So I woke up by the paws of a hungry dog prodding me to give him his morning kibble. My wife usually handles those duties and she did the same this morning, “I got him, go back to sleep.” God love her, she knows I have a long day today as I do most Sundays. Everyone else has the day off but my sabbath day is usually another day during the week because on Sunday, I’m out being a huckster for the Lord. I’m far from a morning person, but this morning I’m up!
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Oh sure, being the Campus Minister is hard enough work. “Like herding cats,” one colleague from another campus once remarked. “No.” I replied, “It’s like herding MICE. They’re faster and they can hide much easier than the average housecat.” And at a secular university, rife with atheistic viewpoints all around me, the mice scatter in twenty different directions. And to belabor the metaphor, Jesus said we have to gather the sheep together and not lose one, to search endlessly for that one and rejoice when we find that lost one.
He didn’t say anything about mice and yet here I go…
My campus is a unique one. I’m at the smaller of two University of Buffalo campuses plus a third downtown campus that will explode soon into a brand spanking new medical campus by 2017. Our larger main campus, is pretty straightforward…it’s where most undergraduates have their classes and the administration folks are over there and essentially it’s what most people think of when you mention UB.
Our South Campus is different. We have all the pre-professional schools at our place: Medicine, Nursing, Dentistry, Architecture, Health Sciences and Social Work. A new pharmacy building has just opened (complete with a Tim Horton’s) right nearby the church which sits on the edge of the campus tucked between two parking lots. Further afield on the other side of campus are two residence halls, one of international students and one of freshman undergrads. And just when it couldn’t get any more diverse, our neighborhood is the party central neighborhood. Tons of students, many upperclass undergrads and graduate students call University Heights home and they are from all kinds of backgrounds.
And each semester I have to remind myself of one very important thing:
Nobody goes to a State University for the Campus Ministry, much less, the Catholic Campus Ministry.
Sure, you might go to a Catholic School like Fordham or Canisius because you went to a Jesuit High School. Or you might go to Notre Dame because of their Catholicism. But the admissions office at a State University isn’t exactly touting the marvels of a University parish in their package.
And so, it’s up to me. I have to be open to the students inviting not just Catholic students into Sunday mass, but also inviting the university to continue to be open to conversations with us. We do lunchtime lectures for our medical and nursing students. We hit the neighborhood and do community service gathering students who want to give back and also students who have run afoul of the university’s policies. We offer break trips that seek to do more than what MTV’s Spring Break has to offer.
I’ve found myself walking amongst who I call “the living dead” at our medical school. The sacred bodies of those who have donated their bodies to the medical school for medical students to dissect and learn anatomy while they too, are being dissected, dealing with the emotions involved with probing into another human being’s most intimate parts.
I’ve been an actor in the Behling Simulation Center, playing the role of a family member or patient for those who are studying to be doctors, physician assistants, nurses and physical and occupational therapists. I’ve had to cry when they tell me I have lung cancer or that my child has asthma. I try to be the difficult family member who keeps asking questions and getting in the way. And they tell me that I help make it “all too real” for them.
And I mostly try not to be a creep. Because there are plenty of “religious creeps” out there.
“Are you saved?” “Don’t you love Jesus?…don’tcha? Don’tcha? DON’TCHA?”
The list of things I’ve heard about how some folks have been approached (more like attacked) by religious types on campus really disgusts me some days. And it makes my job a thousand times harder because now religion has a bad name.
I think the University faculty like to see me coming because they know I’m simply not a nutburger. And that’s good because they are the trusted source for many of our students, if not most. And they help me be a better minister.
Some days, my job is hard. Walls are put up and I could try to scale them or go around them, but most of the time I just need to gently knock on the little door that most people miss in that wall. And when that door cracks open I simply have to make a sales pitch. We’re all concerned with the students and their academic success. We all want to develop better people for the world’s needs. We all want students and a university that we can be proud of.
Some seek me out after having a good experience with me at mass, or a community service event or an alternative break. One student tells me that he dreaded having to sit next to me for a 9 hour bus ride to New York City and by the end of the ride he didn’t want to sit anywhere else. I get to hear their troubles and anxieties in spiritual direction and their longing to be closer to God, to have lives of deep meaning, heading in the direction of Rahner’s “infinite horizon.” Even the ones who don’t espouse Catholicism long for connecting deep with the divine. I guide them as a spiritual director and when I hear what some are dealing with I’m surprised they are walking and talking in an all too wounded world, never mind, going to school to get a degree in the midst of such chaos.
I play games with numbers each week, trying not to get to disappointed when students say “I’d love to do service, or come to mass, but I’m so busy” noting their eclipsed spirituality and wondering what I might be able to do on their terms to engage them in their too busy schedules. I remind myself that Jesus started with 12 and this week we read that most of those that they recruited all went away leaving Jesus to wonder if the 12 he started with were going to leave too.
It’s just crazy and always messy and some days I suck at it but most days I think I do pretty well…and God is right there in the mess of it all.
I can’t sleep this morning not out of anxiousness or nerves, but rather because it’s the exciting start of a new semester.
I get to do ministry today.
And that is more than enough for me.
8PM this evening…St Joseph’s University Parish at UB South…come and see what I get to do.