JOHNSON: P for pandemic? No, P is for perseverance, purpose on campus and in Christ

May 25, 2021

The 2021 University of Houston Graduation Mass was held on May 9 in the A.D. Bruce Religion Center chapel on the main campus.

Despite the year of mostly online ministry, it featured the largest number of graduates to have attended in recent years. The graduates included 18 students who attended in person, one student participating virtually from Dubai, and the Newman Center campus minister, Claire McMullin, who graduated with her MA in Faith and Culture from the University of St. Thomas.

Much care was taken to ensure compliance with university COVID-19 protocols, and family joy, excitement and school spirit filled the air.

It was uplifting to witness how students achieved such an important accomplishment in the midst of more than a year characterized by online classes and a nearly desolate campus. Perhaps the visible lesson was that perseverance does bring meaningful rewards.

At the same time, perseverance must have purpose. What makes us persevere? More importantly, who strengthens and guides our perseverance?

The answers need to be faith and Jesus Christ. However, as college students will remind us, coming up with answers is not always the conclusion but the beginning of new endeavors and new hopes.

As we consider all that the pandemic has brought about in our Church, our world, our local communities, as well as in our own lives, we must ask who and what have been our reasons to persevere? Why and how have we been able to do so? When and where have we experienced setbacks and losses and joys and successes?

Perhaps one of the risks we face is to come out of the pandemic experience as in a rush to return to “normalcy” or get back to familiar routines. Christ, however, might be exhorting us to slow down, look at where we have been and learn from what has been happening.

The words of renowned 20th Century English poet, T.S. Eliot, in his great poetic work, Four Quartets, The Dry Salvages, seem to capture the risk of rushing: “We had the experience but missed the meaning…”

It is easy to think, “Life goes on,” but our faith calls us to be grateful and humble when looking back over the past, willing to recognize God’s grace in the present, and be hopeful as we face the road ahead.

In his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei (Light of Faith), Pope Francis helps us make this response by understanding faith not as a concept but as God’s gift, which shines brighter the more we remember his goodness and the meaning in our lives of the many people around us.

He writes: “On the one hand, [faith] is a light coming from the past, the light of the foundational memory of the life of Jesus which revealed his perfectly trustworthy love, a love capable of triumphing over death. Yet since Christ has risen and draws us beyond death, faith is also a light coming from the future and opening before us vast horizons which guide us beyond our isolated selves towards the breadth of communion” (Lumen Fidei, 4).

There is much to learn from what we have gone through, especially in perceiving how Christ has accompanied us and continues to do so. Our students have modeled this demand of our faith, not by expecting or finding easy answers, but by their adaptation to the circumstances forced upon them and trust that the Lord is always with us.
Growth in Christ becomes irreversible the more we live our faith and the less we wonder if we have enough. This calls for a lot of remembering, a lot of giving love, and plenty of hoping.

Christ beckons us to persevere because He more than provides the love and faith to keep strong. He more than provides the purpose because He more than provides people in need of our concern and mercy. †

Father Charles Johnson, O.P., serves as director for the University of Houston Catholic Newman Center.