Arriving at Georgetown as a Catholic was a major culture shock. I had never seen a classmate in Mass, or a cross on my classroom wall. Everything was different about it. Half (half!) of the people around me self-identified as Catholic. Growing up, I had always experienced my faith as an outsider, but now I lived and ate and studied all under the umbrella of the Church. Everything was different about it. But not quite everything was better for it.
John Stuart Mill writes (I’m paraphrasing here) that an idea in peril is strengthened by conviction. This was certainly true for me in high school. Self-conscious about my faith, I kept my thoughts to myself whenever the Church came up in conversation. In the absence of positive encouragement, I needed to find a reason to stay Catholic, or I was going to give up. So, looking for an answer, I became more active in my parish, and was rewarded with a healthy spiritual life and a wealth of humbling experiences. But if no one had ever asked if I was “really Catholic,” then maybe I still wouldn’t know.
For me, the Catholic features of Georgetown were like the planes flying into Reagan. They used to arrest my attention and keep me awake at night. But now I only notice them in their absence when I travel away from Georgetown. Full pause: you may be thinking ahead to realize what this article is about. Yes, I am trying to make the patently original claim that we shouldn’t take our Catholic heritage for granted. But before we get there, let me add the following disclaimer:
It is essential that people at Georgetown feel safe to hold their own beliefs.
But let us never try to bridge differences through apathy. Wherever we are lucky enough to find acceptance for our beliefs, it should embolden us to follow them courageously. The crucifixes on the walls and the statues of saints are not here to brainwash us! It should remind us to live like they did: to love deeply, and fearlessly, and with sacrifice.
Originally published on May 1st, 2018, this article was taken from the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus’s column in The Georgetown Voice, entitled Gaudium et Spes. The column, written by members of the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus, appears online every other Friday.
By: Jack Segelstein
I had intended this column to be a reflection on my four years at Georgetown, but I’m having trouble looking further back than last week.
Rev. Howard Gray, S.J., who spent the final year of his decade of service to Georgetown acting as interim Vice President of Mission and Ministry, returned to campus last week to deliver a lecture in Dahlgren Chapel titled, “The Centrality of the Good Person in Jesuit Education.” When we consider the purpose of our time at Georgetown, however, becoming a good person is not likely the first thing that comes to mind.
More often, we think of learning as our goal. Indeed, as Gray pointed out, this is the first purpose of Jesuit education as Ignatius conceived it. Simple enough, perhaps. But I can’t resist sharing a few thoughts from a self-described lifelong learner.
James V. Schall, S.J., left campus a year and a half before I arrived, but his spirit and wisdom endure here. A Georgetown Jesuit of 40 years, Schall describes learning as coming to know thatwhich is. This is a deceptively simple idea that has numerous consequences. I’ll briefly discuss one. That which is, Schall explains, stands over and apart from us. It is something to accept, not to have our way with.
This does not mean that we should tolerate injustice. We have the power and responsibility to effect justice. Nonetheless, at its most basic level, reality is unchangeable. We are in a world that pre-exists us and will, in all likelihood, endure after us. Because of this, Schall argues, the first step to knowledge is humility.
The second purpose of Jesuit education is to communicate learning. Georgetown teaches us how to learn so that we can teach others the same. In other words, we owe the world what Georgetown has given us. As Ignatius said, “Go, set the world on fire.” In giving ourselves to the world, our education is brought to fruition.
Gray decided to focus his talk on the third purpose of Jesuit education: the formation of good people. Before sharing Gray’s insights on goodness, I would say briefly that, of all the things I’ve come to learn about Georgetown, what I most love is the premium it places on the person. I would go out on a limb and say that no university in the world is so richly defined by and so beautifully reflective of the people who make it up. For this, we have the Jesuits to thank.
The Jesuits are all about people. We hear that in their maxim cura personalis, care for the whole and particular person. But it is most apparent in the founding charism of the Jesuits: love and devotion to the person of Jesus. As their full name makes clear, they are his society. They seek relentlessly to give themselves over to him so that they become more like him and more like themselves—in a word, so they become good people.
Father Gray used the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37) to illustrate who the good person is. In helping the dying man on the side of the road, the Samaritan performs four distinct acts, according to Gray.
First, he actually sees the man. Now, the man had already been seen and ignored by a priest and a lawyer, but the Samaritan sees differently. He sees that which is, namely, a man loved by God whose immeasurable life will be lost without his own intervention. What will happen to this man if I do not stop? The question presses the Samaritan as he enters into and takes on the consciousness of the dying man.
Next, the Samaritan is “moved with pity.” He feels compassion and allows his heart to be guided by it. Out of his compassion, he bandages the man’s wounds and pours oil and wine on them. As Gray noted, the Samaritan did not have a first-aid kit. Instead, he takes off an article of his own clothing (the dying man had previously been stripped) and uses what he has to help and heal. Similarly, the good person makes use of what he or she has in their possession, whether material, such as cloth, or spiritual, such as charity or wisdom.
Lastly, after taking the man to an inn and paying for his stay, the Samaritan orders the innkeeper, “Take care of him.” Thus, the Samaritan ensures that his goodness will endure in and through the innkeeper. Likewise, the good person perpetuates their own goodness by inspiring others to follow their example.
Goodness, then, is to see, to be guided by compassion, to act with what one has, and to generate goodness in others. It is worth noting that Jesus offers this parable in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” We might say more simply, then, that the good person is a neighbor.
I have come to realize that my four years at Georgetown have been spent in the company of neighbors. And, as I have progressed with my peers, Georgetown has helped us learn to become better ones. But for this we rely not only on Georgetown, but also on each other.
Every day, if we look closely, we see the compassion with which we offer each of our gifts in the service of others. Witnessing this is a gift in itself, a gift so great that we might call it an education.
Originally published on April 13th, 2018, this article was taken from the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus’s column in The Georgetown Voice, entitled Gaudium et Spes. The column, written by members of the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus, appears online every other Friday.
By: Michael John Poorten
My time on the Hilltop is winding down. People have been telling me for years this moment would come, but when you’re a freshman or sophomore, it’s easy to dismiss this message. Senior year can feel like an impossibly distant future.
Now, suddenly, that future is my present. One of the many items remaining on my senior bucket list is emphasizing to my younger peers how important it is to cherish your time here and not pass up opportunities merely because there’s “plenty of time left.”
When I was growing up, every morning when I’d come downstairs for breakfast I’d find my mother in the kitchen ready to greet me. Most days my father would have already left for work, but he would always leave a note for my siblings and me. Depending on what was happening that day, he would wish us good luck on an exam or sporting event or leave us some other uplifting message. No matter what he wrote, however, he would always end his notes with the phrase, “Enjoy the moment.”
Throughout my childhood, this became ingrained in my mind. I still recall it on many mornings, and it has helped me realize that our lives are nothing more than a series of moments. To my mind, this is an encouraging observation, not a sobering one. But many of these moments can’t happen unless we choose them, and very few will take on any meaning unless we invest in them. Only the moments we choose to seize are the ones that will endure in our memory and ultimately define who we are and how we live. And in order to seize the moment, we must be present in it, which for many requires eliminating the distractions of your devices while with other people and not preoccupying yourself with where you’ll soon be but rather with where you are now.
There is nothing wrong with looking forward to the future—we all do it. We look forward to reunions with friends, birthday celebrations, vacations, weddings, you name it—but we cannot let the moments to come distract us from the moments we have now.
I am often guilty of being so distracted by where I am headed that I lose appreciation—sometimes even cognizance—of my present surroundings. Whether walking through Manhattan to work, past Volta Park on my way to Wisconsin Ave or past all of you on my way to class, there is always something worth discerning in these moments.
The Jesuits live their lives according to the principle of finding God in all things. Because God created the world, He left an indelible mark on all of creation, especially human beings who are made uniquely in his image. When God was incarnate in Christ and died on the cross, He imbued all time and history with the grace of His love, divinity and sacrifice. In a real sense, then, God can be seen and felt everywhere.
This is a great comfort. No matter where we are, God is discoverable right there with us. In light of this, in light of God’s presence, we cannot let our fears and uncertainties about the future distract us from the richness and beauty of our present.
We can always find something to worry about if we think hard enough, which is why we shouldn’t strain ourselves with the effort. The future can be daunting; there’s no way around it. This is especially true when you’re an underclassman, undecided about your major and clueless about what career path to pursue. Many of us have been there. Do not think that you will be able to sit down and figure it all out in a day, a month, or even a year. Life decisions like these are made over long periods of time. In other words, determining our future takes many moments of our present.
In the 16th century, Ignatius of Loyola coined a phrase to help his disciples figure out what God wanted for them in their futures. He taught that God communicates with us through our “holy desires.” Although it takes long periods of reflection to distinguish our holy desires from our ephemeral, self-centered ones, they are manifest to us most forcefully in the daily moments of our lives.
There is plenty to look forward to in our futures and plenty to fear. We cannot know with certainty when we will be gathered together once again with our friends from the Hilltop after graduation. All we can do right now is enjoy the time we have and treasure one another’s company. It is in this joy and self-giving that we will pave the path to our futures.
No matter where your path is leading, you can always find happiness along the way by enjoying the moment.
Catholicism has played an important role in Spain for nearly two thousand years. Indeed, it has shaped Spain’s history, festivities, and national identity. Today, the people and their society are still distinctly and culturally Catholic. And yet, beyond that, the Church is but a whisper of its former self in Spain.
Most Spaniards, if they are religious (and even if they’re not), will profess being Roman Catholic. Very few, however, consider religion important in their lives, and even fewer regularly attend mass. Catholicism has slipped into being a passive characteristic of the Spanish. Much like right or left handedness, it’s just something the Spanish are born with but which has little direct influence on their lives.
The lack of influence and importance is perhaps the biggest loss. Here at Georgetown and in much of the US, a Catholic can still find thriving communities. The Church, after all, is not just an institution we participate in but a community we build with friends and family, love and hope. Being Catholic is not just an identity label, and it should have more of an effect on your life than some inherent characteristic like the color of your hair. It is through active engagement that the full potential of the faith is reached.
Spain, then, can serve as a learning experience. Even staunchly religious societies can leave their faith by the wayside and drift into complacency. Part of this is due to growing secularism, but much is also due to the hypocrisy of the Church in siding with the repressive Franco regime. Its profession of the virtues of love belied the uneasy alliance with a ruler who used fear and violence to maintain power.
It is thus important not just to profess being a Catholic or even memorize the dogma. If Catholicism is just a label, or memorized stories, it may as well be dead doctrine. For the Church to continue as an organization, as a dynamic institution, we must engage it as a member of the community. The people in front of you at mass are not strangers, they are part of a greater Catholic family. If it were just a gathering of strangers, the mass would have more in common with a subway ride than a celebration.
Moreover, it is important in our engagement to avoid the hypocrisy of the Church under Franco. There is often a tension among those who try to live out the message of Christ. There are those who focus on his condemnation of sin and others who focus only on his message of love. To build the community, it is important to be welcoming, understand the value inherent in each person, and greet those around us with love. As for condemnation, it should be for the sin, not the sinner, and always be with the humble understanding that the condemnation comes from a fellow sinner.
As religious observance falls in our country, history can be a good teacher. In Spain, the Church has waned to be of little relevance in the lives of most Spaniards. If we are to avoid that fate in the US, every Catholic must realize the value of participation in the greater Catholic community outside of mass. He must also realize the value of all parts of the message of Christ and avoid becoming a partisan or hypocrite. Each of us is the Church, and through our actions we can either build it or allow it to fall to irrelevance.
Originally published on March 30th, 2018, this article was taken from the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus’s column in The Georgetown Voice, entitled Gaudium et Spes. The column, written by members of the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus, appears online every other Friday.
By: Melvin Thomas
“I do not want to be in a religion in which I am ‘allowed’ to have a crucifix… In people who are Catholics, or call themselves Catholics, I want the idea not only liked but loved and loved ardently, and above all proudly proclaimed.” – G.K. Chesterton
At Georgetown, unlike most universities in the United States, we are surrounded by crosses and crucifixes.
There’s a cross on top of Healy Hall and one on top of White-Gravenor, as well as crucifixes in many classrooms. Many people, irrespective of background, are probably not all that surprised to see so many crosses and crucifixes at the country’s oldest Catholic university; they’ve likely seen their fair share before coming here without giving them a second thought.
I didn’t think too much of them myself until two years ago when my roommate told me he thought they were a “disgusting” symbol. He wondered why Christians are content with depicting the gruesome death of their God. I didn’t know what to say. I had never considered that perspective before, but maybe that was because I had never taken the time to contemplate the significance of the crucifix.
Before we can understand the meaning of the crucifix, let’s look more closely at the man that crucifixes depict. His name was Yeshua, but he is more commonly known by the name of Jesus. What was the crime He committed that warranted crucifixion? He radically threatened the political structures of His time.
We Christians call him “Christ” because we believe him to be the Christos, a Greek translation of the Hebrew word Mashiach (anglicized as Messiah), which means “anointed one.” The Jews had been waiting for the Mashiach since the time of King David, when God promised Israel a king whose reign would never end. Throughout the Babylonian exile and the Roman occupation of Palestine, the Jews hoped for a Mashiach to overthrow their captors, defeat their enemies, and establish the supremacy of the throne of David forever. He was supposed to be a mighty figure who would conquer the world.
Now this doesn’t sound much like Jesus at all. Instead of overthrowing the Roman Empire, Jesus told the Jews to continue paying their taxes (Matthew 22:21). Instead of conquering enemies, Jesus told His followers to love their enemies and pray for their persecutors (Matthew 5:44). While some Jews accepted Jesus as the Mashiach and became the first Christians, others didn’t. Some in the elite brought Him to the Romans, who heard the Mashiach was to start a revolt against their empire.
And so Jesus was executed around the age of 33 by means of crucifixion, the most torturous method of execution devised by the Roman Empire. Instead of Jesus conquering the world, the world conquered Him on the cross. Sounds like a spectacular failure, doesn’t it?
Perhaps not. In Christianity, we believe Jesus’s death redeems us from sin and saves us from death by offering us eternal life. Put another way, through His death and resurrection, Jesus conquered death. We don’t call Jesus the Mashiach because He saved Israel from her captors, the Roman Empire, but because He saved all of humanity from its captor, death. By offering us eternal life in heaven, He does indeed establish a kingdom that will never end. Because of Jesus, we can proclaim with St. Paul, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55)
Still, why do Christians champion the instrument of Jesus’s demise in their churches and buildings? Crucifixion was used in the Roman Empire as a tool of fear and intimidation because it was the worst punishment the empire could inflict on a person. However, the early Christians adopted the crucifix as a symbol of their faith, quite possibly as a taunt akin to, “Is this the best you can do? My Lord already defeated this!” Indeed, the crucifix gave strength and courage to the early Christians, amid nearly three centuries of persecution, by reminding them how powerful, how truly mighty the Mashiach was, for He conquered the one thing that no one else could conquer.
The crucifix reminds us that, “God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (John 3:16) In some Christian communities, a cross is used instead of a crucifix, the difference being that a cross doesn’t have Jesus’s body on it, whereas a crucifix does. The rationale behind crosses is that, since Christ is risen, there is no need to depict His dead body on the cross.
Nonetheless, Roman Catholics often use the crucifix, and for good reason. It is all too tempting to pass over Christ’s crucifixion, which is remembered on Good Friday, and skip straight to the joy of Easter, His resurrection. But then we risk forgetting the agony and pain Jesus endured “for us men and for our salvation,” as the Nicene Creed professes.
The crucifix, which bears Jesus’s body, reminds us that, while Jesus did suffer a gruesome death, He did so freely because He loves us. The crucifix isn’t meant to elicit disgust as my roommate suggested, but rather to remind us that Jesus freely chose to experience the most excruciating of deaths for our sake precisely because He is a God of self-sacrificial love. What could be more beautiful?
Originally published on March 17th, 2018, this article was taken from the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus’s column in The Georgetown Voice, entitled Gaudium et Spes. The column, written by members of the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus, appears online every other Friday.
By: Paul Sze Keat Keh
As someone who grew up in the island city-state of Singapore, from a society and community very different than Georgetown, I can attest to the claim that the Hilltop is home to an exceptionally motivated and pre-professional community. I’m grateful for this for a number of reasons, not least of which being that Georgetown pushes each of us to be the best we can be, not only for ourselves, but also for others.
Georgetown has done a phenomenal job preparing me for the real world, through professional experiences and interactions with the most incredible professors and practitioners. But on a number of occasions throughout my time here, I’ve felt compelled to ask the question: what exactly is the “real world” for which Georgetown is preparing us?
As a frequent patron of Lauinger library’s third floor study area, it is obvious to me when our community is undergoing peak periods of stress: tables, normally empty, are suddenly packed, and trash cans overflow with Corp coffee cups. It is ironic that the times when we are pushed the hardest by Georgetown to become our best selves, are precisely when we most resemble each other—our bloodshot eyes peering into books and screens. We are pushed to be exceptional, just like everybody else.
In his book The Road to Character, David Brooks, a New York Times columnist, argues that modern society—exemplified well by those late-night study sessions—has caused us to bifurcate our understandings of character and virtue. Today’s unprecedented pressure to perform and rush to conform have led us, Brooks contends, to conceive of virtue in two ways: resume virtues and eulogy virtues.
Resume virtues are the experiences we cultivate for the sake of our resumes, careers, bosses, and sometimes even our friends and family. They are things we can put a label on, like fancy internships, our GPAs, that fellowship we managed to place into, or, in a social context, things like which parties we were invited to, how many friends we have, even how much alcohol we can consume. The list goes on.
Eulogy virtues, on the other hand, are our values and aspects of our character—in other words, what people will talk about at our funerals. These include our care for the less fortunate, our authenticity, and our compassion. Eulogy virtues are far more difficult to label, and more importantly, they cannot be proven just by the activities listed on our resume. Put simply, they are the qualities for which you wish to be remembered.
Brooks laments that in our rush to fulfill resume virtues, we often neglect the more important eulogy virtues. For Brooks, true character doesn’t mean disregarding resume virtues altogether, but rather allowing them to spring from the dedication to eulogy virtues. This requires us to ask ourselves: which of these do we really desire?
Few friends I know can describe what they think their attitudes on life will be beyond the next five years. I can sympathize. As college students, sometimes a midterm or project—to say nothing of an internship or major—feels like it will determine in one fell swoop what opportunities we’ll have for the rest of our lives. Of course this isn’t really true, but it’s all too easy to get caught up in the immediate future.
But the race of life extends beyond the next five years after college. If we’re content to let the winds and waves chart our course without pausing to rest and think where we are going—or, more importantly, why we’re going where we’re going—then we’ll inevitably end up in places we won’t want to be.
If Georgetown is a place that is meant to prepare us for life after college, in the wider world beyond 37th and O, then it behooves us to consider what we’ll be bringing with us. Our eulogy virtues are the anchors that keep us grounded, and allow us to chart an enduring course amidst the ephemeral societal pressures that change with every stage of life.
Most seagoing vessels carry anchors, and while they come in varying shapes, sizes and weights, no vessel can be considered seaworthy without them. Vessels need them for stability in ever-changing tides and winds, and for protection against grounding on sand and rock.
Similarly, it is our deeper virtues and our true desires that dictate our ability to remain stable, to rest and consider our next course amidst the waves and winds of life. For some of us, faith is our anchor, and reminds us of what is right and what is to come. For others, being cognisant of our personal philosophies, and letting these be at the fore of every major decision, are concrete ways of staying grounded and making sure that at the end of the day, we can be proud that we stood for something we treasure. For while we may follow the winds to get to where we want to be, these anchors prevent us from becoming overly fixated on the means, and more importantly remembering the ends which our hearts desire.
The Georgetown community is my community, and I hope that it will grow to be one that prepares us all for a life that is ultimately fulfilling, for ourselves and those we love.
Originally published on March 2nd, 2018, this article was taken from the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus’s column in The Georgetown Voice, entitled Gaudium et Spes. The column, written by members of the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus, appears online every other Friday.
By: Hunter Estes
Pope Francis once said, “No one is saved alone, as an isolated individual, but God attracts us looking at the complex web of relationships that take place in the human community. God enters into this dynamic, this participation in the web of human relationships.”
We enter Georgetown as individuals, new students seeking community. For many of us, the first few months can feel pretty isolated. But as we progress through our time here, we strive to build the kind of relationships that we can carry with us for the rest of our lives. That’s not always easy at Georgetown.
To be sure, there are countless ways to get involved on campus with our fellow Hoyas. Unfortunately, however, these communities are far too often inward looking. They may foster enduring relationships for their members, but they do little to interact with or improve the larger Georgetown community.
For better or for worse, clubs dominate Georgetown’s social scene. Their topics are perhaps too diverse to speak about collectively, but I think it’s fair to say that, for many clubs, the relationships that they help to form among Hoyas, often come at a cost. Many of the social clubs are highly exclusive, and cut themselves off from the broader campus community, whether intentionally or not.
We see this on a macro-scale in the relationships between the four colleges, as well. It’s only natural that students from the NHS, for example, will have more opportunities to interact with each other than with students from the SFS. And of course there’s nothing wrong with that. However, there are far too few occasions for these communities to intersect.
It often feels like a misnomer to refer to the “Georgetown community.” In reality, that means many small and divided communities, not a cohesive whole. But it wasn’t always this way.
Georgetown’s sense of community used to be built around its basketball team. But with all the fourth-quarter losses these days, the team just doesn’t have the same unifying power anymore. At the Capital One Arena, games are massively under-attended, while back on campus, Georgetown basketball is hardly ever mentioned without disappointment or disapproval.
With what does that leave us? What are the common experiences that we share as Hoyas? NSO? Problem of God? Georgetown Day? NSO is quickly lost in people’s memories, each Problem of God class is taught in a radically different manner, and Georgetown Day may once have been a day when faculty, staff, and students came together to celebrate Georgetown’s values, but unfortunately, as I believe many students would agree, it has strayed from its foundational roots.
For the Catholic Church, community is essential. Pope Francis reminds us that our faith journey is not one we walk alone, but rather, one in which we walk hand in hand with others. Just as “no one is saved alone, as an isolated individual,” no one should graduate alone from Georgetown.
The Church, along with Aristotle, affirms that the human person is a social animal. Quite simply, we are not who we are without each other. We need each other, not only in times of crisis or distress, but at all times, so that we can understand ourselves and fulfill our vocation to love. So, as we walk along the often-difficult pilgrimage that is Georgetown, we ought to be able to walk together, arm-in-arm.
This may sound idealistic, but there are concrete steps the university can take to start restoring the sense of community that Georgetown had not all that long ago. It starts with shared experiences. When we leave here, we should to be able to refer to positive experiences that all of us went through together.
We need more days that celebrate the values of our community, more days that offer opportunities for campus-wide service, and more speakers that have something to say for the whole Georgetown community.
Even though it was my first month here, I vividly remember the day of community service that Georgetown hosted for freshmen. Hundreds of freshmen from all corners of campus came together to serve the D.C. community. I met a number of people that day who have remained some of my best friends. I initially assumed these types of events happened often, but although I remember it fondly, it was, unfortunately, only a one-time experience.
There’s no reason this type of event can’t happen more often. Georgetown has a wealth of resources, the most important being a large group of students interested in serving their community. We need to better employ the power of our student body in service to the District. What better way to build a sense of community on-campus than by uniting in service to help communities off-campus?
At most masses that I have been to back home, the priest will typically begin the celebration by asking that the community look around, greet those they know, and introduce themselves to those they don’t. In my mind, this is the essence of community.
Much like mass, the Georgetown experience is built on hundreds of years of rich tradition. We need more communal experiences that build on that tradition, and that give us the opportunity to take a breath of fresh air, and look around to introduce ourselves to the fellow Hoyas we don’t know.
We’re in this experience together, and we ought to feel like it.