like a river without fountains. God is our fountain. If we are cut from God, we are lost—and God is silent.” 

It is the same message that has been handed down by the greatest spiritual leaders of the Church: Silence is essential to serious spiritual formation, to interior life. At Notre Dame, we are gifted with an environment deeply conducive to silence and prayer. If we are serious about making the most of these years, about building a deep foundation for the rest of our lives, let us embrace one of Notre Dame’s greatest treasures: the gift of silence.

Nicolas Abouchedid is a junior studying in the Program of Liberal Studies, with a minor in Chinese. He is originally from, and one day hopes to return to, Caracas, Venezuela. He can be reached at nabouche@nd.edu.