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Spes Unica: A reflection on leading a retreat and a call to others

I’ve been missing from the pages of The Observer for a while, but I am back and refreshed after a great weekend Spes Unica retreat. As the 50th retreat in this biannual series, Spes Unica retreats are a hidden gem among the many retreats that happen around the tri-campus community. Though I was a leader this time around, this retreat was still one I actively participated in as if I was living it out. For context, this was my first official Spes Unica retreat, but my third spiritual retreat at Holy Cross. The first was at Sophomore Anchor Day, an overnight retreat that served as a spiritual check-in for those in their second year of Holy Cross. After this, I did not go on any Spes Unica retreats, but I did attend our Marian Pilgrimage. During this pilgrimage, we traveled around from Indiana to travel to Illinois and Wisconsin, visiting holy sites centered around Mary. Highlights include going to Marytown in Libertyville, the University of Saint Mary of the Lake in Mundelein and the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion. This was a multiple-day trip that introduced Mary to several students in new and exciting ways. But, these were not Spes Unica retreats, also known as SPES. 

SPES is a retreat open to the students of the tri-campus, Catholic or non-Catholic, geared to help students deepen their spirituality and relationship with God. At SPES, and in my own leadership, it is to meet God where you are and search for Him in your own way. Modeled after a testimony/talk and small group reflection framework, this series of retreats is a big deal to the Campus Ministry team here at Holy Cross. SPES is led by students that have been to at least one previous and want to continue going to SPES in a new way. I took the opportunity to lead SPES 50 because I have wanted to grow in my faith life. I find that many people around me don’t realize that I am as faithful as I am. This is a complicated dynamic to be a part of because of the context of my relationship with Christ, His Church and me. In my talk, and in my everyday life, I let people know that I am Catholic and proudly queer. I won’t divulge into the theology or catechesis on Catholics and homosexuality, but I will explain that it isn’t easy. I took it upon myself to take this retreat as a time to work on my relationship with Christ as a way that could explore the relationship I already have with Him. 

As many of you know, if you’ve followed my columns, I have put time into thinking about ACE at Notre Dame. And after further consideration of the possibility of my role in the lives of future catholic youth, I knew I needed to continue to fortify my relationship with God. Part of this is to do my own work. SPES values personal prayer and reflection; highlighting adoration and contemplation as moments to work on your relationships with God. This layer is what I was looking forward to as a retreatant. On the flip side, it took me by surprise how much I enjoyed talking about my faith and helping others through theirs as a leader. My talk was centered around the changing nature of one’s relationship with Christ and the fundamental importance of knowing your status as a Child of God. These are the two key facets of my own faith. As a future catholic school educator, it is important to me that one day my students grow to learn the depths of love God has for them. As a retreat leader, it was important for me to make sure my retreatants knew that same message, that God so deeply loves them. This is because of the fact that it is a struggle I’ve had to deal with throughout my life.

So what? If you have read this far into my article, thank you. And I’ll get to the point I am trying to make soon enough. What I want you, readers of these articles, to know is that there is a call to join in community with each other. I know that not everyone is Catholic or religious at all, but everyone needs someone. And I think that a weekend away from the books and from the world showed me that I needed it sooner than I expected. I found that I wanted to be more authentically connected to people. As the photographer of the weekend, I had my phone out a couple of times to take pictures or to check the team’s GroupMe for updates on the plan for the weekend. But it was refreshing to sit in conversation and get to know one another in deeper relationships. Part of this column is to be authentically me and broadcast what the experience of a Holy Cross College student is like to the greater tri-campus community, but part of me also wants to invite you to get to know one another in ways that don’t involve a cell phone. So, find a retreat near you, go phoneless for a couple hours and enjoy the changing landscape we’re experiencing right now. Holy Cross has the SPES retreats once a semester and is always open to the tri-campus; my email is listed if you are interested in attending it. There is so much to do without time on earth, make it count. 

Gabriel B. Ibarra is a Chicago native currently attending Holy Cross College, majoring in visual arts on the studio track with a minor in elementary education. If not crying to any of Taylor Swift’s re-recordings, you can find them somewhere in the tri-campus causing chaos with laughs, pointed jokes and one of many emotional support water bottles in hand, or leading Holy Cross College’s First Generation Club as the vice-president. Learning to write for a newspaper is harder than expected, so they can be contacted on Twitter @gbenito11 or via email at gibarra@hcc-nd.edu.

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

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Dilemma: Internship or retail?

Dear reader, welcome back to the chaos. Since the last time you’ve read a word written by me, the temperature has dropped to cardigan and corduroy weather. Not only that, but we’ve begun our approach to midterm season. It can be daunting to head into midterms every year, even though we somehow manage it every year. I’m feeling a bit confident in my midterms this year, but the surrounding context is troubling me, and I might want some advice.

I am currently working three jobs, two on campus and one off-campus. I have been offered an awesome opportunity in the community of South Bend to be able to help teach students art. This is big. If you don’t know me personally, I want to be a teacher and I am currently a Visual Arts major. You would think I would drop everything for this opportunity, no? You’re absolutely on the right track. See, if I had the money, I would devote all my time to it. But that is not the case. I am currently trying to figure out how to pay for school during the semester and still haven’t gotten great at it. It’s not easy. Even with the three jobs I have, saving more next semester is not easy. So here is my dilemma: do I leave one of my jobs to keep the internship? 

I am currently a super-senior/junior, a dynamic that I have not really come to fully understand and neither has most of the Arts department here at Holy Cross, but we’re riding the wave. As part of the Holy Cross College experience, every student is required to complete an internship. As a past education major, I wouldn’t have had a problem with this because my student teaching would have covered this requirement. But after switching majors, I am left to fulfill the requirement. And here lies the issue: I am ready to graduate. The last five years have been great, but I want to experience the real world. Mind you, I will miss the Bend and the way college has afforded me awesome memories, but home is calling my name. Graduate studies are also calling. The dynamic of also being a 22, almost 23-year-old in undergraduate studies is another conversation we can have. But with this internship, I would most likely quit my retail job. 

Retail has been a part of my life for the last four years. It is a part of my personality at this point. I love seeing people at every shift and love the things they are walking out with. I help kids get ready for back to school, or help wedding parties and even prom-posals come springtime. But the smiles and infectious energy can’t seem to keep me there either. I wish I could say that the environment from last summer, when I started at my current retail job, was the same. My favorite staff members have left and I am the only one left. My manager, the person that got me my job and kept me there, has found a new position doing the things she wanted to do. I can’t be mad at her, if anything I actually still talk to her and tell her everything about my life and congratulate her on her own path too. The discount will be missed but I know that there are other avenues to take. 

See, I know I should quit. And I think it would behoove me to do so, but what to do with all the time I have? Not to suffer too badly from main character syndrome, but what would I be if my hyper-fixation wasn’t working? In a very far-off way, this feels like a break-up with someone that you’ve fallen out of love with. I usually would default to a Taylor Swift song to help me get through this, but I can’t pinpoint one to figure this whole mess out. If I could find one close to what is going on right now it would be something off of Red (Taylor’s Version). We’re about the same age, going through a breakup and just feeling all the young adult feelings. I want to run and hide again and again because of this whole situation, but I know that by the end of this I will get 1989. I can’t wait for my pop rebrand, my squad era and an iconic fashion era of striped shirts and miniskirts. Here’s to the upcoming week; may we all get our essays in on time, our homework done without too much stress and a couple of iced-black-tea-add-espressowith-oatmilk-vanilla-and-apple-crisp-syrup this week from LaFun or AveBrew. 

So, what should I do?

Gabriel B. Ibarra is a Chicago native currently attending Holy Cross College majoring in Visual Arts — Studio Track — with a minor in Elementary Education. If not crying to any of Taylor Swift’s re-recordings, you can find them somewhere in the tri-campus causing chaos with laughs, pointed jokes and one of many emotional support water bottles in hand, or leading Holy Cross College’s First Generation Club as the vice-president. Learning to write for a newspaper is harder than expected, so they can be contacted on Twitter @gbenito11 or via email at gibarra@hcc-nd.edu

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

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You’ve never been to a football game?

As the school year is quickly ramping up, so is the Fighting Irish football season. However, one thing that is painful to admit to many of my friends this weekend, and now to you, the reader of this column, is that I have never been to a Notre Dame football game before. I know, I know. How does a super-senior manage to never have gone to a football game, especially being just across the street from Notre Dame? The answer: I just wasn’t ever able to. I am a student who has at least two jobs at a time when on campus, way too many friends to keep track of and assignments that flood way over my head. So, excuse me if I haven’t carved out some time for game days before. The thing is, I knew that this year was going to be different. I am still unsure of how much time I have left here as a student in the 46556 ZIP code, so it was important for me to jump on any opportunity this year to be able to see a bunch of sweaty young adults revel in the magic that Notre Dame Stadium has to offer. But, to begin such a massive undertaking, there had to be a plan, and like most of my plans it did not go all too well. 

The night before the game, I wanted to go to Drummer’s Circle, a spectacle I have been lucky enough to witness before. Of course, I was unable to go because by the time I realized it was happening, it was one in the morning. So, we’re not at a great start for the weekend. Then, while walking past Siegfried Dining Hall on Holy Cross campus, I confirm with my friends that we are meeting at 11:30 a.m. for brunch; but come 11 a.m., all of us are running late. I have no eyebrows on yet, one friend already left without us, my other friend is on hour four of tailgating and we still have to buy snacks. I wanted to chug a Red Bull and fly, and I should’ve. Instead I sped through a blue-and-gold appropriate makeup look, ate a full plate of brunch and managed to remember to drink water, all in the span of 30 minutes. Impressive, I know, but I wanted to set myself up for success this game day. 

Moving along in this story, I met with one of my original group members, and then I joined a new group of girls. This was my best case-scenario. I was wearing The Shirt along with a denim mini-skirt and my “going out” trashed white Vans. I was hopeful that being with a group of girls would boost my confidence because being a 6’1 tall male-presenting person in a denim mini-skirt in God Country, Notre Dame is still nerve-wracking. Nonetheless, we ventured into Domer territory and made a couple of stops along the way. We passed by a tailgate where I ended up with a free shirt, we watched the Band Concert at Bond Hall and went for a bathroom break at South Dining Hall. Things were looking up for sure. We saw classmates, professors and successfully evaded embarrassing exes along the way. 

It was 30 minutes until game time and we made our way to Notre Dame Stadium when the anxiety started settling in. I wasn’t sitting in the student section of this game so I found myself looking for another friend of mine that graduated last year. We hugged at Library Lawn and found our way to the gate closest to our section. I walked slowly in anticipation. My shirt is a darker color by this point so I knew worrying about my outfit was a lost cause, but I worried about getting in. It was the same type of anxiety you get when going through TSA: I had no malicious intent in going to the game, but I felt guilty somehow. We got in, smiled at the event staff, wished them a good day and I was in. I almost cried. I still don’t know why I almost cried then, or when the band played, or when we got a touchdown, or when I saw our new head coach on my souvenir cup, but I tell you, dear reader, I almost cried. 

That is the thing about this football culture, specifically as a Holy Cross student going to a Notre Dame home game. It can often make students like myself, especially students of color, feel like outsiders or not part of the crowd. There was a moment when I thought to myself, “This is why people can’t believe I’ve never been to a game before.” But, I look back at yesterday’s game and, despite losing, I think about all the wins I had. I had great seats (Section 10, Row 32, Seat 6), I had one of my best friends next to me, I had The Shirt and I had a culture of tradition and pride around me. The energy was addicting and invigorating all at the same time. Now I wonder if I’ll ever find myself in a position to go back to witness the Fighting Irish on their home turf, but I know that I can cross this sequence of events off my bucket list. In the future I know three things to do: one, get a clear fanny pack; two, bring more sunscreen; three, sit in the student section for sure. So, to close, it only feels right to make a Taylor Swift reference: Today was a fairytale.”

Gabriel B. Ibarra is a Chicago native currently attending Holy Cross College; majoring in Visual Arts – Studio Track – with a minor in Elementary Education. If not crying to any of Taylor Swift’s re-recordings, you can find them somewhere in the tri-campus causing chaos with laughs, pointed jokes, and one of many emotional support water bottles in hand, or leading Holy Cross College’s First Generation Club as the vice president. Learning to write for a newspaper is harder than expected, so they can be contacted on Twitter @gbenito11 or via email at gibarra@hcc-nd.edu.

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