Cura Personalis Ad Salutem Hominum

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The last event of this year’s Jesuit Heritage Week featured a panel discussion on the meaning and value of a Jesuit education from the perspective of an administrator, a professor, a current student, and an alumnus.

After the panelists had offered their remarks, the event was opened up to the audience for Q&A.  An older audience member asked: “how does Georgetown reconcile its Jesuit mission and values with a campus culture that seems to flaunt and encourage excessive alcohol use, class schedules which might include days off during the week, and a generally indulgent student body?” As students, we were put off by her questions; Georgetown, for us, represents in many ways the antithesis of the culture encapsulated in her question.

Jesuit Heritage Week is an annual opportunity for students to celebrate and rediscover Georgetown’s Jesuit tradition and values. At this campus, we are called to be contemplatives in action: people committed to serious reflection and introspection aided by the lessons of Ignatian spirituality and attuned to the needs of our world. The keystone event with Father Ronald Anton, S.J.,  Father Matthew Carnes, S.J., and Father David Hollenbach, S.J. highlighted this aspect of Jesuit education. They discussed how they had each answered the call of the Society of Jesus to travel to the margins of society and serve others. In particular, Father Carnes made the point that the Jesuit order, numbering around 17,000 strong, could not alone effect the positive changes its mission strives for; instead, Jesuit universities seek to instill Jesuit values in their alumni and partners with the hopes that they will carry on the mission.

At the same time, these values are commensurate neither to indoctrination nor lip service; rather, the beauty of Georgetown is that these values meet people where they are, regardless of what faith tradition or background they are coming from. The Jesuit Heritage Week committee, comprised of people from different faith backgrounds and levels of spirituality, serves as a testament to the universal draw of Jesuit values. Just as the Jesuit community worldwide has a diversity of members and interests, the Georgetown community is not homogenous. While students may participate in different clubs, sports teams, academic fields and interests, many incorporate Jesuit values into their daily lives. They strive to make Georgetown a better campus than the one they found upon their arrival.

This is the context within which we find Jesuit Heritage Week. Students are constantly engaging with issues that are important to them, and fight for the justice that they believe in. Whether framed within the context of Jesuit values or not, these students carry on the Jesuit mission when they pursue and genuinely advocate for what they believe is right. Father Pedro Arrupe, S.J., the 28th Superior General of the Society of Jesus, called on each of us to fall in love with God in our own unique ways and let that love decide everything about our lives. Jesuit Heritage Week is an opportunity to recognize the variety of ways that students express this love and make it manifest on this campus, but the challenge remains for each of us to live out this mission every week.

When we revisit the question we were grappling with at the start of this entry, it is no wonder we had such a visceral, defensive reaction. Not a collection of students interested in indulgent pursuits, this campus strives towards cura personalis for each student uniquely and works to address college-specific struggles and challenges. We are a community of students and faculty working together to live out Jesuit values every day, in all that we are and all that we do.

Written by Jupiter El-Asmar, F’17 and Jared Ison, F’17. Both El-Asmar and Ison served as members on this year’s Jesuit Heritage Week Planning Committee.

For a recap of this year’s Jesuit Heritage Week events, check out the official website here.

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It takes a Village (A): Life on the Hilltop for Chaplains and their Families

chaplain-photo1If you live in Village A, you might occasionally see something out of place. On days when the weather is warm and the sun shines, two small girls, dressed as carefree princesses, might be found dancing around on a rooftop, oblivious to the stresses and problems that absorb the students who surround them. The two girls will call from their rooftop terrace to students below, looking to find fellow Sesame Street fans and to make new friends. The presence of children in a space usually reserved for springtime keg races may seem odd, but it is a part of one of the most unique and integral aspects of Georgetown life: having chaplains-in-residence.

When students first move into their dorms the last week of August, they don’t expect to find a small family of four as their new next door neighbours. Families, they might think, will impede their self-expression, forcing them to turn down the music or avoid cursing. However, for the chaplains-in-residence (CIRs) the goal is to avoid such confrontation and allow as much freedom as possible, only stepping in to help when asked.

These chaplains are trained pastoral ministers who live among students on Georgetown’s campus. They come from different denominations and represent various faiths. While 14 of the 25 chaplains are Roman Catholic, Protestant denominations, such as American Baptist and Presbyterian are well represented, as well as Islam, Episcopalian, and Hindu faiths. Brahmachari Vrajvihari Sharan, the Hindu chaplain, arrived last year and is the first Hindu chaplain at any school in the United States.

Despite their religious backgrounds, chaplains stress that they are available for anyone who needs to talk. By having many different faiths represented amongst the CIRs, campus ministry hopes to give every student the opportunity to speak with someone who worships the same way. Diversity among chaplains allows for more students to find someone with whom they feel comfortable. Chaplains see themselves as beacons, where people can find themselves when they are lost.

“For the most part, how we see our role, is that we get to support the students. And we get to help them to see that we think they’re valuable, that we really exist to cheer them on,” said Joel Daniels, a Protestant CIR who lives in Henle. “So we’re not there to critique. We’re there when they get critiqued to be able to come to us and to talk about what that means, how that makes them feel.”

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In a place where students often feel isolated from their friends and family, it can be difficult to find someone to communicate with on a deeper level. Whatever students are struggling with–relationships, job opportunities, or family issues–chaplains pride themselves in pointing students in the right direction.

“I always say our real purpose is to be there when students enter modes of depth, depth of thinking about themselves, their identity, depth of thinking about their faith and what they most believe, thinking about their values—their own sense of right and wrong,” said Father Matthew Carnes, S.J., a Kennedy CIR and associate professor, also known for his class on comparative political systems.  “And we can walk with them through those conversations as they think them through.”

Campus ministry asks that CIRs have regular opportunities to meet with the students. CIRs offer programs such as open doors that usually occur at the same time every week, where chaplains offer desserts, quesadillas, or other treats.

In addition to setting weekly hours, chaplains offer special programming throughout the year. During Heritage Week earlier this semester, Carnes held a fireside chat, where students spoke with him about Jesuit heritage and identity. Once every fall semester, Carnes guides a secret Jesuit tour of campus.

“I think it’s one of the really special things about Jesuit schools is that you have Jesuits living that close to students, where they can really have this informal interaction that then leads to deeper and richer interactions,” said Carnes.

CIR applications are similar to Georgetown applications for ordinary students. Chaplains are generally expected to finish four years of residence before they apply for each individual year thereafter. The application process includes professional letters of recommendation, an interview with Georgetown officials, and an essay about why they feel they would be a good fit for the Georgetown Chaplain-in-Residence program.

“The Georgetown value of the whole person [cura personalis]goes into this too,” Daniels said. “I appreciated that aspect of caring for me as an applicant, not as though it’s some detached application.”

Chaplains fill a wide range of identities and demographics. Some chaplains are professors at Georgetown, some are graduate or Ph.D. students themselves. Some are nearing the end of their time at Georgetown, some are experiencing the Hilltop for the first time. Some live alone, some have young families adapting to life on a college campus.

For chaplains with families, such as Rev. Katie Francis, who is a Presbyterian chaplain in Village A, Georgetown presents a unique home and play area for young children. “They do think they live in a castle. They’re all girls, so they think this is a real castle. And that we live and work in a kingdom. [Copley] Lawn is their front lawn,” said Francis.

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For some CIRs, their interest in education matched well with their passion for ministry.

“When I was in high school, I thought about becoming a pastor, but for whatever reason, never became one. I trained to be one, I got my Master’s of Divinity, but I also ended up teaching in different schools and decided I really loved academic life and wanted to be a full-time professor,” said Easten Law, a Church of the Savior chaplain, and the other Village A CIR.

Francis, in a story similar to many other chaplains-in-residence, happened to stumble across her job. An opportunity to serve as a chaplain-in-residence coincided with her desire to raise a family. A normal ministry job is hectic, and requires many late nights and weekends to help with various crises. In her apartment in Village A, however, she has found the opportunity  to help students while taking care of her three daughters, the youngest of whom recently finished her first trip around the sun.

“I remember reading the description over and over again and thinking, ‘this can’t be real,’” said Francis. “Ten hours a week in exchange for rent in Georgetown, living with students, hosting open houses. It just sounded so fun.”

For the most part, young students and chaplains’ families get along without any problems. Students seek help when they feel they need it, and chaplains are ready to listen whenever an issue arises.

One would expect  this to change on the weekends, though, when tension might arise between the chaplain’s families and students who are looking to blow off the week’s stress. Chaplains, however, say that parties are rarely a burden on their relationship with students.

“The partying usually gets started after the kids are asleep, and they’re pretty heavy sleepers, so it hasn’t really impacted us at all. We’ve been thankful for that,” Law said.

CIRs recognize that partying on campus is part of life when choosing to live on campus.

“When people are doing more of that socializing or heading out, I’m usually back in my own space. It’s not like I’m wandering the halls when they’re going to parties,” Carnes explained. “I think that gives them the space to be who they are at the age they are. It gives me the space to be who I am at the age I am. And each of us to be happy in the building.”

“We don’t police the neighborhood. Similar to if we lived in Georgetown and somebody was too loud. We have amazing students, and for the most part there’s never been a problem,” Daniels said. “And even if they are louder, it’s a college experience, that’s an expression of what it means to be in college and we acknowledge that and are grateful that they have that the space to do that.”

In some cases, it has even made the bond between chaplain and student stronger.

“I’ve even had a couple students come to my apartment, and they’re like, ‘We’re gonna host parties, here’s our number, put it in your phone. If your kids wake up, if it’s too loud, text us.’ It’s amazing,” said Francis.

On Halloween weekend, one party had gone back-to-back nights with a DJ. On the second night, Francis texted the students, asking if they could lower the music as Francis’ mother was in town.

“In like fifteen minutes they turned the music off. I felt bad, I was like, ‘You didn’t have to turn it off, you can turn it down.’ It was just so cool, just the respect people have for our family here,” said Francis. “That really meant a lot to me, and we’ve been kind of close to that apartment, and they’ve stopped by for breakfast Saturday morning. So, it hasn’t been bad, it’s been really good.”

Francis fosters a particularly strong connection with her students. Ozette, her youngest daughter, was born during last year’s snowstorm. Her residents, worried that she may have trouble getting to the hospital, texted her asking for updates. At one point, Francis and her husband were having difficulty getting their van out of their parking spot. Students walking past saw Francis in labor, and promptly called a GERMS ambulance.

“It was fabulous, we had so much support … the students came by and brought presents and meals and it was really cool,” Francis said.

The type of interactions that chaplains will have with their residents can rely heavily on where the chaplain is placed. The different housing options on campus can lead to far different experiences. The problems that freshman students face, are often different than those of upperclassmen, who have already adapted to living away from home.

“That freshman year is really that moment that a lot of people are trying to build relationships, so I know a lot of the CIRs and JIRs [Jesuits-in-Residence] in freshman dorms, tend to function as a centering place for relationship building,” Daniels said. “Most likely students don’t know each other at that point. Everything is new.”

Freshman students tend to have similar problems every year. While homesickness exists at every school, the atmosphere at Georgetown often promotes an increased sense of pressure and competition, leading students to question their ability and their place on campus.

“There’s a lot of people who have done super well academically in their high school, they barely even compete. Then they get here, and they’re like, ‘Oh, there are other people just as smart as me,’” Francis explained. “So then academic wise, and if they’re trying to get into clubs, starting to party, if their grades [drop]… they get really upset.”

While younger students often struggle with making new relationships, upperclassmen tend to have more difficulty dealing with their current ones. Living with people in a close, confined space can strain any close friendship.

“People have friend relationships, they’re living with roommates, and in Henle now they’re really in this intimate setting,” Daniels said. “You have your kitchen there, you have your bedroom, sometimes they’re connected, they’re not the biggest rooms, and so when people have some questions and thoughts and maybe even struggles we get to support that, as opposed to intervening in a correcting way.”

CIRs may sometimes seem out of place and imposing. In reality, the purpose of the position is just the opposite. Chaplains care for their communities. When students get pushed off their path, chaplains are the ones who show them how to get back on track. They make meals, they talk through problems, they make students feel at home. They exist to communicate, to guide, and to remind students of something that sometimes gets lost at Georgetown: everything is going to be okay.

Written by Jonny Amon, B’19. This article was originally published in The Hoya on February 16, 2017 and can be found online here.

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Embracing Our Essential Love

Go ahead. Type it in. Those four little letters – L O V E.

Having just done so myself, 7.5 billion Google results  popped up on my screen. That’s a whole lotta love. So, with Valentine’s Day today, and so much love out there, it is worth our consideration to spend a little time here reflecting on what exactly we are celebrating.

While many recognize Valentine’s Day as merely another consumer holiday dreamt up for the sole end of increased revenue for restaurants, florists and greeting card manufacturers, the origins of the celebration — like so many contemporary holidays — can be traced back to the Romans and the fertility festival Lupercalia.

The festival would be Christianized by the fifth century and, by the time of Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales,” became known as the day when lovers find their mates.

Today, Valentine’s Day may conjure childhood memories of a classroom wall covered in labeled paper bags in which classmates hand out, receive and tally up tiny cards adorned with cartoon characters. Although traditions might vary from era to era, the traditional underpinning is the notion of love. But what exactly are we celebrating when we celebrate love?

Plato attempted to arrive at an answer in his “Symposium,” in which Socrates asserts that the greatest purpose of love is that of the philosopher who loves wisdom. It is a classic and engaging dialogue, but still fails at providing a satisfactory conclusion.

St. Paul provided a litany of what love is and is not in his letter to the community in Corinth,  which is oft-heard at weddings — love is patient, love is kind, love does not envy.

More recently, in the last century, C.S. Lewis identified four types of love: storge, empathetic love; philia, friendship love; eros, romantic love; and agape, unconditional, selfless love. Lewis is certainly onto something, yet these categories still beg the question — what is this love itself that is so essential, so crucial to who we are as human beings?

A fundamental aspect of our Ignatian tradition might assist in shedding light on the issue. In the foundational text “The Spiritual Exercises,” St. Ignatius of Loyola writes that the purpose of such exercises is to lead an individual to greater spiritual freedom. This spiritual freedom, he maintains, has the end of praising reverence and serving God.

Stated another way, each of us seeks greater, deeper spiritual freedom so as to live more fully who we each uniquely and authentically are created to be. Coming to a greater freedom, unfettered from distractions and disordered attachments, leads us into living more fully our true selves.

This is where the concept of love enters the equation. For St. Ignatius, one comes to recognize more fully who one uniquely is by coming to realize one’s deepest passions and desires. Passion, desire — these are indeed facets of this nebulous entity we call love.

It is crucial to understand St. Ignatius himself as an incredible romantic, an idealist, a dreamer, an individual who was dedicated to recognizing the greater good in his own life and living that out to the fullest. He was someone who reflected intently on his deepest desires, and as a result pursued living out of those desires and dreams, placing it all in the service of others.

St. Ignatius proves vital in explaining what this force of love actually is — our authentic dreams, our genuine passions and our desire to live fully from these in all things. In a quote attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J., the 28th Superior General of the Society of Jesus, one’s deepest desires become brilliantly clear when we recognize love and how to live it:

“Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in a love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings, what you will do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love and it will decide everything.”

Love is not something nebulously out there, in someone or something. Love is in the very essence of each of us — in our own unique selves, in the passions that get us out of bed each day and fuel our journeys in life. Let us celebrate that.

Written by Roman Catholic Chaplain Fr. Gregory Schenden, S.J. This article was originally published in The Hoya on February 14, 2017 and can be found online here.

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The Gospel Choir: The Messenger of Hope and Liberation

The 137th Psalm asks the question “how can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land.” That is the history of Gospel music in America. Blending African rhythms, European hymnody, blues cadences, and the sorrow and joy of the African American experience.  Gospel music declares the complex narrative of human experience containing both sorrow and joy. This music in the words of the theologian Howard Thurman carries the mystery of the human experience.  It is this mystery of joy and sorrow, hope and despair, oppression and deliverance that sustained a people who have known the bitterness of life. Though gospel music is born out of the African American experience, its message is universal.  It is this universal message that is sung weekly by the Georgetown University Gospel Choir.

Under the leadership of stellar award winning director Phil Carter, The Georgetown University Gospel Choir is a Georgetown treasure.  This charismatic and diverse group of 35 students with exuberance, grace, and soul lead the congregation each week at the 7pm Protestant Service in St. Williams Chapel in singing praises to God.

On November 15, 2016 they brought the musical styling of the gospel music tradition to Lohrfink auditorium for a sacred service of song.  With over one hundred in attendance, the liturgical dancers of the choir opened with a traditional spiritual. With tambourines swinging and dresses twirling the liturgical dancers of the Gospel Choir invoked the presence of the spirit. The rhythmic sounds of percussion, hand clapping, and great joy soon followed as the choir sang selection after selection. In one rousing song entitled “Hello God” the choir had the entire congregation on their feet, swaying, waving their hands, and singing!  Through their singing, the Gospel Choir presented to the Georgetown community a message of hope and liberation to an interracial, interfaith, and intercultural community.  It is through the commitment of the students of the Gospel Choir that the gospel tradition declaring the complexity of the human experience and the sustaining power of God is presented to a new generation.

Written by Reverend Brandon Harris, Protestant Chaplain to the Law Center and Main Campus. Rev. Harris is also a Chaplain-in-Residence in VCE at Georgetown University.

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Meditation and Reflection at the John Main Center

For many Georgetown students, busy schedules and marked-up planners are the norm. With such a fast-paced college culture, multitasking has become a necessity. Such a strong emphasis on activity leaves little room for contemplation. The John Main Center for Meditation and Inter-religious Dialogue, however, provides a space for reflection. Aiming to promote mindfulness and meditation on campus, the center is a source of support for many students regardless of their faith or background.

The JMC is housed in Anne Marie Becraft Hall, the oldest building on campus, which is at the corner of Old North Way and Library Walk, across from New South. The center derives its name from Fr. John Main, an Irish Benedictine monk who is best known for developing his own method of Christian meditation incorporating mantra, a sacred prayer word or phrase.

JOHN MAIN MEDITATION CENTER Pictured above, Fr. John Main

JOHN MAIN MEDITATION CENTER
Pictured above, Fr. John Main

His teachings have been upheld by the World Community for Christian Meditation, which, in collaboration with Georgetown University, established the JMC in 2005. The JMC is considered a non-profit organization of the American chapter of the WCCM.

Twelve years after its conception, the JMC remains an integral component of spiritual life at Georgetown. The building consists of a large, sunlit room lined with floor pillows and chairs. Additionally, a large center table contains scriptures from a number of religious traditions.

Although the JMC is open for private meditation, many visitors opt for silent group meditation sessions, which are held every weekday at 12:30 p.m. and 6:00 p.m., as well as 10:00 a.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays. The center also hosts Buddhist meditations Monday and Thursday evenings and Quaker meetings Tuesday evenings, in addition to weekly meditation sessions in partnership with Georgetown University’s Counseling and Psychiatric Service. The services provided by the JMC are free of charge.

Nicholas J. Scrimenti (COL ’18) is the JMC program coordinator and leader of the new Student Advisory Committee. His advice for beginners is simply to start attending group meditation, especially because meetings open with instructions for newcomers. Scrimenti describes the JMC as a “very welcoming community.”

Still, some students question whether they truly have the time to commit to meditating.

“Meditation is a centering force that guides our concentration to the matter at hand and, in effect, makes time more spatial,” Scrimenti said in an email to The Hoya.

He further explained that the practice of meditation is adaptable and easy to integrate into one’s daily routine. Ideally, it should become something individuals look forward to doing.

JMC Director Elizabeth Cardone offers similar advice for those looking to begin meditating. She suggests taking half an hour to visit the JMC.

“Ideally, students should spend time in meditation every morning and every evening. Even five minutes can serve to refresh and energize the soul,” Cardone said. “Once you develop a routine of meditation, you will find it has a positive impact on time managements skills, and you may find a healthy realignment of your priorities.”

Other students may feel deterred from the practice due to its seeming difficulty. Cardone stresses the importance of not judging one’s “performance” when meditating. Ultimately, the practice offers long-term benefits and transformative effects.

“Meditation reduces stress and anxiety, improves sleep patterns, boosts the immune system and promotes overall well-being,” Cardone said. “Additionally, meditation can have a powerful benefit for those hoping to overcome trauma or addictive behaviors.”

Scrimenti echoes these beliefs yet said he believes that focus should not be limited to the outcome of meditating.

JOHN MAIN MEDITATION CENTER

JOHN MAIN MEDITATION CENTER“The practice is a reward in itself. Moreover, the quantifiable benefits of meditation, as many meditators can attest to, are not as salient as the intangible fruits of the practice; things such as compassion, deeper interpersonal relationships and tranquility,” Scrimenti said.

Perhaps the most powerful feature of meditation lies in its ability to transcend religion. As students and faculty sit together, their respective faiths are cast aside. Cardone puts it best, stating: “Silence can be a universal language.”

Despite the center’s Christian roots, the JMC celebrates a diverse range of spiritual traditions. At group meetings, for example, scriptures of any religion may be read before or after meditation.

 

Cardone states that inter-religious dialogue is sparked through the center’s promotion of external programs, such as the Way of Peace Fellowship. Georgetown students from all backgrounds are encouraged to apply. Those accepted will attend the Way of Peace Conference hosted by Catholic University of America in April.

Involvement with the JMC promises plenty of opportunities, as well as the chance to meet and connect with new people. Regardless of one’s motivations to pursue meditation, its reflective, cathartic potential carries a wide array of possibilities.

Furthermore, it is one of the best ways to achieve mindfulness, defined by the Foundation for a Mindful Society as “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”

The JMC’s doors are open to all, regardless of one’s experience with meditation or personal faith. Visitors are united through a common belief in integrating mindfulness into their daily routines and can certainly attest to its positive effects.

“The gift of meditation will change your life,” Cardone said. “Come and see for yourself.”

Written by Meena Raman, Class of 2020. This article was originally published in The Hoya on February 3, 2017 and can be found online here.

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