“If being human is essentially about relation to God, it is clear that speaking with, and listening to, God is an essential part of it.”
– Pope Benedict XVI
“What am I here for?” We all ask ourselves this question at times, and undergraduate students seem to ask themselves this question all the time. As Christians, this question must take the form of prayer. Accordingly, a Catholic college must encourage a culture of prayer to form students at this crucial stage.
Not only RAs, ARs, and rectors, but professors and administrators should foster relationships with students that center around faith life; the students should be able to see these individuals practicing their faith in attending Mass and praying publicly. Events like de Nicola Center tailgates, which bring together students and faculty, should be more prevalent, because students learn to grow into their vocation as Christians by following the example of those in authority positions over them.
We have a vocation in life—for us right now, that vocation is primarily as a Christian, a student, a son or daughter, a friend. The vocation that undergirds all of these is our vocation as Christians. This means that the basic activity that forms the Christian life—prayer—is the ground of our entire life.
More important than eating, more important than turning in homework, more important than making and maintaining friendships, is our duty (and our innate desire to which this duty corresponds) to foster relationship with God, in whom we “live and move and have our being.” Indeed, we cannot live if we do not pray.
To be sure, the beauty and complexity of Catholic life resides precisely in the fact that we are called to pursue each of these vocations together in an integrated life. God created us to enjoy the good things of the earth, to exercise our faculty of reason, and to live in community, all to the end of glorifying God. But prayer stands at the beginning and the end of all these vocations.
What does this mean for Notre Dame students?
This means that freshmen must find a regular Mass to attend and seek out Catholic community as a first priority upon their arrival on campus. This means that all students must carve out regular, daily time to empty themselves and pour out their soul to God, whether they’re surrounded by good friends, rich community, and intellectual stimulation or constantly in a deep depression that they can’t seem to buck because they don’t have any consistent friends or cannot seem to find their place in the university or in the world.
This means that seniors must give thanks to God for the experiences of their four years at college—both the challenging and the enlivening—amidst the celebration of those years and the anxiety concerning the next years.
When we live like this, the anxiety of the “What am I here for?” can be turned into a hymn of praise: “Thank you that I am here.” And we can let all the other things—social life, schoolwork, and everything else—fall into their proper place.
Vocation is beautifully and excruciatingly individual. Because God creates us, saves us, and loves us as individual persons, He calls us to individual destinies. For some, that calling is to find one’s spouse in college and leave college with a clear understanding of the direction one’s life will take in the next few years. For others, that calling is precisely not to have that certainty, and in lacking it, to have the opportunity to trust in the Lord in a more intimate way than could be imagined otherwise.
This Lent, let us remind ourselves and the University of Notre Dame that our life is a life “hidden with God in Christ,” which alone can sustain us. Visit Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament daily and receive Him as often as possible; strengthened in the divine life, serve the poor and preach with your life of deprivation and simplicity. Show those not of the faith not merely a Catholic neighborhood but the world as it should be.
This Lent, let us return to God in prayer, learning to “pray without ceasing”, so that, in the words of Pope Benedict XVI, “our relationship to God … [is] present as the bedrock of our souls.”
Joshua Gilchrist is a senior nearing the end of his undergraduate study of theology and the Great Books. He hopes to retain his sanity between now and 4pm on Monday, March 6, when his thesis is due. If you have recommendations of restaurants in Paris, send them to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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