09 December 2010


Wow it is great to breathe. This semester is coming to an end, and it has been the best semester yet for me as chaplain of Vanderbilt Catholic. So far, I feel that I have been trying to figure out what to do and how to do it. I have looked at what several dynamic campus ministries are doing and have borrowed good ideas from them. Now I think that I am beginning to see what it should all look like at Vanderbilt. There are unique features to every university. This is how I see things developing.

Vanderbilt Catholic is a "house" of formation for the students of the university. This formation is for the entire person: spiritual, intellectual, human, and apostolic. As a Catholic ministry, we offer spiritual formation. We worship God and receive His grace in prayer and sacraments. Mass is central to our life, whether it is in our own community or at the Cathedral. The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation is offered and received generously. Students are also prepared for and receive the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, and Matrimony. Vanderbilt Catholic fosters prayer. We have Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament every Wednesday and Sunday, our house chapel is always available, students gather for Compline on campus, etc. Spiritual direction is offered individually, and there are formation groups and Bible studies. Retreats open the door for spiritual formation and sustain it.

Intellectual formation has two approaches. The first is to offer the students a systematic way to deepen the understanding of their faith at the intellectual level at which they operate in the other areas of the university. This requires dynamic instruction and systematic planning. We are beginning a curriculum that is engaging and accessible to the students: iFacts. We also want to equip the students to bring the insights of Christian faith into their secular studies. The example of Catholic faculty members on Faculty Fridays has been very edifying. Although the most pressing need is in the area of ethics in various fields, the Church's contribution to secular learning is not confined to ethics. Catholicism operates on philosophical understandings of the human person, of knowledge itself, etc. that inform all intellectual activity.

Human formation means virtue. The students need encouragement in developing the habits of virtue that lead to successful living. Certain areas are especially pressing, in particular those relating to finding and living out Christian vocations. How do I live in college so as to prepare myself for and respond to God's call for me? This requires attention to all the virtues and especially to the greatest of them: love. Love is in the details of life. Human formation partakes of all the rest. It is lived out from the most sublime to the most ordinary. A Frassati House party is just as much a part of human formation as a silent retreat.

Apostolic formation certainly has a formal element to it. We try to schedule opportunities for corporal and spiritual works of mercy. If possible, time to prepare and to reflect on the works adds to the formation. Even more essential for apostolic formation than works, however, are hearts aflame for souls in imitation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The FOCUS missionaries are the secret weapon of apostolic formation most powerfully in their witness alone, before they ever do anything. I hope that the students will be apostolic is their classes and dorms as well as on mission trips.

I am very grateful for this vision of formation. I hope to help Vanderbilt Catholic give this vision life in the lives of wonderful students.

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