Sister Laura Downing, I.H.M.

Last year, I was missioned by my religious congregation, the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to teach theology at Immaculata University. Several years before, I was a theology student at Immaculata and it was there that I really came to understand and embrace my Catholic faith. Given the importance of Immaculata in my life, I was delighted to return and hoped to share with my students what Immaculata had given to me.

However, I was also a bit nervous because of all of the disheartening news about decreasing church attendance and the rise of the “nones,” particularly among young adults.

Happily, what I have found, and a source of my overwhelming sense of hope, is that I am surrounded by truly wonderful young people. It is true that I have encountered several non-religious students who are disengaged and disinterested; but I have known many who are genuinely curious or want to “catch up” on the catechesis and sacraments that they missed.

I have also encountered students who have been away from the church but are actively seeking their place within it. All of these young adults give me such hope for the church as they seek to find their home in her.

June has long been my favorite month, not just because it signals the end of the school year … though that is probably part of the reason. There is just something about the warming weather, the slowing pace of life and the promise of days at the Jersey shore that always draws me into a calmer and more reflective mood.

The liturgical life of the church follows a similar trajectory in June: the final days of the Easter Season culminate in Pentecost and lead us back into Ordinary Time.

Over the years, I have honed a practice of doing an examination of conscience whenever we resume the liturgical season of Ordinary Time. Though similar to a daily examination of conscience, it is concerned with how well I have recognized and responded to God’s activity in my life over a longer stretch of time. I find that it is particularly helpful for me as I seek to know God better and understand how he works in my life.

The first step in the process is to prayerfully remember the people and events of my life while looking for the tell-tale evidence of the work of God in my life — growth in fruit of the spirit (Gal 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) and theological virtues (1 Cor 13:13: faith, hope, and love).

The second step is to ponder how aware I was of God’s action in the moment. And the third and final step is to act. That is, to choose how I will respond to what God has been doing in my life.

Even though it is barely June, I have already begun working on the first step and I am overwhelmed by a sense of hope. I’d like to share why.

I have also been blessed by the presence of many young men and women who are already intentionally working to build the Kingdom. In my reflection, three specific examples come to mind, although I have known many others who warrant mention.

The first, Randie, is more involved in her home parish than most other adults I know. She has found wonderful role models there, and is actively striving to become one for those who are younger than her.

The second, Lynn, organizes adoration on campus several days a week. It is immediately evident that she makes the Eucharist the center of her life and inspires those she encounters to do the same.

The third, Aidan, is involved in everything! He does service through campus ministry nearly every day of the week and this summer he will be serving the archdiocese as a leader of Camp Caritas.

Now that I have begun my examination of conscience, I can already clearly see God working in my life, giving me great hope, through the faith and works of my students.

My prayer is that the witness of their lives might be a source of confidence for you in the fulfillment of God’s promise to Jeremiah of “a future full of hope” (Jer. 29:11).