Well, this is going to be different.
For returning students, your college experience this year will not resemble your past.
For new students, your expectations and hopes for the traditional college experience will have to wait for safer days.
Until then, we are faced with a great challenge. Yet in this challenge, we find opportunity.
There are many emotions that you will feel as you and your faculty transition to remote learning. Your interactions with peers and mentors will be virtual, and while you can still accomplish your goals, we all recognize that it is not the same.
Your generation has done more community service than any generation prior. Perhaps this year, your greatest act of service will be discipline.
Discipline in the form of wearing your mask and keeping your distance- to protect you and your community. Catching this powerful virus might not change your life, but it might change the life of your family, or your classmates’ family, as well as your faculty, administrators, and staff who call your community home.
This discipline brings sacrifice- and much of this will go unseen and unrecognized, and in fact, you might also be challenged and misunderstood. There will be temptations to go to parties, to break safety protocol, and to ignore best health practices. I truly can’t imagine how difficult this will be for you.
In moments of doubt, keep returning to science. Wearing a mask helps, as does social distancing.
In these moments of doubt, you can also return to faith. I am reminded of the temptations Jesus faced in the desert before he started his earthly ministry (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, and Luke 4:1-13). During this time dedicated to be isolated and alone with God, He wrestled with earthly temptations to satisfy his hunger, His ego, and His need to belong and to be loved. Jesus understood this time of isolation as key to building up His spiritual strength before He served.
We are all called to do the same.
This act of love will help us not only return to a traditional college experience, but it will secure that many more will still be here to accompany you and others on future journeys.
After Jesus faced these temptations, scripture tells us that the angels came and ministered to Him. There are many “angels” in your campus community who are here to accompany you. You do not have to face this year alone. Let us support you by listening and helping you carry your burdens.
There is also an opportunity that lies within the purpose of higher education.
This whole experience is one of self-growth and social change. Your education intends to form and transform you so when you enter into the next chapter of your life, you have not only the degree, but a greater sense of self and knowledge to change the world.
And there is much to change.
The injustices are many, and the pandemic brought them into the light. You can change these realities. We will do this together, and in many ways, we will follow your lead.
As anthropologist Margaret Mead reminds us, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Use this time to build your tool kit, to grow networks, to humbly learn, and to try and fail. Invite God into this experience and listen. God gave you unique gifts and talents to not only bring joy and peace into your life, but God also provided you these strengths to transform lives.
In other words, this is the time to answer prayers.
A closing thought:
One of the most beloved and adored figures in human history is St. Francis of Assisi. He is the subject of innumerable autobiographies and studies. Did you know that is was during a time of self-isolation that his life shifted from ordinary to extraordinary?
He was taken captive during war and fell severely ill, forcing him to remain isolated and distant from loved ones on several occasions. It was during these pauses in his life where he discovered his vocation. From dreams of being a great solider, he uncovered a call to serve those most in need, to understand what frightened him, and to find God in all living things and beings.
Those different days invited him to pray, to listen, to be silent, and to learn.
This same invitation is set before you as your academic year begins.
St. Vincent de Paul wrote, “love is inventive to infinity.”
Allow these different days to re-imagine your life, to reconnect with God, and to love others by creating a more just world. Be inventive and create a new reality for yourself and for others.
Yes, this academic year will be different. Let’s pray that when it ends, we and our communities will also be changed for the better.
Dr. Jimmy Walters is the Director of Catholic Scholars and Residence Ministry, and a Faculty member in the Institute for Core Studies and the Graduate School of Education, at St. John’s University in Queens, New York.
“I’m stuck dad.”
These words came from Shea, my almost 4-year old daughter, as she lifted herself off the step stool to see her reflection in the mirror earlier this morning. Holding on to the top of the dresser and not feeling the stool underneath, she started to panic.
From a few feet away, I could see she was fine. Even if she fell, she wasn’t more than a foot off the ground.
From her perspective, she was “stuck” and she needed a helping hand. Her moment of joy in seeing her matching bow and dress quickly transformed into fear. She could no longer see the divine spark in her reflection.
In today’s Gospel reading from Matthew, Peter finds himself stuck as well. He is literally walking on water toward Jesus, but as soon as he takes his eyes off of the strength of God and starts to focus on the strength of the wind, he begins to sink- that is until Jesus extends his hand.
Jesus then says to Peter, ““O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
How often does God wonder the same about us?
As I watched my daughter today, I almost chuckled as she was so close to the ground, and I was standing right there. I wonder, why did she doubt?
Shouldn’t she know that I would never let her fall.
Do we know that God looks upon us the same way.
In this storm of a year, God is inviting us to trust. We are invited to encounter the divine, to see and perform the miraculous, and to know that God is always there.
Just look in the rearview mirror of your life. In all of the past storms, the moments of chaos and unknown, was God not there, extending God’s hand toward you?
You simply being alive right now, with a cup overflowing with blessings, should be enough to never doubt the goodness of our God.
This doesn’t mean life isn’t hard- it is.
And this doesn’t mean we should ignore all of the world’s hurt and injustice- rather it should motivate us to be like God for others, to extend our hand to reveal God’s presence to those who could use this reminder.
We are invited once again to trust and to know that even during this storm of a year, God is there.
Matthew tells us that after Peter gets into the boat, the wind calms. The same occurs for us when we are in relationship with our Creator.
As I watched Shea hang a foot off the ground, my fatherly wish was that she would not worry as I was there. I would never let her fall.
Jesus thought the same thing as Peter walked toward Him on water.
He says the same to us today – “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
The invitation to enter the boat of life with God at our side is ours to finally accept.
For this past week, onInstagram, I have been inviting this virtual community (as well as myself) to transform their lives and the lives of others.
I often focus on the better utilization of our God-given gifts and talents as a path to living a life that is true to our self.
Another path is presented in the opportunities that unexpectedly develop each and every day- moments to choose to be kind and to love.
These acts of kindness are plentiful, often unseen and unrecognized. In some ways, it is found in simple acts- like holding a door open for someone. I am always stuck how my students recognize this as an important behavior that reflects the greater culture on campus.
In other ways, acts of kindness and love require courage, acting beyond the rules, and loving unconditionally.
One such moment is captured in the video above.
This scene is from a 2014 Garth Brooks concert in Minnesota. His fan, Teresa Shaw, received chemotherapy for stage 3 breast cancer earlier that day, and captures the attention of Garth with a homemade sign, setting up a truly beautiful moment.
What struck me most outside of the emotional looks on Garth’s and Teresa’s faces was the perhaps overlooked kindness of the ushers, the angels in disguise, who first noticed the sign and then moved Teresa closer to the stage so Garth could read her sign.
By their action, inspiration flowed- not just for the tens of thousands at the Target Center that night, but for the millions who have watched this video or heard this story over the past 6 years.
Do they know that their act of kindness changed the world?
Do they realize that their love was multiplied by immeasurable numbers?
They could have smiled, even shed a tear, without moving her as that action was not within their work responsibilities.
It was within their human responsibilities, however. It was an opportunity they took to shine the divine light, transforming lives in the process.
Be on the lookout for opportunities today to love, to go beyond the business of your day, to be kind- to love.
When opportunity knocks, answer the door!
Or as the Book of Proverbs teaches us, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act (3:27).”
The past few nights were different.
My beloved Mets suffered a couple of horrible losses. One could say that I should be used to it by now. What was unfamiliar was how I found myself taking a strange and unusual approach after the final out.
There was no anger, no heartbreak, and no running to the kitchen for comfort.
Instead, I was overwhelmed with gratitude. I was grateful for a game to watch, to be alive and in a blessed position to get lost in it for a few hours, and to appreciate the well-spent evening- even if heartbreaking.
As COVID-19 cases continue to rise across our land, the baseball season feels like a ticking time bomb ready to explode. We simply do not know when the next pitch will be the last.
In watching these games, what doesn’t escape me are the hundreds of thousands who died from the pandemic thus far, the millions unemployed, the incredible amount of trauma we are all facing, the growing number of hungry, abused, and lonely, and the tears and cries for justice and peace that echo in our divided streets.
It is hard to get angry over a ballgame when our world is so wounded and hurting.
In this peculiar season and year, baseball again provides us two life lessons: daily appreciation and the invitation to take our turn at bat.
There is simply no promise of a game tomorrow or another day to live.
We are invited to cherish every inning and hour alike, appreciating the gift before us.
We must also take our swings.
We are called to use our talents to answer prayers. The fake crowd noise will not go wild; instead we will feel a deep sense of purpose as we serve with love.
There will, God-willing, be a day when I will see a game from the stands, hug my family, and see a healing and better world. I might even find myself throwing the remote again after a blown save.
Until then, I will keep trying to serve, to authentically love, and to be grateful for a treasured game and a tremendously blessed life.