Reality ignites our imaginations more than possibility does. We can imagine amazing things but only when we first look at what is real and in front of us. Reality reveals possibility, and that is what Notre Dame Vision did to me.
My mom is indefatigably resourceful. She looked up opportunities I never would have bothered to find. My junior year of high school, she found a retreat at Notre Dame and sent me the website’s promotional video. Being a high school boy, I watched it while inhaling dinner. I was sold.
I was less sold on Notre Dame the institution. My college search had been unexciting. Though I was going to Vision, one thing was certain: Notre Dame was not Catholic enough.
Two days at Vision ended that illusion and Vision turned out to be pivotal for my faith. That summer poured gasoline all over the flame I’d received at Confirmation that year. It introduced me to the prayer attributed to St. Teresa of Ávila, “Christ has no body now but yours,” a prayer that made evangelization urgent.
That fall, Teresa’s prayer hung in my locker. That spring, a picture of Mary on Notre Dame’s Dome got there too. I went on work two summers at Vision as a Notre Dame undergraduate student, singing as a Music Mentor in the Band of St. Cecilia and later serving as a “Master Mentor.” (The most impressive title I will ever hold.)
Those Vision summers formed me in three things:
- pastoral zeal
- the Eucharist
These three aspects of faith are concrete, practical and very, very real.
Attending Vision, I was coming off a long year of recovering my faith, trying to share it with my friends and meeting a lot of bewilderment. Even at a solid Catholic high school, it was lonely. At Vision there were people like me. There were thoughtful, prayerful college students I could look up to. And I rejoiced when my two small group Mentors-in-Faith married each other this past January. Fear comes from thinking you’re alone. Notre Dame Vision confronted me with real community and told me not to be afraid.
Everyone’s vocation is born somewhere. Mine wasn’t born at Vision, but a big chunk is rooted there. Discernment can get really heady really fast, but Vision grounds it: God’s call is planted in the objective, identifiable gifts he’s given you. When I applied to seminary for the diocese of Albany, it was really because I thought that’s what God wanted. But it was also because in the diocesan priesthood it seemed like I could use most of my gifts to the greatest extent. It surprised me (but shouldn’t have) that when I set the altar at Albany’s Chrism Mass this year, I heard the choir singing those words: “Christ has no body now but yours.”
Well, Christ does have a Body besides mine and it’s pretty important.
The preparatory course I took to be a Vision Mentor-in-Faith (Prof. Timothy O’Malley’s “Christian Vocation and Theological Imagination”) forced me to consider more fully the implications of the Eucharist and its demands on my life. In high school I’d realized each vocation in its own way lives out the words, “This is my Body, which will be given up for you . . . This is the chalice of my blood . . . which will be poured out for you.” The class gave me language for my realization: vocation is total self-giving love.
It is possibly the defining realization of my life.
The Eucharist turns our minds into kaleidoscopes. If bread and wine can become God, what else is possible? Anything. It creates hope. The Eucharist explodes possibility, not because we have thought creatively, but because it—He—is real.
Summarizing an argument from her After Writing, Catherine Pickstock says:
The event of transubstantiation, in which the bread and wine are seemingly reduced to accidents, is precisely the moment when we can be absolutely assured of the material truth of bread and wine, precisely because they entirely convey the reality of the divine body. Where we register that the material has become totally suffused by God, there alone we can be sure of material reality.
So now wherever I go, this Eucharistic vision comes with me. In a Bronx homeless shelter, with a cancer patient, in a parish neighborhood hurting economically and spiritually, Vision is in the background.
“Behold, I am with you always.”
Featured Photo: Notre Dame Vision participants attend Mass at the Chapel of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Moreau Seminary). Courtesy of Notre Dame Vision.