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.
Georgetown Knights of Columbus and Friends of the Council,
In preparation for the Spring 2018 semester, I would like to provide a statement summarizing both the current state of the council, as well as the direction we are hoping to take in 2018.
Regarding the official State of the Council:
Thanks to the work and vigilance of our former treasurer, Michael Poorten, and immediate past Grand Knight, Hunter Estes, our council’s budget was successfully managed and utilized to benefit our council and better serve others. Our new Treasurer, Chris Castaldi, will undoubtedly carry on this tradition of financial integrity.
Beyond simple numbers and commas, we have a strong and active membership—something the board will hope to maintain through several avenues. To foster the fraternal bonds which make the Knights a brotherhood, our Warden, Nicolo Orozco, is planning an array of events the likes of which this council has never seen. While reviving old favorites that he orchestrated last year, such as a group Wizards game and a poker night, he has designs to have a Super Bowl Bash, a group Georgetown game, a Knights Movie Night, and more. Not to mention Massketball, which the Worthy Warden will run with the legendary Trustee Geoff “Lonzo” Fitzgerald.
But like any group, our council has to bring in new members to maintain both the necessary numbers and a constant influx of fresh ideas. So, in addition to all of the events which our Warden has planned, our new Advocate, Luke Lamey, and Trustee, Richard Howell, will revitalize our mentorship program. By allowing the new members to choose their mentors, and then encouraging those pairs to attend events together, we can make our council more approachable and form lasting bonds between future and current Brother Knights. This will all be augmented by a new tabling campaign spearheaded by Inside Guard Andy Hanzlik—complete with weekly board tabling sessions, candy, and the hottest T-shirts—to make sure every Catholic gentleman on campus knows of our Brotherhood.
As in past years, our council’s commitment to being servants to our fellow man remains strong. Our incoming Advocate, Jack Przypyszny, will work with our Deputy Grand Knight, Ryan Anderson, to continue the ever-loved Grate Patrol. This, along with recurring events like card-making and working with the Northwest Pregnancy Center, will ensure that our members stay busy! Also, in the spirit of fostering fraternity, our council will seek to participate in larger service events, which allow large portions of our membership to commune and form memories in the context of service. Charity races offer excellent opportunities for such bonding; races like the Scope It Out 5K in March and the Relay for Life in April are just some examples our council plans to help run.
But none of these events and service would matter without the Catholic spirituality which gives both impetus and meaning to our work as Knights. Already, our Lecturer, Paul Keh, has spiritual discussions planned, working closely with MyLan Metzger of CWAG to keep Catholic thought and doctrine strong and accessible on campus. Not stopping there, Paul has also planned a house Mass, and promises more in the future. These Masses, along with Adoration and increased participation in the monthly L’Arche Prayer Nights, guarantee that we will all grow together in our love for Christ this semester.
To make our Catholic voice even more audible on campus, Our Worthy Recorder, Michael DeFelice, will continue to operate our blog, social media accounts, and, with Trustee, Melvin Thomas, and immediate past Deputy Grand Knight, Jack Segelstein, a Knights column in The Voice. To help with increasing our public presence, our council plans to designate a council “Historian”—a position which may be formalized in the future. This person would take pictures of the plethora of events our council offers, or ensure that members who do attend said events send him images of our members representing our Brotherhood out in the world. The goal would be, not only to provide evidence for advertising our council’s vibrancy to potential members, but also to document our good times and successes for posterity. Our Outside Guard, Victor Gamas, will also work with other faith groups on campus, giving the Knights the opportunity to bring Catholic thought to discussions at Georgetown.
Clearly, our council has laid out a very ambitious plan for the first semester of 2018. But with such a capable board and active membership, I am confident that we can not only meet our goals, but surpass them. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and our blog for updates on what is sure to be an amazing few months!
I write to you, sadly, for my final time as the Grand Knight of the Georgetown chapter of the Knights of Columbus. However, I do not find the circumstances of my departure unfortunate. I am incredibly proud of how we, together, took this council to new heights. In this piece, I will offer a few reflections on what has been the best year of my life so far.
We pursued new opportunities to serve our community in Georgetown, in D.C., in our country, and in the world. We sought to deepen our relationship with Christ through a profound series of spiritual events. And we further strengthened the bonds of brotherhood that unites our community. For all of this, I am incredibly proud!
We sought new chances to build the spiritual foundation of our council with classic events like spiritual discussion dinners, house masses, spiritual adoration, and theology on taps with Friars and Jesuits.
We also found new ways to find God in our lives through a number of innovative events. We reflected on vocations with Dominicans and Jesuits. We led a spiritual pilgrimage to the John Paul II shrine with Fr. Hayes. We established a teaching series and engaged with Jesuits that we hadn’t before while learning about reconciliation and the mass. We supported the saying of the Latin mass at Georgetown. We institutionalized and expanded interfaith week into a much larger event, which brought together hundreds of community members, and culminated in our McGivney lecture with an incredibly well-attended panel on Catholic-Muslim understanding. We started a weekly group praying of the rosary, many of us led retreats, and we had multiple dinner conversations with Jesuits. We started a series of prayer sessions with the L’Arche community and Fr. Lawrence Lew gave a beautiful lecture to us on finding God in photography.
I am proud to say the spiritual state of our council is strong.
Our community came together in new ways and old to celebrate brotherhood. We held massketball every Wednesday, and even got Fr. Hayes to ref a game. We organized group trips to support the Wizards at a home game, play bocci at Pinstripes, and see Silence with a professor whose expertise is Japanese history. We watched a Super Bowl that included a divine intervention for the good guys (the Patriots). We fielded some great teams for intramural soccer and basketball. We absolutely crushed George Washington 26-6, and did a bit better against Mason than we did last year in the annual Brian Adkins Memorial Football game, which we organized on the National Mall this year.
We built brotherhood with more informal events as well like the March Madness playoff competition, the fantasy football league, and Wednesday wing nights. We had custom Knights shirts designed. We toured the Pentagon with General Marrs. We held a series of BBQ’s on Georgetown Day and to welcome people back in the Fall. We ate more pounds of pastrami than anybody could have thought possible with a series of trips to Stachowski’s, one of which included Fr. Hayes. We greatly expanded our Facebook, Twitter, and blog operations. We had the annual Catholic Formal with this year’s theme “When in Rome.” And, for the first time, we fielded a candidate for Mr. Georgetown, who got all the way through the talent portion.
The fraternal state of our council is strong.
Together, we spent countless hours serving the communities of which we are a part. We continued classic service events like grate patrol, interfaith sandwich making, and card making for hospitalized kids. We also continued our support for the Soweto Community by raising money and building our communal bond by engaging each other online and sending a video to the community.
We also found new ways to serve Georgetown, and people beyond the Hilltop. We started a series of card making for persecuted Christians overseas. We led a group to lay wreathes at the Arlington National Cemetery. We built a new relationship with the Jumpstart Community by volunteering at their after-school program and wrapping gifts for the kids. We strengthened our support for on-campus service by co-sponsoring a blood drive, and by organizing a group of guys to volunteer at the St. Elizabeth’s community. We continued our series of park cleanups by cleaning Walter Pierce. We also partnered with campus groups to support the placing of flags around Healy Hall in memory of all the innocent who were killed on 9/11. Finally, we organized a beautiful mass and ceremony to commemorate the Jesuit community on campus.
The state of service in our council is strong.
Furthermore, we have continued our efforts to defend life by leading a group to the March for Life, co-sponsoring the Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life, getting the national council to send professional videographers to film the conference, and co-sponsoring this year’s Life Week.
I am incredibly proud of the work that we have done as a community over this past year. Surely we have grown as men, further developing our character, and are more prepared to take what we have gained here, in service to the world beyond the Hilltop.
I thank you all for trusting me to lead this council and I hope that I have done everything that you hoped to see. I am proud to call each of you my brothers.
I think many Catholics have a similar perception of what it means to be a good Christian. The most pious among us are often assumed to be those who go to Mass or pray most often. While prayer is certainly an essential component of the Christian life, on its own prayer doesn’t define who we are as Christians. It is absolutely possible to go to Mass regularly and set aside ample time for prayer yet still lose one’s focus on Christ and the message of the gospel. I say this because I speak from experience. I have often found myself simply going through the motions of daily Mass, regular prayer, and weekly confession while forgetting about the presence of God’s love in these spiritual exercises. During these periods of spiritual apathy, I find myself going to Mass and sitting down to pray simply out of habit, without reminding myself why I’m there. It is not prayer itself but this reason for prayer which lies at the center of the Christian faith.
The fourth century bishop St. Athanasius of Alexandria wrote that “God became enfleshed so that we might become engodded.” These words capture the essence of Christian spirituality. They explain why the Sacraments, and especially the Eucharist, are a necessity in the life of a Christian. “God became enfleshed” refers to the Incarnation of Jesus, to God becoming a man. God, who is Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, went down into the darkest part of human dysfunction. He offered Himself up, facing one of the most feared methods of execution in history: Roman crucifixion. Through His crucifixion, God went to the furthest extremes of human brokenness. Why? God came down into the heart of human suffering to show us that nothing can stop His love from fixing us. For this reason, every time we pray or go to Mass, as Christians we beg God to fix our sinfulness. Being a good Christian means realizing the impossibility of living the Christian life on our own and asking God to come down into our brokenness. This is the reason Christians pray and go to Mass. We want God to transform our lives and pull us out of the darkness of sin.
This desire for God to transform our lives and pull us out of the darkness of sin shows why Mass and prayer alone are not enough to live the Christian life. We must not only do these things, but we must also remind ourselves why we need prayer in our lives. It is through prayer and through the Mass that we allow God’s light to penetrate deep into the darkness of our sinful lives. When we forget how badly we need God’s grace in our lives, we forget how to pray. We forget that every one of our prayers is a helpless cry to God for help. We forget how badly we need God to form us into the people He intends for us to become. We forget we are Christians.
With some hesitancy, I have chosen to reflect on this subject using the same title that G.K. Chesterton employed over a century ago. I cannot come close to imitating Chesterton’s penetrating wit and wisdom, but I chose this title as an acknowledgement of his influence on my faith.
The Church, as Chesterton recognized, has had two thousand years to ponder which roads lead to error and confusion. Thinking is, therefore, essential to the Church’s mission and it thinks always in light of the revelation of Jesus Christ. The Church, for the very reason that it must constantly think and act, is not a stagnant institution, but rather a living tradition.
The thinking element of the Church’s mission was beautifully summarized in Pope Saint John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et Ratio, Faith and Reason, but it can be seen throughout the Church’s history. “The Church has no other light than Christ’s,” states the Catechism, for “the Church is like the moon, all its light reflected from the sun.”
Catholicism is neither a philosophy nor an idea. It is intimately tied to the Jewish tradition in which God speaks to man in history, and man seeks to love, serve, and remember God. God, who had revealed Himself to Israel, unveiled Himself most fully in the Incarnation. The Catholic Church is founded on the Incarnation of the Son of God; on the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The revelation of the Son of God is the source of the Church’s life and mission. Through the apostles and their successors, the Church has passed down the memory of Christ, of God’s most profound encounter with man. Yet this is not just something past: The Christian hope, found in Christ, is both past and present – it is remembered and continually encountered in prayer and the sacraments.
The Church, however, has not rested smugly on its certainty that Christ revealed God’s love in His life, death, and Resurrection. On the contrary, from its earliest days, the Church has continually contemplated what the reality of Christ means in our moral decisions, our worship, our understanding of the world, and our relationship with God. The apostles, the early Fathers, the Scholastics, and so many others have profoundly uplifted the Church’s tradition. “The apostles,” says the Catechism, “entrusted the ‘Sacred deposit’ of the faith (the depositumfidei), contained in Sacred Scripture and Tradition, to the whole of the Church.” Within the depositum fidei, one finds a mutually enriching relationship between revelation and reason. The former is the source of the Church, inspiring and guiding the use of the latter. And yet the latter – particularly in the works of saints like Athanasius of Alexandria and Thomas Aquinas – has been immensely important in the life of the Church. Reason, within firm limits, can aid our understanding of God without the light of revelation; however, the Church recognizes that revelation and the guidance of the Holy Spirit enable reason to attain fuller understanding and to avoid paths to nowhere.
The Church’s theological and philosophical reflections are inseparably intertwined with the revelation of Christ. The latter inspires, guides, confirms, and gives authority to the former; the former, both to the extent it stands independent of revelation and to the extent it is dependent on revelation for understanding, serves to defend and enrich the faith.
The Church is not merely a stagnant thing, but as I already stated it is a living tradition, a tradition in which the faithful participate. Grounded in Christ, the Church provides forgiveness for us as sinners, consolation for us when we suffer, encouragement for us when we are weary, and the means to celebrate God’s great glory. The liturgy is, I think, the most beautiful example of the participatory nature of the Church, for in the liturgy we encounter Christ most intimately. In the liturgy, and especially in the Eucharist, the loving relationship of Christ and His Church is most clearly visible.
In brief, I marvel at the Church’s tradition of a prayerful relationship with Christ seamlessly connected to an intellectual exploration of the meaning of our encounter with Christ.
I conclude with a few more reasons I am a Catholic. The Catholic Church has apostolic authority – it is most assuredly the Church established by Jesus Christ. The apostolic roots of the Church mean its clergy, and especially its bishops, possess authority in matters of faith: to administer sacraments, to teach, and to faithfully pass on the Church’s tradition, shepherding Christ’s flock.
And then there are the saints, the variety of prayers, the beautiful art and music – all of these make the Church more vibrant. More importantly, they help us to deepen our relationship with God.
Originally published on November 8th 2017, this article was taken from the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus’s rotating column in The Hoya, entitled The Round Table. The column, written by members of the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus, appears online every other Wednesday.
By: Nicolo Orozco
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4.
I was handcuffed by a police officer in front of my house the weekend before my high school graduation. Needless to say, I had made some mistakes. I had lost faith in myself, and I had lost faith in God.
For a while, I did not understand why I was being forced to go to a community college. I had always thought I was smart, but I was not. I may have performed well academically, but I was foolish when it counted.
I always thought I would graduate high school, continue to a four-year university and get a respectable job. Instead, I had to come to terms with the fact that I would not be moving out of my house and heading off to a university after high school as I had always dreamed.
I began spiraling into a deeper and darker depression, and I had little reason to hope things would improve. At the community college I attended, only 34 percent of students graduated or transferred after six years. I knew I could not spend another six years in my town.
One of my sister’s therapists suggested I volunteer at Camp ReCreation, a Jesuit-run summer camp in northern California that serves individuals with developmental disabilities. My sister has autism, and her therapist was once a volunteer at the camp herself.
Then, hardly a week after riding in the back of a police car toward what I thought was the end of my life, I found myself heading toward what would become a new beginning.
Yet, it did not feel that way in the moment. On the way to the camp, I viewed the week ahead as an obligation rather than an opportunity. However, it was a chance to escape, and that was what I needed.
When we arrived, I was paired with a camper in his mid-60s who has autism. Initially, I considered myself as just his helper, but he quickly became much more than a person I was responsible for — he became my friend. I was moved by his appreciation for the simplest things in life.
His profound love and gratitude made it seem like he was the one serving me, rather than the other way around.
Each camper I partnered with taught me a new virtue. The week my camper needed help in the bathroom, I learned humility. The week my partner was nonverbal, I learned patience and communication. The week my partner was in a wheelchair, I learned the importance of physical stamina; there are no wheelchair lifts in the middle of the woods.
Up to that point, I never felt God was a meaningful part of my life. But throughout my experience at camp, His presence overwhelmed me. I was originally supposed to be there for only one week of the three-weeklong camp, but I felt so rejuvenated and loved that I stayed for the full duration.
Despite not having gone in years, I found myself attending Mass at camp every day for three weeks straight.
Believers understand the Catholic Mass as the reenactment of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, in which the faithful receive his true body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.
God did not require me to ask because he knew it was exactly what I needed — spiritual cleansing and new friends who filled my life with the love of Him.
When I found myself hating humanity and myself, God called me to spend time with the most beautiful, loving humans I have known in my life. At camp, I could be who I truly am and, more importantly, be loved for who I am.
If not for camp, I would not have been able to transfer to Georgetown after a year of community college, nor would I have been moved to renew my faith and return to the Catholic Church.
In hindsight, it is clear that the campers helped me more than I helped them.
Service is a gift, not a burden. I think many Hoyas find this fulfillment to be true of their experience of service. No matter how busy, anxious or dejected we may feel, being women and men for others not only benefits our communities, but it is fulfilling and life-giving for us.
This past summer, Georgetown University hosted the 21st National Jesuit Student Leadership Conference. This multi-day conference brought student leaders from all the Jesuit universities and colleges throughout the country together to learn how the Jesuit heritage is being promoted at the various institutions. By sharing both successes and challenges, student leaders are encouraged to exchange different strategies and ideas with each other in their efforts to really animate the Jesuit identity at each of their institutions. As the Conference was held at Georgetown, Georgetown students living in the area over the summer were invited to serve as volunteers for the event. Although I was only able to volunteer and attend the Conference on the last of the four days, the events of that day provided a remarkable experience that I am so glad I was able to participate in. Among other things, there was one workshop that really stood out to me and will stick with me for the rest of my life.
As representatives of Jesuit institutions, we believe that there is a tangible difference between “multifaith” and “interfaith.” Georgetown being a multifaith institution simply means giving the various faith traditions a place on campus. But we are called to be something different, something deeper. Being an interfaith institution involves promoting communication and cooperation between different religious groups in order to foster mutual understanding and respect. What does that lofty sentence mean in practice? At the most foundational level, it requires being actively aware of the presence of the other faith traditions on campus. If a first-year or transfer Protestant student asks where he or she can go to attend a Protestant service, we should be able to respond, “Sunday at 7 PM in St. William’s Chapel in Copley.” Similarly, if a Hindu student needs a chaplain of his or her own tradition to talk to, we should be able to say, “Brahmachari Sharan’s office is in Healy Hall.” Georgetown has these chaplains and services of various faith traditions to help all students come closer to God, and we should all leap at the chance to help a fellow student do that.
At the next level, it requires stepping out of our comfort zones to encounter the other as other, i.e. as who he or she uniquely is with special regard for the differences. This can take various forms. One of these is attending services of different traditions. We had a formally organized “Interfaith Week” here on campus this past month, but there is no reason that more weeks can’t have some interfaith elements in them. Yes, it does feel a little unusual crossing myself right to left when I attend an Orthodox Christian Divine Liturgy. And no, I still haven’t managed to find a song at Jewish Shabbat that I can sing along to without getting totally lost. But the opportunity to worship God in new ways and with new people offers a unique setting to learn and engage in fellowship with others. Another form is dialogue, whether it be a formal event like next week’s “The Play of Wisdom: A Hindu-Jewish-Christian Conversation” or an informal conversation outside Midnight Mug on Lau 2 on a Wednesday night. We have a great deal to learn, both from distinguished scholars as well as our fellow students, and we should take advantage of the opportunities we have to correct misconceptions we have of others’ faith as well as to correct the ones others’ have of ours.
At the Conference, I was so surprised to learn that students from other Jesuit institutions envy the fact that we have so many services and chaplains of varied faith traditions. They want to be able to demonstrate their commitment to meeting their students where they are spiritually in their own faith journeys. Indeed, it is also a great manifestation of the classical Jesuit concept of finding God in all things. But we can do more than just give these traditions a place on campus. We should actively seek out opportunities to understand and engage with them. Just as we students strive for academic excellence and to be women and men for others, we are called to foster community in diversity and interreligious understanding with equal vigor.