Catholic Values Column: Meant to be

Jared Johnson

Catholic Values Columnist

About once a semester, my family is able to make the eight-hour drive down from the suburbs of Chicago to spend time with me for a few days. It’s always special when your family gets to visit.

As a student who lives at some distance from school, there is the sensation of worlds colliding: my home life and my school life are radically separate. It’s a little surreal to watch my parents walk the Rosary Circle or see my brother in line at Cupertino’s.

It’s an interesting experience for them as well: “Franciscan University” is a name that inspires interest, suspicion, excitement, frustration and a plethora of other sentiments throughout the American Catholic world. And from all my talk over the phone or on break, Franciscan takes on an almost legendary aura.

For them, I imagine that it’s just as surreal to experience the place I’ve called home for the better part of two years. It’s all new and confusing and exciting to them; I get to see it from their eyes.

Their most recent visit, a few weeks ago now, was particularly busy: they got to meet my girlfriend, have brunch with a number of my friends, attend a Veritas Society debate, check out Leonardo’s on Fourth Street and plenty more. They had a blast, and were sorry to go: not only because we had to say goodbye once again, but because they truly loved the atmosphere and life of Franciscan University.

I realize that it’s been a good while since I was so enthusiastic about our school.

Franciscan, like every earthly institution, is far from perfect. While I think most of us consider ourselves blessed to be here, there is an undercurrent of frustration and dissatisfaction stemming from various aspects of university life, whether that be because you feel your major lacks the respect and support it deserves, or you feel as if your spiritual and liturgical sympathies are sidelined in favor of the mainstream.

I know that the more involved I have gotten, through different clubs and ministries, the more disillusioned I have become. Often, we find ourselves at bitter odds with our fellow Frannies.

I needn’t list everything; all you need to do is bring up modern innovations in the liturgy, politics, modesty — everyone feels aggrieved by some other campus demographic, often with a self-righteous defensiveness.

These tensions, one way or another, find their culmination in the liturgy. I sing as a bass in Chapel Choir, which provides music for the 8 a.m. Sunday Mass. So when my family visited they opted to attend that Mass.

We hail from a traditional-leaning Novus Ordo culture back home; I dreaded what they might say about a fieldhouse Mass. I gave them what I considered fair warning: it’s a gymnasium, masks are heavily recommended, there are no patens, so on and so forth. Later that day I got a chance to ask what they’d thought, ready with a litany of my own criticisms.

I, entrenched in my frustrations, was blown away by how much my mom loved it. She was so impressed that, despite the setting, as soon as the recessional hymn ended, the entire congregation of students dropped to their knees to offer up thanksgiving.

Any gym Mass anywhere else, she said, would have devolved into chatter and noise immediately. Yet despite the fundamental irreverence of the setting, despite whatever issues I could level, we had entered into that space and brought the reverence with us.

With little investment in the trials and troubles of campus life, I believe my mom was able to see more clearly the treasure we have here, what we come here seeking in the first place.

Because we are a community striving to live according to the truth, our vexation is greater when someone so close to the truth is — we believe — missing the mark. We expect more of one another when we fall. At times, I think we need to step back and marvel that we can participate in that community at all. Why are our disputes so intense?

We all care.

At Franciscan University, however diverse our expressions of the faith are and however many divisions that may create, we all strive to believe, seek to know and struggle to serve the Lord and his Church. At some point we recognized that, and opted to come to this place.

As this semester draws to a close, we ought to recognize again, and let ourselves be blown away by, that fact. In this tortured, broken, self-destructive post-Modern culture, a place so zealous and so steadfast exists, and the Lord, for his perfect purposes, meant us to be.