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Risky Business

Fr. Jim King | Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Some of you tried out for the marching band and got rejected before your first class. Your natural reaction would be to become wary of being slapped down again and cruise through Activities Night focusing solely upon clubs and organizations that don’t hold tryouts and avoiding club sports where you might lose. The irony is only people who are bold enough to risk losing don’t become losers.

Did you see the commercial during the Olympics – the obese kid running real slow down a dusty road? The narrator said, “Greatness is no more unique to us than breathing. We’re all capable of it.” I’m not always wowed by the gospel according to Nike, but I like it. It makes us respect the kid in the class who’s usually the butt of the jokes for making the effort, kind of like the Jamaican bobsled team. As the boxing club chaplain, I know anyone who gets into a ring is a winner no matter how battered he or she is at the end.
Those are among the people I most admire at Notre Dame.

But the ones who leave here feeling all the warmth of the intangible aura that surrounds Notre Dame are those who not only push themselves to do something that matters but who also take the risk to be family. You don’t have to be here long to realize that people who never take a class here get wrapped up in all the mythology of Golden Domes, golden helmets and golden moments – a thin veneer for a far less idyllic, yet still graceful, reality.

Just listen to the prayers of petition at any Sunday night Mass: dying grandmothers, parents with cancer, friends who are depressed. Sometimes it’s a lengthy list. We may be in a cocoon in some ways, but we aren’t immune from more fragility as human beings than we like to admit. There is no one reading this article who doesn’t need friends and whose life wouldn’t be richer from stretching out and being one for another. There are few who won’t hit a wall here in their personal life or academic career and feel clobbered by a right hook they never saw coming.

Families are inherently messy, rarely merit idolizing and require heavy labor. Good ones exhibit generosity, honesty, a willingness to be flexible and a determination to be present even at times when it’s not convenient for a busy study schedule. Blessed Basil Moreau, founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross, firmly believed that God, life, love and vocation are best known and experienced within the context of family. It’s no accident that he shaped his schools’ environments to feel like family, including the University of Notre Dame, so people leave here after a few years with friends who are more like brothers or sisters.

Friendship and family are even harder than boxing or organic chemistry, but the way to be a winner is to have friends for the moments when you lose a round or worry you won’t get into med school with a C on your transcript. They have a way of keeping us honest and putting our losses into perspective. Jesus said, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” He didn’t command us to be successful at anything else. Or as Fr. Monk Malloy, who used to run this place, once said, “Never confuse your self-worth with your GPA.”

Win or lose at whatever else you do, take the risk to become a great friend. Count those, and ephemeral as the concept is, you will know what it feels like to belong to the Notre Dame Family.

Fr. Jim King, C.S.C., is the newly appointed Director of Campus Ministry at Notre Dame. He also serves as the Superior of the Corby community of the Congregation of Holy Cross and was the rector of Sorin Hall from 2003-2010. He can be reached at jking1@nd.edu

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