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A mid-semester evaluation that won’t affect your G.P.A.

Katharine Barrett | Wednesday, October 14, 2009

If you’re counting, you already know that we’re approaching the halfway point of this semester. Yes, week eight of Fall Semester 2009 ends tomorrow, as you may well have already gathered by the load of midterm exams and papers demanding your attention this week before fall break begins.

So isn’t it time for a little mid-semester progress report? Have you taken a moment to look back on where you’ve come since Aug. 25, and where you hope to go by Dec. 19? For so many of us who live on academic year calendars, we approach the beginning of the school year with a mini-New Year’s Day mentality: We set goals for ourselves, we re-align our priorities, we promise ourselves (or our roommates, colleagues, friends, professors or spouses) that this year, we’re really going to do better at … or that is definitely, for sure, absolutely going to happen this semester. You can probably fill in those blanks!

Looking back on the past eight weeks only helps if you then gain a better perspective on the weeks to come. Don’t spend too much time, therefore, bemoaning that which you’d like to change, except to look ahead with greater insight into the opportunities before you. Go ahead and re-state, or re-set, your goals. Make promises about your faith, your studies, your friendships, your hopes for the future.

I had a professor here at Notre Dame who regularly used to say, “Every moment in time is a gift from God. What are you going to do with that gift?” So, as a start at least, think of the second half of this semester as a gift from God. What are you going to do with that gift?

Remember the gospel story of the “rich young man?” An obviously devout young Jew, a man of some wealth, comes to Jesus and asks how he can attain eternal life. He wants to know how he can do better. He’s been a conscientious believer during his life, and Jesus learns that he already faithfully follows the commandments. So Jesus challenges the young man, in a most loving and caring way, to take a much bigger step in his life, to “take it to the next level” (although Jesus wouldn’t actually say that unless he lived today and was regularly interviewed on ESPN). The sad part of the story unfolds when the rich young man can’t come through. Jesus tells him, “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor … then, come follow me.” And here it is, the one, the only time in any of the gospels when Jesus makes such an offer and is rejected. The young man’s “face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.”

Perhaps these halfway weeks are the perfect time for each of us to treat ourselves to a progress report. After all, couldn’t almost any Notre Dame student today be the “rich young man” encountering Jesus? Any one of you could be the faithful, poised, committed young person who questions the Lord, “How can I do better?” You all have a wealth of talents, experiences and knowledge. Some of you may also have the “many possessions” we hear of in the story. Jesus acknowledges to his disciples the great difficulties involved in giving everything up to follow him. He also tells them a truth we need to hear today: “All things are possible for God.”

Choosing a halfway point to mark our progress, whether in academics, careers, or in our faith, can be an artificial exercise – just like setting goals at the beginning of the school year or on New Year’s Day. We should never take for granted, however, the constant passing of time. Stopping for a quick progress report serves as a reminder to us to ask Jesus Christ, “How can I do better?” knowing that we have an abundance to offer, if only we dare take risks the rich young man simply did not have the courage to take.

Every moment in time is a gift from God. What are you going to do with that gift?

This week’s Faith Point was written by Katharine Barrett, director of the Emmaus Program. She can be reached at [email protected]

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

necessarily those of The Observer.