It’s quite a perilous thing, being friends with me or being related to me. You never know when you’re going to find a chance encounter or passing comment form the central point of my writing here. Thankfully, there are a few people who have either ignored this warning or simply choose to play the resultant game of chance, and they are all quite dear to me. This is a story about one of such people:
My day a few weeks ago began with a chance encounter in Dag’s during breakfast. I was enjoying my breakfast and working there, as I do every day, when my friend decided to pop by for a quick breakfast before class. This first accidental meeting turned into two, then three, and then a whole week of breakfasts. Now, four weeks into the semester, our morning breakfast debriefs over coffee and a sausage, egg and cheese bagel have not only become custom, but also one of the highlights of my day.
At our first SSPP (Society of Sts. Peter and Paul) meeting of the year, one of the resident Jesuits proposed to our group that our life is defined by seasons, intervals of time that dictate our attitude and behavior. He suggested that, beyond the academic and natural seasons, we live in ought to define the time and seasons we live in through prayer. Of course, he pointed to the Divine Office, the Angelus, and Daily Mass as examples of religious governance in our lives.
Taking a more liberal view of the idea, however, each of our days is structured not just by prayer, but also by our habits and encounters throughout.
While the hours of the Divine Office, and daily mass certainly shape and define my daily schedule, our morning breakfasts have become an added ritual of camaraderie and joy that I would consider equally powerful in defining the tenor of my day.
As Charles Lamb said, “Tis the privilege of friendship to talk nonsense, and to have her nonsense respected.” I am very lucky indeed to indulge in nonsense every day with such dear people!
Hospes Venit, Christus Venit. When a guest comes, Christ comes. That is the inscription centered above the doors of Kimball dining hall, a familiar site for anyone living on the hill. Much like the Hand of Christ statue, on which I reflected over my very first blog post last year, I did not notice this inscription until today, as I was sitting on Fenwick Porch, marveling at the skyline and beauty of this summer day.
Since I moved back onto campus a week early for Kimball Captain training, I have watched as students slowly trickle back onto campus. Soon, everyone will return, and the hill will once again be crawling with life.
I would be failing in my reputation as a nerd, and, as my Snapchat private story boasts, an “unemployed philosopher” if I did not mention that this sentiment reminded me of a segment from John Donne’s Meditation XVII. He states,
“No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less. As well as if a promontory were. As well as if a manor of thy friend’s Or of thine own were: Any man’s death diminishes me, Because I am involved in mankind, And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”
If Christ comes with each student, then truly, we are not complete until every student, temporary yet beloved guests on the hill, takes their place back in our community.
Like the inscription, which took me nearly a whole year to notice and read, it is easy to pass over the many parts of the Holy Cross body – that is, the students, staff, faculty, parents, and volunteers that make this campus, and this college, what it is. To say, “I am involved in mankind,” is a Jesuit sentiment, if there ever was one, and yet, one that I often could not truthfully use to describe myself.
My resolution for the school year, a resolution I invite you to join me in, is this: to not be an island. Rather, let us all strive to be a part of the main, together involved in mankind, mourning each loss and celebrating each joy in the community as if it were our own. For now, though, it is time to celebrate the return of Christ to campus in the form of each one of us! Let us celebrate each new and returning student we encounter with the enthusiasm, hope, and love of God that we would give to Christ. Truly, could there be a happier way to begin the year, than with the promise of Christ’s return, and the reunion of the Holy Cross body?
Staying here on campus over break, the Triduum looked quite different this year than it has in years past — long walks replaced car rides, peaceful prayer and reading replaced raucous easter egg hunts, and corndogs replaced easter ham (yes, I really did eat a corn dog for easter dinner!). Yet, the near-empty campus and the long-awaited warm weather gave me a different, equally good break, filled with miles of walking, hours of reflection, and some much-needed peace and silence.
The liturgical sequence of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and finally, the Easter Vigil, has always been some of my favorite days of the year. This year, break began with peaceful studying and reading on Wednesday evening with friends on the Hoval.
Next came Holy Thursday Mass and adoration at St. Paul’s the local cathedral here, just 2 miles (an easy walk) off campus.
Good Friday more practice, studying, and finally, another walk off campus, to the peaceful St. Catherine’s Parish.
And then finally, after a long lent, the Easter Vigil! Both Saturday and Sunday were gloriously warm, which of course meant more reading, walking, and a peaceful chapel visit.
All in all, it was a lovely break and a much-needed time to rest, relax, and prepare myself for the rest of the semester. Happy Easter everyone!
I learned a long time ago that churches are traditionally built as ships, with tall, arched ceilings like the keel and a pointed center like a bow. Although there are numerous biblical analogies and historical parallels that might be drawn, the representation of the church as a ship bringing her passengers to safe harbor became particularly and unexpectedly visceral for me this weekend.
Those in New England already know of the record low temperatures and wind that we all saw over this past weekend. Here at HC, we were advised to stay inside, and only go out when necessary. I, of course (with my supreme planning skills and logic), had a work shift on the coldest night, and thus bundled myself up to make the trek from my room to Kimball, where I work. Given the advisory, the shift was near empty, meaning that my time was spent mostly in pleasant conversation with my coworkers rather than my usual tasks. However, when our shift ended, and it was time to brave the storm once again, and head on our separate ways, I found myself inexplicably tired (despite my lack of activity over the past hours) and, as soon as stepped foot outside, cold. It had been a long week, and I wanted nothing more than to teleport right into my waiting bed.
It was in such a state that I sought shelter in St. Joseph’s, which to me stood as a bright, warm respite on the cold and weary path back to my room. As I entered, it struck me that, while the winds outside screamed with fury like I have never heard before, the inside of the chapel remained warm, dry, and peaceful, seemingly unfazed by the chaos outside her doors. Sitting in the last pew, allowing the feeling to come back in my hands and feet, the chapel appeared to me more than ever before like a ship, remaining and strong and constant while the turbulent storm raged outside.
Only a few weeks into the semester, my life, and many others’ can feel and even look much like the storms outside. Tossed on the waves of homework and deadlines, blown away by an increasing number of responsibilities and plans, it feels as though ‘safe harbor’ is a wholly unreachable goal. Yet, although during the day you and I are forced to captain our own ships, planning, working, studying, it is reassuring to know that in the dark and storms, we may peacefully take refuge as, not the captain, but the passenger, of another, safer ship: the church.
I’ve always loved watching people. The ‘shower thought,’ if you will, that each and every person you see and pass has their own, equally complicated and chaotic world that they alone inhabit – that no one else will ever know completely, has always been in equal parts comforting and terrifying to me, and I love to sit and wonder about other peoples’ little worlds: are they like mine? Do they see what I see? Are they wondering the same? Although there are many spots on campus where one could engage in such an activity, my favorite is in the Prior practice rooms. Enclosed by glass walls, I can watch the people on the ground floor, three floors down from where I sit, do everything from study, to sip tea, to perform. The result, at least for me, is the happy knowledge that, although separated by sound-proofed walls, I am far from alone.
My Montserrat course, entitled “Worlds of Sense” this semester, has been reading German philosopher Markus Gabriel’s “Why the World Does not Exist.” (By the world, he means an idea, category, or uniting factor by which everything that is real can be defined [and if that doesn’t make sense to you, don’t worry – it doesn’t to me or any of my classmates either!]). Although we are only a few chapters in, and barely two weeks into the semester, a few of his claims have already taken up semi-permanent residence in my mind, leaving me constantly puzzling over his words and ideas. Now, sitting in Cool Beans, watching the students, professors, and staff come and go, this quote comes to mind:
“From a cosmic perspective, it looks very much as if, in the interests of pure survival, we cling to an arrogant fantasy, namely the idea that humanity and its life world are something special… To a galaxy long since deceased, whose light has just reached us, it is of utterly no concern whether or not I ate breakfast this morning.”
This sounds, albeit fatalistic, correct. The world will go on, and each of our little worlds will each go on too, with seemingly no effect on each other. I will practice in that little soundproofed room while a class above me will study philosophy, and the workshop below me builds a set for a play; the people across the building from me will wonder at the art gallery’s new exhibit, and the students who sit at tables below me will sip their tea, study their work, and laugh with one another. But Gabriel doesn’t leave us there, as little ants in a galaxy far too big for us. In fact, the entire basis of his claims is that the universe – everything that we know and see of the space around us – is just one, tiny part of the world.
In fact, to Gabriel, I am not separated from the rest of the building at all, despite being alone. For the students on the ground floor, I am the cellist practicing on the third floor, and to the passers-by in the hallway, I am the one whose music they can faintly hear. To the art gallery, I am the musician across from them, and maybe for another student, I am the one whose little world they contemplate. I exist in the material world, yes, but I am also a part of each of those little worlds as well – the worlds that I may never even think about.
So while my world may be small, even miniscule, and insignificant from the perspective of the universe, you and I are not. No, we are so many things, and a part of so many worlds. I may not understand Gabriel’s philosophy, and I may never know the depths of your worlds, but I can say this: how wonderful it is that I ate breakfast this morning! How wonderful is it that, from my and your perspective, breakfast is of such importance! And how wonderfully, fantastically arrogant indeed that you and I are so special, our existence so multi-faceted and so relevant from the view of that practice room!
There is a bronze figure that sits, centered on the middle plateau of the steps, leading into Dinand Library: a hand, black and shining, pierced by a nail through the center of its’ palm, its fingers impossibly relaxed, reaching upwards, always shining with either the glint of the sun or the gentle sheen of raindrops. Reluctantly trudging up the stairs to tackle the day’s homework inside, walking across the front brick pathway to Smith, running down the steps to our class in Stein, it is seemingly impossible to ignore. It quite literally stands in one’s way; whatever path you take, it must be around that towering figure. Yet, it took me two weeks – 14 days of walking by – to stop and see its’ name: “The Hand of Christ.”
As a freshman, one of the biggest questions we’re asked is, “why are you here?”. To that, I have no good answer. Unlike many students here, who have grown up as ‘crusaders,’ knowing that this was their first-choice school, I didn’t know Holy Cross existed until around this time last year. It was late one evening, sitting at my desk, panicking over college applications, that I was decided to look for schools that I could add to my list of choices. Desperate, and having no idea where to begin, I googled “Catholic Colleges,” and for no particular reason, I clicked on the link to “College of the Holy Cross.” The rest is history.
Quite like “The Hand of Christ,” that, despite having to walk past each day, multiple times a day, I took no notice of, I have often dismissed my finding of Holy Cross that night as chance: a random, lucky event. Apparently, it takes a massive bronze sign to catch my attention and make me realize that my coming here was no accident; it truly was the hand of Christ.
The figure is, in many ways, a gruesome sight to behold. No interior designer would tell you to decorate your space with a disembodied hand, let alone one pierced by a nail. Yet, every morning, as I walk past that figure, I smile. It is a reminder that He, a very human God, who has done everything (and much more) before me, has a better plan than I do. It is a reminder that good things, sometimes, are only a google search away.