Sunday, January 23, 2011

From modest beginnings....

A moving piece by Jerome Santamaria, now in Seminary for the Archdiocese of Melbourne,

I lived at Newman House during the 2004-5 academic year. A while ago, I wrote a short piece for the blog setting out some of the things that I learned or had confirmed during my time at NH. I recently returned for a one week stay and was once again struck by how small things can make a big difference and by how much NH has to offer.

A friend and I had organised to meet at Mass at NH one Sunday. However, when we arrived, we realised that it must still be term holidays so Mass was not on. While we tried to work out what to do (which involved me texting my sister to check Mass times on the net), another couple of students arrived. They obviously were after the same thing as us, but did not know anyone. I recognised the look in their eyes: indecision as to whether to risk admitting one's desires to another.

As I noted in my earlier piece, using one's own vulnerabilities as a way of helping others usually works. What I have since discovered is that the gentlest way of helping is to ask for help. This puts the other person in the position of strength, giving them the freedom to admit their own need or not. So, we asked them whether they knew if Mass was on. Like us, they didn't. And in this, they discovered they were like us. And a conversation could begin.

From these modest beginnings, something magnificent happened. On the way to Mass, I chatted to one of the students, who turned out to be absolutely fascinating. We swapped details after Mass so we could catch up again. When we did, more of this student's story became apparent: how difficult life in London could be when you did not know anyone, how big a young student's personal struggles could be, and how courageous it was to entrust such feelings to a relative stranger. My immediate response was to think how unfair it was that this person had turned to the one person who was leaving in London in a week. My next response was to realise how stupid this first response was. Just because the need had been expressed to me did not mean that I was the one who could meet it. That's the whole point of being part of a community, part of the Body of Christ: we all have different roles and so we need to be aware not only of our role, but of the role of others, too.

So, I turned to the community in London I knew best: NH. I told my new friend about what NH had to offer - the wonderful chaplains, the fabulous residents, the plentiful opportunities to meet others. Was this a risk? What if NH was not how I remembered it? What if this student in seeking help was rejected? That would make the plight even worse. Did I even think of these things? No, because I had no doubt that NH would rise to task. And sure enough, when my friend courageously asked NH for help, NH opened its arms. I could have cried I was so proud. It was one of the absolute highlights of my trip.

So, again, I would remind everyone: never forget to offer. Just because we are students and always feel like our job is to ingest, never forget that the little we have may be just what another needs. Even if that little is just 30 minutes to have coffee. Second, never underestimate just how much we have to offer. Through NH and the Church, we have access to a whole world; and a safe one at that, because it is founded on Spirit and Truth. And finally: thank you, NH residents, for once again incarnating God's love in the world.

No comments: