During Lent we recall the trajectory of Jesus’ life, meeting him on his way to the cross. He invites us to walk him there so we can grasp the depth of his love. Just as the gardener in the Gospel for the Third Sunday of Lent asks his landowner for another opportunity to give a barren fig tree one more year to bear fruit, I often ask God for one more opportunity to invite students to meet him on his walk to the cross.
As a college campus minister, I am not surprised by students’ desire for something otherworldly. College is a pivotal moment in their lives. They are choosing a degree path, a career, who they will date and defining what kind of person they want to be. These are big questions. Finding the space to ask them is where campus ministry meets most of its students and, hopefully, where students meet Jesus Christ.
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The call of the Christian life is to accompany people on their walk toward and with the Lord. The questions my students face are our questions as well: Will I be happy? Will I be loved? Am I capable? Am I worthy? God answers over and over again: Yes.
I met Alli her freshman year. She was not Catholic but eager to become one through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program. I was thrilled to be a part of her faith journey and witness her entering the church at the Easter Vigil. However, the “honeymoon” phase, as Alli described it, wore off, and she was disappointed to realize becoming Catholic did not remove her struggles, temptations and distractions.
By her sophomore year, Alli was struggling, seeking affirmation from guys, convinced of the lie that if a boy could love her then it would mean she was lovable. Alli kept me and everyone else at arm’s length about her struggles. The lie she believed, along with the noise and distractions of college life, drowned out God’s yes.
Alli taught me an important lesson during this season of her life, that sometimes people walk away, some even unaware they have set out in a direction contrary to God’s will. It is one of the most challenging moments, accompanying students who have encountered God but drift away despite all efforts of invitation, modeling or educating. This is when my chaplain reminds me prayer and sacrifice are worth more than anything we could say or do.
Late in her sophomore year, Alli came by to visit, and we sat on the back deck of the Newman Center to catch up. On that beautiful spring day, Alli spoke candidly about how she felt unfulfilled in her search for affirmation and love, and was tired of it.
God provided a moment for us to share in his walk to the cross, together. I reminded Alli that God answered yes to the questions she was asking: Will I be happy? Will I be loved? Our conversation did not change Alli’s mind or actions overnight, but it helped set her on a different trajectory.
It is a gift to witness a person’s epiphany about the singularity of God’s love for them. Students begin to take ownership in God’s love, desiring to nurture and care for it, aware of the opportunity they have been given. This is the opportunity Jesus gives us, over and over, unfatigued.
While Lent is a time to acknowledge the ways we have damaged our relationship with God, God has not left us. He is there inviting us back to himself, inviting us to listen for his yes in our lives.
Cilano is campus minister for the Newman Center at the George Washington University in Washington.
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