Three years ago, I was a student at Xavier University sitting in my room filling out an application to join Xavier’s Dorothy Day Center for Faith & Justice Magis Society. Now as I sit in my apartment rifling through old files and clearing space on my laptop, I’m humbled to reread the words and wisdom of the past that I pored into that application. The application you will find below is a reflection of my time and experiences with the CFJ. I submit it now, as a remembrance and a recommittal to continue to see the Magis.
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PART 1: In three pages or less, please respond to the questions below:
What are some of the important tenets and practices of your personal faith or wisdom tradition and how have they helped you to grow spiritually during your time at XU?
How have your experiences at Xavier helped you understand systemic social problems and your role related to them?
While at Xavier, what have you learned about the value of creating community through relationship-building? What experiences in the CFJ have helped to foster that learning?
Describe an experience during your time at Xavier that helped you to understand how your religious and/or cultural identity impacts your experiences and perceptions of the world.
During high school, I had been involved in various service and retreat programs, and even founded a funeral program for the indigent population of Louisville. Those experiences were truly transformative and opened my eyes to seeing the “other side.” While those programs were life-changing, there was always a part of me that was left wanting more. When I came to Xavier I thought I had a solid grasp on what “faith and justice” meant. In my arrogance, I thought I had little to learn, but in only a few months I was quickly proven wrong.
The first experience that began to open my eyes to, what for me was, an unknown world, was the Urban Plunge retreat. On that retreat, my world developed into something entirely new. I had encountered poverty, but that was something you find in another country, NOT in your own city, NOT in your backyard. My family is not at all wealthy, but I’ve never worried about my next meal nor where I’d sleep at night–those were givens that were right down the hall from one another. I had not imagined that there were people within a few miles that worried about their livelihood on a daily basis. That weekend opening my eyes to understanding “the other” in a way that I have never considered. That weekend exploded the “want for more” that I had in high school into something much larger than I believed possible. That weekend left me with an unimaginable desire for more experience.
During my sophomore year, I had the privilege of attending the Prison Justice Alternative Breaks trip to Chicago. In that week I met some amazing people who changed the perspective of how I understand systemic injustice. The individuals that shared their stories and invited me into their world, walked with me so that I could see the world through their eyes. I was an outsider to “their world” but yet they worked to create a relationship with me so that I was not an outside to their world, but a member walking comfortably along with them in our world. I had come to them with gallons of elbow-grease hoping that I could help them, but before I could even tap the drum, they had already drained their tanks. I was the privileged one here help these people, what could they do for me? I was the privileged one who hadn’t been to jail, who hadn’t raped someone, who hadn’t murdered someone, who hadn’t been addicted to drugs, who hadn’t lived on the streets, who hadn’t seen my brother shot in cold blood right next to me when I was five, who hadn’t been abused and beaten, who hadn’t heard my parents’ fighting, who hadn’t witnessed the bruises on my mother’s body, who hadn’t had to hide as my mother’s “guests” came and went, I was the one who hadn’t experienced so many things. As I scrubbed the grim from their hallways and eat lunch with them, they scrubbed the ignorance and arrogance that was staining my internal walls. In that week, I realized that there isn’t a “my world” and “their world” and understood that difference through dynamic relationships. When I realized that as humans we are no different from one another, yet have only experienced different life journeys I quickly began to see the global unitive world we all share.
Through the Approach retreat it became evident that it truly is our journey of experiences that makes us unique and different, and that through communion with others we grasp the importance of our relationships. For three years, I experienced Approach with different groups of people with varying energies and purposes, and each year the outcome was the same: students who grew more aware of themselves and gained a deeper insight of others. Approach allowed me to understand my individual responsibilities and the effects that others have played through my life. Approach allowed me the opportunity to understand who I am by examining the times in my life when things didn’t come easy. It gave the perspective to understand that our true selves are shaped by the journey of faith that we all share, and it gave me the insight to understand that the God’s love that presides in me, presides in everyone.
With the CFJ, my Catholic identity has wavered and grown. When I doubted and questioned my faith as a barrier, I saw God revealing God’s-self through relationships that worked through those barriers. The CFJ broadened my perspective of our local and global community. Moreover, it broadened what it means for me to be Catholic. Being Catholic means understanding our universal placement in the world. Being Catholic means understanding our individual capacity to build a just community. It means living and working with others to establish a relationship of mutual respect and responsibility that does not say, “What can I do for you?”, but instead says, “What can we do together?” By asking the second question, I began to understand what it means to be in solidarity and community with others.
Through genuine and communal relationships we can work together with one another to establish the bonds of solidarity. By living in community, we are living honestly. We are living mindful of our decisions and the consequences they may have on others. We are living respectful of others and in dialogue with their hopes and fears. For I believe that if we are living in a genuine, respectful community we are revealing the God that presides within each of us.
The touchstone experiences that I have mentioned are but mere examples of what the CFJ has done for me. The experiences that I have had changed me from the Bobby who hated his first year of Xavier, who considered himself as a man for others but not with others, who challenged the nuances of what it meant to be an ally, who rejected the notion of there being a female perception of God, and who was driven by his own selfish desires to gain “life changing experiences”, and has molded me into the Bobby of today. The CFJ has been my home and my comfort while at Xavier. Without the CFJ, my Xavier experience would be entirely different; I would not be the same person.
PART 2: In one page or less, please describe how you hope to create a life after graduation that enables you to further develop the values and commitments you forged or deepened at Xavier?
“Life after graduation” is not going to be any different from the life that I’m currently living, because suggesting that there’s a difference implies that I didn’t create a “life before graduation.” My time at Xavier has shaped and molded me, and the next journey that I am about to embark is but another turn on my path of life. While I cannot see the road ahead of me, I do not fear. For my values have been crafted with discomfort at easy answers, molded by anger at injustice and oppression, and founded in the foolishness to think that I can make a difference in the world. This crafting, molding, founding has provided me with the frames through which I place the lenses for my vision. As I imagine how my life will play beyond the Xavier bubble. I can only imagine that my frames will stay sturdy and that the lenses will adjust as my experiences continue.
No matter where the next few years take me, a non-profit, volunteering, working in higher education, wherever, I will continue to approach life with the same zeal that I have each day. Standing near doorsteps of the world that I await, does not scare me because Xavier and the CFJ has allowed me to see and know that the world is full of amazing and wonderful people. That world is the world that I have been a member of, it’s the world that I cannot wait for, it’s the world that I’m already in.