A humble guide to navigating an unusual semester
In my first few weeks at Notre Dame I struggled to find my way around. Gone was my one-building high school, with its few hallways organized by department. Now I was on a campus with about 80 buildings, and they all looked the same. Other than my admitted students visit, I had never been to Notre Dame, so I only really knew three buildings: my dorm, South Dining Hall, and the Main Building. The Golden Dome became my north star. Those first few days of class, it was only Mary’s watchful gaze that pointed me on my way. I didn’t even necessarily know where my dorm was, but I knew what the Dome looked like from there and I could find my way back using it as my reference point.
On my second day of class I was heading from Debart to my 9:25 a.m. physics class in Nieuwland Science Hall. Anxious for one of my first days of college classes, I was eager to avoid showing up late. At the time, the Notre Dame app had a poorly designed map with location services that were often inaccurate. I knew the general direction of Nieuwland, but got hopelessly lost on the way there when my map wouldn’t load. After some frantic searching, it was 9:21 a.m. and students started to disappear from the sidewalks. I wanted to ask another student for help, but did not want to come off like another clueless freshman. With just two minutes until class, I offered a frantic “God, help me out here,” and within 20 seconds the map had loaded. I remembered how I had been navigating campus thus far: find the Dome and work from there. I saw Nieuwland’s position relative to the Main Building, looked up at the Dome, and found my way there, slipping into the room right as class was beginning.
Since that disorienting start, Notre Dame has become my home. All the same, the new “normal” on campus often leaves me with the same feeling of disorientation as a senior. This year has been an absolute rollercoaster and it will surely continue to be one, especially as continued participation in in-person classes remains precarious at best. Our abrupt return home in March last semester was devastating, and it was only the beginning. We went from living on a campus, with a Tabernacle in every residence hall and countless Masses being celebrated daily, to near-total lockdown, where we were unable to attend Mass or receive the Sacraments for months. It was a real temptation during that time to feel as though God had abandoned us. The painful longing of those months offers us an invaluable experience. I will certainly never take the Mass or the Sacraments for granted again, and as I return to that season, it is abundantly clear that God was right there with me all along, ever faithful and always present. It was precisely in those moments of doubt and despair during quarantine that He was guiding and deepening my faith, teaching me how to truly believe in Him.
Faced with a year that will look unlike anything any of us expected, I see another opportunity to surrender ourselves to the will of God. Amidst all of the uncertainty, His presence on this campus is definite, and He will continue to pour out graces for those who believe and trust in Him. Just as God remained in control as he submitted to death on the Cross, He remains so now. While the world and country continue to suffer from the virus and its effects, racial injustice, civil unrest, and political polarization, we remember that the Cross remains steady as the world turns.
At times, it may feel like our map — like mine, freshman year — has failed to load. Let us then look up at the Golden Dome, sure that we will find our way and confident that we find atop it our model, Notre Dame Our Mother, steadfast at the foot of the Cross with unshakable faith, her life a daily fiat.
We must be inspired to practice the virtue of hope and follow Mary’s example as a woman of hope. We find unshakeable strength in the promise of the glory of Heaven to those who love God and do His will. As we look up to the Dome, we find great hope and solace in knowing that, as Pope Francis reminds us, “We are not orphans, we have a Mother in Heaven.” Sure of this, we can never fall into the sin of despair, a sin which has a powerful pull today. When we become focused on the end, on our ultimate end, its light radiates through us and overpowers all of the darkness of the world’s problems. Following the example of Mary, with the guidance and intercession of Blessed Basil Moreau, we, the Notre Dame community, must continue to Hail the Cross as our only Hope. We find not an object of darkness and defeat, but a transfigured, eternal sign of promises kept and promises fulfilled. When we start to fall into despair, a powerful temptation right now, let us remember to first look up to the Dome. There we will find Our Lady, and she will teach us how to hope.
One could say I learned the most important lesson that Notre Dame would teach me within the first week of being a student here: find the Dome. No matter where you are, you can find it, and you will no longer be lost. No matter where you are, you can look to Our Lady, and you will find Christ. Let us imitate her then, as students of her university, as we remember to constantly look to her as our guide at Notre Dame and beyond. No matter where we are, we can always see the Golden Dome with her, Notre Dame Our Mother, standing on top. As long as we remain under her mantle, we can never be lost.
Leo is a senior hailing from New York studying electrical engineering. If he’s not hanging out with his friends, he is almost certainly playing Fortnite or Minecraft until two in the morning. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.