Dennis Gallagher writes to us about our spiritual location.
A friend of mine who is a realtor has often said this mantra in obtaining sales: location, location, location! In business being in the right place at the right time seems to make the sale. Knowing your customer and anticipating needs is often the strategy for a good salesperson. To some degree this is true in campus ministry, but more often than not it comes down to Divine Providence and I, as a campus minister, happens to be in the right place for a student in need here at St. John’s.
So what is your location? Wherever it is, stop to listen to your heart, most likely there is someone there who needs something and God will use your gifts and talents to provide.
My role as the Director of Liturgy and Faith Formation also includes being the caretaker of our campus church, St. Thomas More Church. The entrance brings you into the Narthex which illustrates through beautiful mosaics the Vincentian heritage that invites our students, faculty, staff and visitors to place themselves into this story of Vincent and Louise and to engage with the needs of all who enter, especially the poor. But sometimes I ask myself, “Who is the poor that enter this church?” I’ve come to understand that being poor plainly includes all those who enter who have a need, a need to engage their lives and spirituality, a person who needs to know they are included and we are happy they belong. “A growing community must integrate three elements: a life of silent prayer, a life of service, and above all of listening to the poor, and a community life through which all its members can grow in their own gift.” (Jean Vanier)
So I work in the center of our campus on the Great Lawn in the building with the cross on top. You never know who will come into your office, and so often when you work in a church it attracts those who have a need as it should. In hindsight I see how the hand of God has directed people to my office who sometimes simply need that kind, listening ear. I can never anticipate what the need will be but the key of what most students need is for someone to give them the time to listen. To be the active listener is key to my ministry as it helps the seeker to know God is with them and through my caring to take the time to listen. Then they can come to realize how God is caring for them. Wow, to be an agent of God’s Divine Providence is pretty powerful. Vincent de Paul guides me in these instances when he reminds me that “God demands first the heart…then the work.” Louise de Marillac extorts me, “to be thankful for the care which Divine Providence takes of you by providing you with all that is necessary.” When a student comes into my office and asks, “Do you have some time? I need someone to talk to.” I sometimes get nervous and think to myself and pray, “Lord, give me the attention and right words needed for this person.”
It’s always something so different each time a student comes in talk. Whether it is a veteran who needs help to get help from a VA hospital, a student who is distraught over being dismissed from a graduate program, another just hearing about the death of her father in another country, a housing issue where a young man is looking for a place to live temporarily and surprisingly for those who say, “I’m hungry and I don’t have money for food.” The needs are varied and it’s at these moments where I believe Vincent gives me the courage to trust that God will provide for both of us in this act of loving-kindness: listening in conversation.
Also, there are those students who come in and say, “are you the guy who can help me become Catholic? “ One of my roles is as the Director of the R.C.I.A. (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) program here on campus. It comprises of about 20 students each year who either are Catholic and want to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation or are new to the church and are seeking full initiation. What is exciting are the conversations I have with these students before the program begins, to listen to their stories and how do they feel God is engaging them at this point on their life journey.
I love being a catechist and facilitator for the R.C.I.A. program, as to walk with a student as they come to faith and understand how God is actively engaging them in a personal relationship. A few years ago, one student came and simply said, “In China I might not be thinking of this but being here at St. John’s there is something special about how everyone is with each other, they seem so happy, I want some of that.” This student had come to St. John’s to study, had found himself in a very difficult, stressful living situation and felt broken, insecure and couldn’t understand how this had happened. A friend of his encouraged him to come with her to our Sunday night Mass to find peace. He came to Mass with her for several weeks, and realized he was being called to this community, to a place centered in faith, hope and love. His need was for hope and love, faith came later after he engaged with the R.C.I.A. and church community for the year and slowly came to believe and value his prayer life that gave him the grace of faith.
Other students have come to receive the Sacraments of Initiation because when they were younger their parents didn’t foster any close ties to the church and the secular society was their worldview. What changed is the engagement with many different people and opportunities that St. John’s invites students into a relationship with each other, with God and with as Vincent encourages “look to see the presence of Christ within each other, especially the poor.” What’s positive is that the St. John’s Community didn’t just talk about faith, right from the beginning it invites students to engage with others in need, both on campus and off, to know your actions speak louder than words and that love and hope come from actively giving of yourself for the good of the other. Jean Vanier expresses this Vincentian charism; “we are not called by God to do extraordinary things, but to do ordinary things with extraordinary love.” Vincent encourages all of us to live “inventive love,” our talents and gifts always have something to offer to anyone in need, and with others we can organize together to build up our university community that fosters, faith, hope and love for everyone.
Our campus church is open all day from 7:00am to 10:30pm. Students, faculty, staff and community members come in for Mass but also to spend time alone in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. I’m often impressed how this routine is a need for people’s daily lives. It’s so convenient for me to pray in the church, my office is located here! But for people to come out of their way for a visit to pray, think, and find a peaceful moment in this place of peace is impressive. As I do my work in the church I often see students from various faith traditions, praying here and appreciating this sacred space. Often, I will sit in the pews with them, to pray in solidarity for whatever their intentions may be. All of us need someone to pray for us, and it is central to my ministry to let students know I’m praying for them as well.
So what is your location? Wherever it is, stop to listen to your heart, most likely there is someone there who needs something and God will use your gifts and talents to provide. Vincent and Louise encourage us to listen to our hearts first, and then let God direct our actions.