“Understanding Catholicism” invites curious students to learn about the Faith

Campus Ministry provided a “first encounter” with the Catholic faith for students during its recent Understanding Catholicism event on Tuesday, October 3rd. Students toured the Basilica of the Sacred Heart and a dorm chapel to learn about the universal Church’s mission to live out a personal relationship with Christ within a community of believers. 

The event was led by Brett Perkins, Campus Ministry’s Assistant Director for Evangelization & Religious Education. Perkins, himself a convert to Catholicism during his time as a student at the university, began the event by giving participants the opportunity to explore the basilica’s plethora of stained glass windows, liturgical vessels and vestments, and theologically-rich paintings. 

Perkins used the mural of the Trinity, which sits behind the tabernacle, to reveal how the art and architecture of the basilica come together to point to the relationship of love between Father, Son, and Spirit. Participants learned about other pivotal mysteries of the Catholic faith through murals depicting the Annunciation, Visitation, and Nativity of Christ. Perkins emphasized that Jesus Christ’s Incarnation was God’s ultimate action within history to invite us into a relationship: “The Christian faith differs from all other world religions,” Perkins explained, “because God came to seek you out personally in Christ.”

Perkins continued his tour of the basilica, emphasizing the importance of sacramentals, art, and architecture as physical fixtures that symbolize spiritual realities. He invited participants to ponder Blaise Pascal’s proposition that all men and women have a “God-shaped hole in our hearts.” Perkins emphasized that the sanctifying grace essential for filling that hole can be found in the sacraments. Processing to the west end of the basilica, Perkins led the group of around 20 participants to the baptismal font, explaining that Catholics receive healing from their woundedness in the waters of Baptism.

The second segment of the event’s exposition of Catholicism sought to portray the Catholic faith as a family of faith. Cheyenne Schuster, the new rector of Walsh Hall, welcomed participants into its Chapel of the Visitation, allowing them to encounter the central space of worship within Notre Dame residence halls. Schuster commented, “Since dorm chapels are a part of the residence building, we can see how the commitment of faith is a part of our daily lives.” 

Schuster explained that Catholicism calls all of the faithful to an intentional way of living. In the Walsh Hall community, the chapel and its weekly Masses on Thursday and Sunday provide an opportunity for residents to hold each other accountable in living out the faith. Participants viewed stained glass windows and statues depicting the Visitation of Mary with her cousin Elizabeth. In keeping with the lessons they learned from Perkins in the Basilica, they were encouraged to relate the story’s significance to their own journeys of faith.

The event also included witnesses of the personal relationships Notre Dame students had fostered with Christ. One of these witnesses, Maureen Schweninger, a third year student in the Masters of Divinity program, shared her growth in relationship with Christ through her experience teaching high school students in Uganda. 

Traveling abroad to serve a new community, Schweninger worried that few people could relate to her experience as an American in a foreign country. Schweninger recounted that a pivotal moment of grace in her journey occurred when she realized that “Jesus is the only one who can fully understand our experience.” Through her witness, participants learned how the same Jesus is present in every Mass around the world and in the hundreds of Masses that occur on Notre Dame’s campus every week. 

Understanding Catholicism will continue its mission to explore the beauty of the Catholic faith throughout the academic year with upcoming opportunities such as a teaching Mass, encounters with Jesus in Christmas and Easter, and group viewings of the Angel Studios television series The Chosen. If you or a friend would like to become involved with this growing community of people curious about the faith, contact Brett Perkins at brett.perkins@nd.edu

Daniel Schermerhorn is a senior theology and computer engineering student who enjoys discussing the writings of Augustine and broomball tactics. If you have any tips on how to run fast on ice, please contact Daniel at dscherme@nd.edu.

Photo Credit: Basilica Gallery

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