Back to School

I wrote the entry below back in 2015 when I started my doctoral studies at La Salle University in Philadelphia. This morning at 9 am, my oral comprehensive exams will begin. The written part will follow. St. Joseph of Cupertino, pray for us.

July 2015

I spent last week in a classroom studying the French school of spirituality. I read more than I have in a very long time and I wrote nearly a hundred pages of notes I pray I will be able to read when I need them.

I met ten of the most amazing people – priests, doctors, women religious, Catholics and Protestants, mothers and fathers, millennial and baby boomers. Together we laughed more than I can remember laughing in a very long time such that by the end of the week the silliest things brought us to tears. These will be my partners in this adventure that, if we survive, will end with doctoral degrees. It was a retreat, an overwhelming amount of work, and a moment of grace all wrapped into a week I will not soon forget.

At the beginning of every session, Brother John, our instructor, would close the classroom door and announce, “Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God.” These words from St. John Baptist de La Salle surprised me at first. It was such an easy phrase to hear and such a difficult phrase to live. As we heard the invitation to prayer twice a day and sat in the silence that followed, I began to wonder why it can be so hard for me to remember God’s presence in my life.

So I made a list.

Slowly but surely, I will begin to remove those things from my life that keep me from remembering God’s presence. For now, there are emails to answer, meetings to attend, and papers to write. Being away has its advantages but coming home brings a bumpy reentry to a reality that makes you long for being away again.

This reentry will be easier, I know because all I have to do is to think about the laughter shared and friendships forged to recall the joy I found in going back to school.

This week, do what you can to call to mind the words of St. John Baptist de La Salle and remember that you are always, always, always in the holy presence of God. When you find yourself forgetting, add whatever it is that made you forget to your list.

Over time – and with help – we can transform those lists to holiness.