By Fr. Brogan Ryan, C.S.C.
College is a time for asking questions — and oftentimes BIG questions! Many of the students I work with are asking these big questions of themselves, their lives, the world, and God. It’s a wonderful time, but also scary for a lot of the students. It can be intimidating for the people working with the students as well!
One of the great things that ministering during this season of these students lives entails is sitting in the questions. I am not smart enough to answer many of the questions they are asking, and most often they are asking the type of questions that cannot be answered. So my role as a campus minister is to sit with them while they ask the questions and remind them that God is present in the questions, not just in the answers. There aren’t usually starkly clear answers, so my role becomes one of listener, accompanier, and encourager.
I am writing this blog at the beginning of November, so one of the big questions that our liturgical calendar brings to the forefront is remembrance of the dead. Every year that I serve on a college campus, I am surprised at how many students are grieving the loss of someone significant. From my personal experience, I expected the mourning of grandparents and older relatives during college, but I did not expect to accompany so many students who have lost parents, siblings, and friends. In these instances, the emotions of grief can be complicated by practicalities that no college student expects to navigate.
It is a real privilege to be able to accompany students during these times. When I am able, I help them plan arrangements and attend wakes and funerals, but more often, I am able to be present to students when they receive the news and when they return to campus. For the students who are grieving, it feels like most of the world has forgotten the questions they carry — the grief and heartache caused by loss and mourning — but those things are still very present to them. Sitting with them in those private spaces of sorrow and mourning is a sacred space for ministry.
For those of us whose ministry is guided by Holy Cross spirituality, the model of Our Lady of Sorrows is particularly powerful when these big question moments arise. Mary doesn’t offer much in the Gospels in terms of answers, but sits steadfastly in hope while everyone else is asking the questions. In addition to being a model of accompaniment, Mary’s example also provides a deep sense of freedom in our ministry. We don’t need to be the ones with the answers, but rather we are called to guide those whom we encounter to the One who answers. “Do whatever he tells you,” Mary said at the wedding feast of Cana.
Our Lady of Sorrows, be a guide to us in ministry and a hope to those who grieve! May you guide us all to Christ, who is the way, truth and life. AMEN.