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Echoes of yesterday, today and tomorrow

Kate Barrett | Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Welcome back! It’s time to take a deep breath and start again: a new semester, a new year, perhaps a new major or a new roommate for some of you. And yet, aren’t you grateful for what’s not new — friends, professors, rectors, well-worn paths to classes, the Rock and South Dining Hall? Both the familiar and the new add their particular flavors to the mix as each of us sorts out where and how we fit into the story of what Notre Dame has been and will be.

While many of you were still away from campus, Notre Dame and the Congregation of Holy Cross all over the world celebrated the life of St. André Bessette on his feast day, Jan. 6.

St. André would probably never have gotten into Notre Dame, had it ever occurred to him to apply. And yet his amazing life continues to echo today, at Notre Dame and wherever people learn of his abiding faith that God listened to his prayers with mercy and compassion. André prayed for hours each day, alone in his room at night and throughout the day, while the number of people who came to him and asked for his prayers grew.

Do you ever say to family members or friends, as so many people asked of St. André, “Pray for me, please”? In times of need, sorrow or fear, we pick up the phone, we turn to our roommate, we send an email, we ask for help. Put this together with our Christian belief that believers who have died now live in communion with God, and it makes sense we could also ask the dead (especially those whom the Church recognizes as particularly holy) to pray for us as well.

Community, for Christians, stretches not only across geography, but across time. We share our faith with believers around the world today, but also with people who lived, struggled and found joy hundreds or even thousands of years ago. And people who aren’t even born yet will become a part of our community hundreds of years from now.

Twenty years ago next week, two young women from our Notre Dame community became members of the communion of saints. Meghan Beeler and Colleen Hipp, two freshmen swimmers, were killed when the bus carrying the swim team home from a meet at Northwestern skidded off the Toll Road and flipped over into the ditch that separates eastbound from westbound traffic.

Though they had only been at Notre Dame for a few months, they had already become a part of the community: in Lewis, in Walsh, on the team, in their classes — they had already changed the story of Notre Dame. They returned for the spring semester, as you have just done, probably relieved and glad what had seemed so new and unsettling just the August before now looked familiar and comfortable, looking forward to seeing friends and roommates with whom they had already formed strong and precious bonds.

Though their deaths were unaccountably tragic and premature, Colleen and Meghan are still a part of the timeless community in which believers share the certainty that God listens to our prayers: prayers of sorrow, protest, lament and elation.

When we ask another person — living or dead — to pray for us and our needs, or when we believe our prayers are part of a larger chorus of offerings to God, along with the prayers of St. André, Declan Sullivan, Mara Fox, Meghan Beeler, Colleen Hipp or so many other members of the Notre Dame family who are no longer with us, we acknowledge our need for a community of faith.

Eternal life with God will find us in the communion of saints, and we’re meant to remember that communion and establish it on earth. When we offer our prayers for the friend in the room next door, or plead in our prayers alongside the ancient saint who understands our modern doubts and fears, we must remember we’re not mustering the troops to lobby God for a particular outcome. We need each other, and our lives on earth will look more like heaven, not because God’s going to change the course of events for us, but because we’ve found God in our connections to one another.

Perhaps if St. André were alive today, he would urge us to remember with care what real community means: the strengthening of our invisible bonds of shared life and death, the attempt to bring our lives on earth a little closer to the Kingdom of God, the joy and gratitude found with others we will never find alone. Never underestimate the power of asking another person to pray for you, or of offering to do so for someone else.

Kate Barrett is the director of the

Emmaus Program in Campus Ministry. She can be reached at kbarrett@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.