Finding Nachas at the Jewish Life Retreat

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Something we love talking about here at Georgetown is “cura personalis,” or care of the whole person. What exactly does this mean? For some, it refers to self-care: taking time to see friends, eating a well-balanced meal, writing in a journal. For others, it is caring about friends, family, colleagues in the emotional, physical, and spiritual realms. For me, cura personalis has taken on new meaning in my sophomore year. Freshman year, I did not embody cura personalis; I simply spent a lot of time obsessed with my grades and working alone towards that elusive 4.0. Now, my cura personalis is all about balance, working to fulfill myself emotionally and spiritually both alone and through interaction with friends, family, and staff.

One place I see cura personalis nurtured is on retreat. Georgetown’s retreat program is thriving, and I am grateful to be a part of it both as an ESCAPE leader and as a participant on our semi-annual Jewish retreat. There is something magical about being at the beautiful Calcagnini Contemplative Center (hats off to the architect, because it is photogenic as heck) surrounded on the outside by silence and stars and on the inside by a roaring fire and good conversation, that keeps people coming back.

We must be doing a good job because this spring because we had our biggest Jewish retreat yet; we had to add more spots because 40+ people wanted to go. This was proof that Jewish Life here is thriving.  As a GUish intern whose main goals are student engagement and community building, seeing a bus bursting at the seams filled me with nachas — a Yiddish word meaning pride or gratification.

However, a more cynical part of me wondered: Would such a large retreat change the dynamic? Bigger could mean more cliquish — definitely not the vibe we hope to give off. And so I waited.

If I take anything from that overnight, it is the memory of around 30 of us sitting in a giant circle in the McKenna dining room, slamming on tables and singing at the top of our lungs all of the Jewish songs we know. Shaked and Ronit were sitting next to each other discussing what to sing next, Ari joined in every time because he knows the entire repertoire, Rabbi tried to delegate different vocal parts to actual good singers, and the rest of us sat clapping away and singing when we could. The circle continued to grow as more and more people came in: an impromptu sing-a-long. The sea of smiles conjured up an oddly familiar feeling — oh right, nachas.

Sometimes, the great things are not planned and obsessed over. They happen naturally, organically.  It is up to us to seize these moments, to see them as cura personalis, and to realize how lucky we are to have the chance to stretch both our minds and our hearts everywhere we turn.

Written by Janine Karo, C’19.

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Manresa: A Time of Recharge, Reflection and Retreat

“In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.”

I can’t help but feel a rush of joy when my dark, lifeless phone suddenly comes to life while charging. I stare at it impatiently hoping that in any second it while finally lighten up.

Michelle, our retreat director on the new Manresa Junior Retreat, noted that we can be a lot like our phones that need to be re-charged. We can often let ourselves reach the point of zero energy, filling up our schedules with internships and clubs and studying for exams until the wee hours of the morning, all while trying to maintain an enjoyable and social college experience.  We sometimes rarely allow ourselves time for the necessary reboot- a time of silence and stillness in order to lighten up again.

I found myself falling into this busy-ness culture at Georgetown.  I looked around and saw all of my friends thriving. They too worked hard at all hours, yet they also seemed to maintain a social life, exercise, and explore DC. I, on the other hand, couldn’t afford to go a whole day without opening my school bag because I felt guilty for not working exceptionally hard. This hard-working lifestyle with little breaks seemed both sustainable and productive. I felt I was moving forward towards progress. Yet, I couldn’t have been more wrong. How could I ever think that I was different than a phone in serious need of a recharge? My napping sprees and lazy Sunday mornings, while nice reminders of relaxation, served more like an extra shot of espresso rather than a true chance to recharge.

The Manresa Junior Retreat could not have come at a better time. After a tough week of midterms, where I let myself get dangerously close to 0%, the time came to power off and be silent. I quite literally turned off my own phone, and gave us both some time to recharge.

The retreat experience was one I knew I needed but didn’t realize how much. Yes, it was exactly the recharging experience one might expect. I was quiet, rested and still. Yet, the real recharge didn’t come from the fact that for once I wasn’t moving 13974 miles per hour.

Instead, to my surprise and delight, my approach to life was rejuvenated. Resting, in the physical sense, is fairly easy, but allowing my mind to rest and reflect on my lifestyle was not as easy.  Allowing myself to be on retreat granted me the opportunity to sit back and reexamine my life.  Am I doing what I love? Am I happy?  What happened to me on retreat was a much deeper level of recharging that allowed me to move forward productively with my life and studies.

During Manresa, I reexamined my perspectives, goals and relationship with God. I realized there was a difference between having a great work ethic and being a workaholic. I enjoy learning new things and challenging myself, but I also enjoy being stress-free and happy. My time on retreat helped get me off the conveyor belt that Georgetown can sometimes be and back in touch with my authentic self.

I now plan to continue this Manresa mindset and live out my next year and a half on the hilltop with a new recharged and reshaped outlook. I want to make my Georgetown experience as great and memorable as it can be, and that would not have been possible without this retreat. I now can truly say that I am better able to understand my world after stepping away from it briefly.

Written by Anna Hallahan, C’18.

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Ash Wednesday: A Reminder of Beauty and Tension

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Repent, and believe in the Gospel. The words burrow their way into my mind as Fr. Greg Schenden, S.J. imposes ash across my forehead. It feels auspicious sitting alongside my Protestant and Catholic colleagues at our first ecumenical Ash Wednesday service here at Georgetown University, and I am struck by the significance that we are observing this particular service together.

Ash Wednesday is complicated. It is a service in which we literally smear ashes across our foreheads, remembering who we are and to whom we belong. The ashes act as a reminder that we are sinners, all with limits and limitations, and yet we proclaim the Gospel in the same breath. Inherent in our practice is the tension between sinner and saved, a reminder that our hold on life is frightfully thin, and that despite our claims to faith and obedience, we continue to fall short of the faith we claim. We treat people as things, and things as though they are more valuable than people.

And yet, even as we are all sinners together, we are also participants in the Gospel of Christ Jesus together. I found the beauty and tension in this truth especially highlighted by the ecumenical nature of the service unfolding around me. We do not share a common table, but we do share the positions of both sinner and saved. Along with Dr. Jim Wickman’s invitation to examine our interior selves, so too in this holy season we are reminded that all are created in the image of Christ, and invited to participate in God’s design for the world. Even as sin clings as closely as the smudge of ash on our foreheads, we embrace the mercy that surrounds us and draws us into service with one another and to Jesus Christ. Remember. Repent.

Written by Rev. Olivia Lane, Protestant Chaplain and Chaplain-in-Residence at Pedro Arrupe, S.J. Hall

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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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