Thursday, March 10, 2011

Spring Break

11:15 am. That's when we're meeting in 114 CoMo tomorrow to set off on our pilgrimage to Israel. I will be staying at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute, Notre Dame's campus in Israel, along with 19 other students and 2 Campus Ministry coordinators. Traveling to Israel is expected to take us over 20 hours, since we have layovers in Detroit and New York before we reach Tel Aviv. I plan to maybe read for class and definitely to catch up on sleep.

The hardest part of preparing for the trip, actually, has been planning what to wear. Women must wear clothing that covers their knees and elbows - no jeans allowed. Since it's going to be sunny in Israel with weather in the 60s, it will probably be too warm for dress pants. So I've been searching for long skirts and thin, long-sleeved tops for the trip. Luckily, I found a floor-length black dress at Forever 21 yesterday that should work perfectly for most occasions. Women are also required to cover their heads when entering some holy sites, so I'm bringing along a pretty, light-weight scarf for that purpose. I also plan to buy scarves there.

Our itinerary is still being finalized, but some of the places we plan to visit include the Milk Grotto and Church of the Nativity, the Basilica of the Annunciation, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the hill of Calvary where Christ was crucified, and of course, the River Jordan.

Garden of Gethsemane, where I'll be on Thursday!

Right now I only know about 3 or 4 of the other pilgrims very well, but I'm much looking forward to getting to know all of them. I anticipate that we'll all come back from Israel very close friends.

I will try to post pictures of my trip during the week.

Thank you for reading and wish me luck!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Edith Stein Project

I had the privilege of attending the Edith Stein Project over the weekend. It was excellent and thoroughly informative, as always. I came away inspired by the talks and enthusiastic about studying further the issues it presented.

If you've never heard of the Edith Stein Project, you can learn more about its history by reading my Observer article about it or checking out the Project's website. My favorite talk was from Dorothy Cummings McLean, also known as Seraphic Singles, who offered a witty, funny and honest analysis of the modern dating scene. Her lecture was one of the most popular talks of the conference. Other highlights included a musical performance from Danielle Rose, a lecture by Dr. Catherine Pakaluk of Ave Maria University, and a fascinating presentation by well-known Jewish author Wendy Shalit. I left the conference with a wealth of new information and many ideas for further research.

I recently learned that the Edith Stein Project has inspired a similar event at Ave Maria University called the Genuine Feminine Conference. The inaugural conference will take place on March 19 and looks to be very well-organized and interesting. After speaking to two of the conference planners and checking out its website, I am happy to recommend this conference to anyone interested in gender and sexuality within the Catholic tradition.

Tonight at 5 pm I'm attending the second meeting for the Holy Land Pilgrimage class followed by a meeting of the Identity Project of Notre Dame club (I'm not a club member but I'm attending to buy a copy of Wendy Shalit's book). Then it's serious study time for the rest of the night, with a paper and an exam due Thursday and Friday, respectively, and a meeting with my thesis adviser coming up. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Dear Pilgrims

To my great joy, I learned last week that I was accepted to a Campus Ministry program that takes students to the Holy Land for spring break. Going to the Holy Land has been a dream of mine for many years. I worked very hard on my application essays and I was genuinely thrilled when I received my acceptance email. I'm looking forward to this trip so much.

The group of pilgrims will meet several times before our trip for classes and times of prayer designed to prepare us for our journey. Tomorrow is our first meeting, from 5 to 7 pm in the Oak Room. One of the program coordinators, Layla Karst, sent us an email with our reading assignment for the first class. The subject heading read "Dear Pilgrims," and when I read that I was reminded of the spiritual nature of our journey. It really brought home to me the reality that I will actually be traveling to the Holy Land, as I have longed to do. (Although I have to admit, I still can't quite believe it!)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Irish Fighting for Life

I joined 380 other Notre Dame students on the March for Life January 24th, my third time attending this event. It was one of the most memorable weekends I've ever had and I'd like to describe that experience for you.

We left campus around 8 pm on Friday, January 21, in 5 buses that each held about 60 people. Almost every seat on my bus was filled. We prayed an all-bus Rosary as soon as we hit the highway, then spent the next few hours watching movies (Despicable Me was the popular choice), listening to ipods or talking softly with our friends. A rest stop break yielded Swedish fish for my friends and me to munch before we drifted into a restless sleep, reclining as best we could in the bus seats and burrowed snugly in our puffy coats and sleeping bags used as blankets.

We arrived in D.C. around 7 am on Saturday, when we dropped our cargo at our host church (St. Agnes Parish in Arlington, VA) and hit the ground running to explore the city. We had nothing on the agenda until Monday's March so my friends and I ambled through museums and lunched at Union Station. Georgetown University was our next stop, where we explored campus and attended a special Sunday Vigil Mass for Life with Chicago’s Francis Cardinal George at Georgetown’s main church, Dahlgren Chapel. At the Mass, I was pleased to re-connect with a number of friends from other universities whom I’ve met through my extracurricular involvement. After dinner with a few other Domers, we reunited with a D.C.-dwelling friend at a local restaurant before finally catching a train back to Arlington for a well-earned night’s sleep in the St. Agnes School library.

I’d like to pause here to express my gratitude to the parishioners of St. Agnes Church. They not only lent us their school and parish center to sleep in, but also provided us with delicious, ample breakfasts and snacks throughout our stay. I want to extend my warmest thanks to them for hosting almost 400 college students with such incredible generosity and good grace. I know that I and the other students are very, very grateful.

After breakfast Sunday, we headed to Georgetown to spend the day at the annual Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life, finding time to stop for some of the famous Georgetown Cupcakes along the way. At the conference, we were most inspired by a powerful keynote address from the beautiful Lila Rose, founder of Live Action, which works to expose illegal practices at Planned Parenthood clinics. Live Action has been in the news a lot recently for a critical sting operation at a New Jersey clinic. Lila Rose is incredibly gracious and lovely in person, and my friends and I left in awe of her talent and remarkable young leadership.

After the conference we went to dinner at the cozy and elegant Martin’s Tavern, where President John F. Kennedy proposed to Jackie, then made our way to the National Basilica of the Immaculate Conception for the annual Mass for Life. Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, Chairman of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops Committee on Pro-Life Activities, was the principal celebrant and homilist. Attending that Mass was somewhat like going to a class reunion: I kept seeing more and more people I know, including dear friends from home, college buddies and my little sister with her high school group. We took picture after picture, exchanged many hugs and left happy at the powerful witness we had seen in the many American Catholics present.

If the Mass Sunday night was like a class reunion, the March on Monday was like a family reunion. Several more buses of Notre Dame students arrived Monday morning to attend the March and they happily joined our group for morning adventures. As marchers gathered for the Rally for Life on the National Mall, I saw acquaintances from every stage of my life, and indeed spent the hours before and after the March seeking out old friends for brief, happy reunions.

The March itself was unforgettable. Father Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, walked beside me for a little while, an unexpected brush with celebrity. As we marched, my fellow students and I sang the Notre Dame Fight Song and the Alma Mater. We even adapted some classic Notre Dame football cheers for the occasion, along the lines of “Go Irish! Save babies!”

Marching side by side with several of my professors and hundreds of my fellow students was empowering beyond anything I have ever experienced. I felt grateful to be a student at Notre Dame, where I see my friends and professors standing up for the values that matter most to them. I felt grateful to be an American, where open and vocal protest of the government is permitted and even heeded. As we walked down the National Mall and through the streets of D.C., the hundreds of thousands marching with me filled me with hope. By the time we took our group picture in front of the Supreme Court Building, I felt confident in the power of our generation to cause lasting change in America.

Since I returned to campus, my professors and friends have asked me many questions about the March with curiosity. They ask me where I stayed, what the schedule was, and how many students attended. What they never ask is why I went to D.C. What motivated me to leave the comfort of my dorm room to spend four nights sleeping on buses and library floors and marching outside on a cold, wintry day?

I went on the March for so many reasons, some of which were superficial. It’s a lot of fun for a college student to spend a weekend exploring our nation’s capital with her friends, you know. Some of my reasons were based on friends and family ties; I went to D.C. partly to reunite with old acquaintances and partly also to be an example to my younger sisters.

My main reason for attending the March, however, is that I truly do believe my actions make a difference. This is America, where every citizen can and should have a voice if they choose to speak out. But instead, millions of Americans are silenced before they ever have the chance to speak for themselves. As Lila Rose pointed out, almost a third of my generation is missing because of abortion. By attending the March, I believe that I offered a voice for them.

In spite of all the good times my friends and I had that weekend in D.C., the serious intent behind the March must not be forgotten. It’s time that our marching and our many prayers finally bear fruit in legislative change. As enjoyable as the weekend was, I hope with all my heart that we won’t need to have a March next year.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Not Quite As Planned

My last post was a little premature. As it turns out, the Senior Retreat guy never showed up for Sorin College Mass. Only at Notre Dame would you be able to say you got stood up for Mass, right? Naturally I was disappointed, so my friends took me to LaFortune for Starbucks, a handy remedy for most of life's troubles. Fortunately I have a back-up date in the works, so my dance plans should still go off without a hitch.

Yesterday was Notre Dame's first snow day since 2000 and we students celebrated accordingly... by sleeping in late and playing outside instead of getting ahead on homework. It was a quiet, lazy and pleasant day on campus.

My plans for this weekend include watching King Lear tonight followed by a visit to Dueling Pianos at Legends (which I can then cross off my Notre Dame bucket list). Saturday will include an afternoon movie and the dance in the evening. We're organizing it to be an old-fashioned ball, with ballroom dance instructors coming for the first hour to teach us steps and each lady receiving her own dance card. If things get really wild, we might even carry fans. :)  I anticipate a lovely evening, no matter who my date ends up being, and I'll be sure to report back on the event.

Have a lovely weekend and thank you for reading!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Senior Retreat

This past weekend I attended the Senior Retreat, along with over 200 other seniors, so that about ten percent of our class was present. Before the retreat began, I was apprehensive about the experience. My only other Notre Dame retreat was as a freshman, an experience which was as awkward as most other freshman year events are. As I packed my bag for the Senior Retreat, I worried that I would feel out of place and would not be fulfilled by the retreat activities. I steeled myself for what I worried would be an awkward and cheesy weekend.

In fact, I was entirely wrong in my dire expectations. What I did not prepare for was how much fun I would have. To begin with, I was deeply impressed by the testimonies of my fellow students. I was nervous that the talks might not relate much to my life, but I turned out to be happily mistaken. The students who spoke did an excellent job of conveying their gratitude for their years at Notre Dame and the way that those years have affected their relationship with God. From the football player who declared, "See that Lady on top of the Golden Dome? She's my girl," to the pretty business major who broke into sobs as she described how the Grotto became her refuge after her father died suddenly last year, each talk was interesting, profound and inspiring.

Another great feature of the retreat was the "small group" meetings, consisting of 7 or 8 participants and two retreat leaders. The small groups met after each session of witness talks to discuss the session, and conversation often veered off into nostalgia about our time at Notre Dame or practical suggestions to help each other grow closer to God. I didn't know most of the other members of my small group but we all grew to be friends by the end of the retreat. We are planning to have a group reunion at Sorin College's Wednesday night "chili Mass." In fact, here is a little Notre Dame gossip: after Wednesday's Mass, I'm planning to ask one of the guys in my small group to a dance this weekend. Keep it quiet though; I haven't asked him yet, so don't give away the surprise! ;)

The Senior Retreat was a beautiful experience and I'm so glad I attended it. I feel much closer to my classmates than I did before and thanks to the suggestions I heard on the retreat, I plan to make the most of the next four months - or the best four months, as my small group teammates would say. Here's to a wonderful last semester.