Sunday, March 30, 2008

Faith Journey part deux

So my time in college is when my faith really starts to develop, for my years in grammar and high school, I was really just following the motions of what was done before me and of what was expected of me. So college really was the first place for my faith to be tested, and challenged. All this took place at a "catholic" university no less. More on that later. In case you forgot where I left off, I had just returned from WYD in Paris.

Thus I began my Seton Hall days on a religious high and in a matter of seconds was taken off it. I moved in a week after everyone, classes had already started, and I had missed the first day of most of my classes. The director of campus ministry had sent a letter to me, granted Fr. Jim probably sent a form letter inviting all incoming freshmen to stop by campus ministry. Once again I heard my mom say, "He seems nice, go find that priest." Mom was right, Fr. Jim was nice, but it would not be Fr. Jim that I would connect to; it would be the nutty Irish one that was placed in the corner by the door, the 'young priest', Fr. Sheridan aka Fr. Bill.

I filled out the Campus Ministry survey card given to me during a class one day, and I checked off nearly every box; retreats, meetings, Small Christian Communities, being a lector, greeting at Mass, RCIA and whatnot. I handed in the card and left it at that. I did search out a group called Seton Hall United For Life (SHUFL) the pro-life club/organization on campus. Looking back I realize that I thought it was strange that a Catholic school would need a pro-life organization, shouldn’t the whole campus be pro-life, little did I know that this little organization would help shape my faith and life and how many times I would continue to ask myself the question, “aren’t we Catholic?” This begins the "I need to find my faith section of my life." My first semester at SHU seemed ok; I was home most weekends so I still had my Fr. Geno (FG) Masses. I missed being home; I missed being a part of my St. Anthony's family, but things would soon change there.

At some point during the first few weeks of the semester, Pete, the grad assistant for Campus Ministry would invite my future roommate and I to a Small Christian Communities (SCC) meeting. There we sat all 7 of us around a table, a long rectangle, not a normal square or circle table, but one of those long ass board room tables. Long story short there was a knock on the door and in blew, and I mean blew Fr. Bill. Here was this young priest in regular clothes; you know jeans and a t-shirt. I thought, wow, “another crazy priest”, as Fr. Bill reminded me of Fr. Geno and well SCC aka Small Christian Communities was starting off the way youth group did, small and with 7 people. Thus began my Campus Ministry journey.

Let me add that these two priests would shape my life more than I or them probably realized at the time. Fr. Geno on a retreat before my senior year, "you're going to be the loud one next year." I honestly thought the man was nuts, I still do, but that push was all I needed to get out of my shell somewhat, I'm still working on it, but when people want to know why I am the way I am, I just say "blame Fr. Geno." Seriously, since that comment I have watched myself say and do things to defend the Church that I don't know if I would have been able to without that push to be the "loud one." I only mention FG here, because as you'll see Fr. Bill is mentioned throughout the college years. Back to our regularly scheduled rundown of my faith journey.

Walking into the cafeteria one day I was greeted at the door by “Rocky” asking me, “you ever been on a retreat?” The rest of the conversation when like this: me: “yes, Rocky.” Rocky: “good you're going on one again.” Fr. Bill happened to be standing next to Rocky and after they “twisted my arm” I was going on my first SHU retreat. On the retreat I would see just how similar FG and Fr. Bill were in style, and that Fr. Bill and I have a common background and interests. It was on the retreat that I would meet more friends and other like me. The campus ministry retreats would shape my life in many ways, allowing me to find my gifts and talents for retreat talks and planning retreats and other events, and some of them led to my evil ways, such as the Ron & Mary room from one retreat. Fr. Bill had asked Ron to type up/create the tags for the rooms, and I happened to walk in to Campus Ministry when Ron was doing this, and something inspired us to make a Ron & Mary room. I can still hear Fr. Bill in the hallway of the Ringwood retreat center, “RON! (elongated pause) MARY!” This little room incident would show me that you always need to have a sense of humor and the ability to laugh as things can go crazy in a matter of seconds.

Because of that post card that I filled out for Campus Ministry, I got a call from Renee asking if I wanted to be a part of the RCIA process as a sponsor. I said sure, all that was required of me was to attend an hour long class with my candidate and Mass on Sunday with the RCIA group. The Mass happened to be Fr. Bill's Mass, and I had learned from the Wednesday Masses, that I like Fr. Bill's Masses. I was roped into the Wednesday Masses by SHUFL, a group of about 4 or 5 people who think abortion /is wrong, it’s also where I met most of my friends at SHU. It still amuses me that on a Catholic campus the most we would get for the pro-life organization was 10 people. SHFUL met weekly on Wednesdays, and once a month met after the 12pm Mass to say the Rosary on the Green. This was introduction to Fr. Bill's masses, I liked them, and Adoration followed Mass on Wednesday which becomes more important later on. God works with what we give Him, so He has to hit me upside the head before I get it.

Back to the post card and RCIA; there I was sitting in these classes as a sponsor, which meant I should know how to be Catholic, I was confirmed after all. I sat there and was dumbfounded that I couldn't remember the Corporal works of mercy, shhh, I probably still can't name them all, but that's not the point. The point is that I used to know all of them, all the things used at Mass, all the Vestments that the priest wore, and lots of other things. I did have Catholic grammar school education; I wanted to know where all that knowledge went; why I didn’t remember all of this stuff. Old age hadn't set in yet, I wanted to know how I had forgotten it. I didn’t really forget it, it just got shifted to the back part of my brain as I didn't need religion knowledge anymore, I was from a public high school, no religion class there. Youth group helped me be religious, and reminded me how to live life, but I was floored that I had forgotten all my religion class info. I soon found out that I didn't forget it, so what if I can't name everything, I can for the most part, I was learning to live my life as a Catholic and not just go through the motions and call myself Catholic and not do anything. Youth group had shown me that being 'religious' could be fun and well now I was beginning to see, how being 'religious' would be a part of my life. The rest of my first semester continued on nicely, and soon it was time to come home for Christmas. I was happily back at St. Anthony's; I was back home, but SHU was growing on me little by little, as it does.

The following would be the moment I could describe as my "conversion moment" or my "aha moment" as Oprah calls it. I wouldn't realize just yet what was happening to me or around me until much later, and still today I wonder why it happened. My answer is usually "if it happened to teach my to love my faith and make me love the Catholic Church, then so be it, after all God does know what He is doing."

Over Christmas break I joined the college group at St. Anthony's on a ski trip to the Poconos. On the trip we re-lived some memories of youth group and some of us had to be told how to use a sled by a mother who was sledding with her child, who helped out the group of college students who were standing there trying to figure out what to do, she nicely told us we had the sleds upside down. I can only imagine the conversation she had about us later on. The nights of the trip were spent doing good old youth group stuff: music, prayer, Confession, games and just plain old bs-ing. This trip holds more memories than I realized, the conversations in Burger King about lacrosse being better than rugby, cards games and busting each other’s chops in one of our rooms, and little did I know it would be the last time that particular group would get together. It was soon time to return back to SHU and I was actually happy to be going back. The SHUFL trip to the March for Life was coming up, this would be a first for me, and the RCIA retreat was coming up too. So things were looking good and I was happy.

It may seem strange to have such a secular event in my faith journey, but so much happened in January of 1998, that the ski trip of December 1997 would be ingrained in my memory as a last of sorts. The ski trip is not the conversion moment, but what follows is, and despite how many times I have spoken about it and written about it, it still send a knife through my heart.

The March for Life took place, the RCIA retreat took place, it was a busy weekend for me so I stayed at SHU, there was no reason to come home just for a few hours on Sunday or so I thought. The Sunday after the March and retreat, I received a phone call that would change my life. It was January 25, 1998; the words, "Gary was killed in a car accident last night" still send a shiver down my spine and tears to my eyes. I wanted to be home, I had to be home, I wanted to be back at St. A's with my friends, I wanted to back on that ski trip with Gary and everyone else, because it was normal and not even a month away. I called some friends to make sure they knew, and then I called home from the hallway as to not disturb my roommate. So my dad came to get me and I don't even remember if I made it to Mass, I'm sure I did, I’m pretty sure we had Mass on the retreat. Anyway, I didn't know what to do; all I wanted to do was to be home, at St. Anthony's. Fr. Geno had a prayer service that night at St. A’s, and the first thing that happened was hugs, just hugs and tears on the steps of St. A’s. I remember St. A's that night was packed with people I went to high school with, some faces I had never seen in church. FG managed a way to comfort all of us, and I returned to SHU in a very confused state of mind. I would return home later on during the week to say good-bye at the wake, where the line was wrapped around the parking lot, the whole thing sill vivid in my mind even when I go to another funeral at Browning-Forshay, I still think, man Gary had both rooms and it still wasn't enough to hold us. Now that's a sign of love, the funeral home wasn't big enough to hold everyone.

Here would begin my “what the hell am I doing” stage of my faith. For the first time in my life I would question God, His motives, and wonder why I was Catholic. Gary's death threw me for a loop; I had never been to a funeral of someone my age, let alone a friend before. I had known of friends of a friend who died tragically, but I didn’t know them personally, so it didn’t affect me too much. Now I was away from St. Anthony's where I wanted to be, where I felt safe, and where I knew I wasn't the only one feeling sad. Alas, I had to head back to SHU, even though I didn’t really want to, live for me had to continue on. I hid my thoughts and pain from most of my friends at SHU, because there honestly was nothing they could do for me, and honestly it was only the 2nd semester for most of us, so we were still adjusting to college life. Fr. Bill somehow could see through me, or I was able to be completely open and honest with him. I remember sitting in his office, asking, “where's my faith, how could this happen, why did this happen?” Father's response was, “don't ask why, ask how, what can come from this?” I honestly thought Fr. Bill was crazy, but I trusted him, and I did take his advice. Sounds like what I said about another priest before. That piece of advice comes up to this day when I have to deal with something out of the ordinary. That spring semester, I would do things I never thought I would do; join a sorority and drink but it, drinking, didn't bother me too much. I was a legal adult at 18, and promised myself I’d never get drunk, as it was a drunk driver that killed Gary. To this day I know my limits with alcohol and stick to them. I would find myself at Adoration on Wednesdays, it helped that I signed up to spend an hour at Adoration. There were some weeks where I did more praying than others, and some weeks when I did no praying, there were times where I yelled at God inside my brain, and weeks when I would just write stuff down in a journal. Something was happening here and I didn't know what, yet. Again God works with that you give Him, and I’m as stubborn as they come, slowly He was bringing me to Him and His Son in the Most Blessed Sacrament.

Now I can't leave you with such a down part of my faith journey, so I'll end with my thoughts on what I consider to be a wonderfully Catholic University, Franciscan University of Steubenville. Again I state God works with what we give Him, and Steuvenville would be a light in the darkness for me.

Summer flew past, as I spent most of it working as a member of the custodial staff of a NYC public high school where my dad work as part of the custodial staff, so when they needed people to help clean in the summer, the employees’ children were given preference. Despite working most days from 6am-3pm, cleaning up after some nasty students and teachers I was able find time to venture with Campus Ministry to this place called Franciscan University of Steubenville. My mom at some point during my first year at SHU mentioned this Franciscan College to me, she had probably heard of it from EWTN, after all it’s either EWTN or QVC that she has on. Sure enough I found myself on a bus ride out to Steubenville, and when I returned I said, “MOM, WHY didn't you tell me about Steubenville before, it's awesome!” I didn't transfer to Steubenville though I thought about it for a few minutes; I stayed at SHU, because God had plans for me there. Franciscan University will probably come in later, after God smacks me upside the head a few more times with the idea of going there, or of doing Distance Learning for a class or two to see what it’s like.

The conferences at Steubenville, would find the closest charismatic in me, and also help me find the traditionalist in me. A charismatic traditionalist, there's something you don't hear about every day. Steubenville would be where my love of Catholic t-shirts would come about, and I certainly have a decent collection of them, and when I wear them I always get nice comments on them. I remember sitting at Mass on the first day of the conference seeing all of these shirts that had THE EUCHARIST on the back. I thought what the hell are they wearing? I soon found my Top Ten Reasons to Stay Roman Catholic tee and I still have it and love it. :) I would go on to find Dr. Scott Hahn and his writings there as well. He is one of my favorite Catholic writers because his books aren't these massive theological books, but books the normal person can read, yet are full of theology. I would also find Jeff Cavins there, and from the looks of it, I’ll be using his Bible study at my parish, so I’m sure Jeff will help shape my faith too. Steubenville would show me that being Catholic was cool, and that I wasn't alone in it. Other events helped with this too, but I always looked forward to my trips to Steubenville, they are the only school that I know of when they call for money and even if you say no, I can't afford anything right now; they say "Do you have any prayer requests?" Yeah, I still wonder why I never went there.

There's more to say about Steubenville, but I don't know where to start. I'm hoping to go to the Bible Conference (maybe I can convince my parish to pay for that one, but that requires me having the courage to admit I don't have enough money, though I probably do, to go on it) and the Defending the Faith Conference. As you will see I am a proponent of Young Adult Ministry, but it needs to be done right. My parish is a wonderful place, but it needs help in some places, again it takes me having the courage to speak up to my Pastor, and the Holy Spirit keeping the two of us open to each others comments. At. Steubenville I would experience what I think is what a Catholic University should be. I understand that you don't need a Perpetual Adoration chapel or a memorial to the unborn on your campus to make you Catholic, but the school should act Catholic and not forget that it is Catholic. Don't get me wrong I loved my time at Seton Hall, but like most Catholic Colleges and University it needs prayers and work, and I believe that SHU is changing, slowly. The conferences at Franciscan would show me a different side of me, a side that I didn't know existed, the "Bible thumpin', pew jumpin', hands in the air Catholic" as a member of the RCIA program would call us. There is no way to actually explain what Fransiscan University has done for me, and that's only through 3 young adult conferences, and I understand that the classroom is completely different, but I have a feeling I'll be there for my graduate studies, since it seems that SHU's grad school and I are not meant to be.

I'll leave you off here, to come back later when I talk about Youth 2000 and CFRs.

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