Finding acceptance in unlikely places…

Back in Colorado… The rest of Philadelphia was a blast, and for as much time as I spent on my laptop last week, it’s surprising that I actually didn’t get another entry onto here… I have pictures on their way, as well as some funny stories I’d like to share, but first I would like to reflect on some events in the last two days…

Coming back from Philadelphia my re-entry has been good, but non-stop. I’m a bit behind in school, the Collegian is a little behind schedule, I have a mountain of NCSC work, "work" work has piled through the roof and I’m trying to catch up on sleep.. All throughout this time an NCSC presentation I was supposed to give at J23 has been in the back of my mind. This was supposed to be part Conference reflection, part NCSC general education (to a largely new and uninformed audience), and part NCSC outreach to my local University Ministry. I had the help of great friends of mine, yet his was something that was really getting put off. Partly due to circumstances and scheduling these last few weeks, but part of it is that I didn’t really want to think about it. Of course I want to share my NCSC experiences and involvement with my local student group, but given the whole fiasco with renewing our membership did I seriously expect them to be open to what I was offering?

I was completely blown away by these last few days.

On Monday afternoon the three NCSC’ers met with our University Ministers. I wasn’t really sure why they wanted to meet or what we were going to get out of this meeting, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only were they welcoming, but I had this sense of genuine interest and openness to the NCSC and the three of us who have felt particularly alienated by the UM program. The questions they asked were sincere, the suggestions they offered where valuable – a true dialog took place. When we walked out my good friend turned to me and said "This is the best feeling I’ve had after a meeting in the [Student Commons]." I completely echo’d that sentiment. After well over a year of conflict, I finally left a meeting feeling positive and supported. I actually was getting very excited and a bit nervous about making this NCSC presentation.

Tuesday rolled around and along with it came the TNT presentation. We put in a lot of work on Monday. I had five different hand-outs and pieces of information, we put together an awesome photo slide-show, and I actually put together a PowerPoint presentation explaining the basics of NCSC. We came into it pretty well prepared.

Overall the slide show went very well. The audience was a bit small, but they were attentive. We threw a lot of information at them, and they seemed to take it pretty well. I think we may have overloaded them a little, but considering this may have been our only opportunity to appeal to the student group this semester, I felt pretty good about how things went. Again the campus ministers were completely receptive, and it made a great difference in the presentation. It was a very successful night, and in many ways offered some healing and reconciliation for what’s happened with University Ministry at J23…

There was one small part that bothered me… During the presentation we talked about the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) and the NCSC’s commitment to promote them through our International and Programming efforts. One student (one of the FOCUS bible study leaders), raised his hand and asked, "These goals look good and fine, but how exactly are they bringing Jesus?". He offered the scenario that if these goals are met Extreme Hunger and Poverty would be gone, but "they still wouldn’t have Jesus…" We tried to address some of his issues, explaining that the MDG’s were one of many resolutions, efforts and programming that are being offered – perhaps it’s what he meant.

What I fear is that this student may truly feel that the only way to offer compassion and social justice is through evangelization. I would like to believe that this student doesn’t have this mind-set from his FOCUS experience – I don’t have the information to say one way or the other. However, if his perceived mindset is the case, then I really struggle with that vision. It was as if this student had no concept of Catholic Social Teaching, or the call of charity, compassion and service that Christ calls all to do. Is the perception of "bringing Jesus" so narrow that one feels the only meaningful way of accomplishing this is by direct evangelization (and in many ways proselytising to a person). Do your acts of justice and compassion not reveal Christ’s love, offering a personal encounter with Christ? I struggle because it was just two weeks ago when the Pope addressed this very issue in his Encyclical Letter, in which he beautifully stated:

"Charity, furthermore, cannot be used as a means of engaging in what is nowadays considered proselytism. Love is free; it is not practised as a way of achieving other ends. But this does not mean that charitable activity must somehow leave God and Christ aside. For it is always concerned with the whole man. Often the deepest cause of suffering is the very absence of God. Those who practise charity in the Church’s name will never seek to impose the Church’s faith upon others. They realize that a pure and generous love is the best witness to the God in whom we believe and by whom we are driven to love. A Christian knows when it is time to speak of God and when it is better to say nothing and to let love alone speak."

This was a relatively minor issue, but it was one that did stick with me and felt the need to process a bit. In the end, I was really glad for the experience and opportunity to once again address the University Ministry… A great start to a good, but hectic week….