Friday, December 9, 2011

Prayer Life on the Road: Keepin' it Real

A few weeks ago when I was in North Carolina, my boy Andrew Lipetsky asked me, "So, how have you been with keeping up with prayer and all that?"  And honestly, at that point, it had been difficult.  I admitted to him that my best periods of prayer life have happened when I have good routine and schedule in my life. In Costa Rica, for example, when I got up and went to bed the same time every day, it was easy to fit in prayers for the day and night.  Right around 6:30 a.m. when eating my cereal I'd read something from the bible or a reflection and right around 10 p.m. that night I'd journal before going to bed.

But the routine and settled schedule is out the window when I'm on the road, and because of that, and this is no excuse, my personal prayer life had been taking a back seat.  I check in to hotels after a school visit and all I want to do is relax.  By the time I finish watching Harry Potter on HBO until 1:00 a.m. (great, but poor decision, Matt), I'm too tired to do anything else but go to bed.  I'm lucky enough to get up to brush my teeth, forget about praying.

And this is where I mention an unforeseen highlight of my job as a recruiter of the Catholic Volunteer Network: even though I may be struggling to keep it up myself, I catch my prayer life at the universities I visit.

Let's start with the rosary.  I can't tell you how many times I've beaded the "Hail Mary" whether it was at UNC-Greensboro at their Monday rosary nights, at UNC-Charlotte while making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the homeless, or at the University of South Carolina after their community night.  One of the notable guys I met on the road was a UNC-G student named Chris who carries six different rosaries on him. One of them, to my liking, was a "manly rosary" that he uses when he's feeling manly and doing manly things. We didn't discuss when exactly those times were but I can only imagine he whips that one out for moments after hunting wild dear, eating raw meat with his bear hands, and drinking cold beer in a cave on a side of a mountain.

Getting to experience student Masses across the U.S. has been fantastic.  My first university I visited on the road was St. Xavier in Chicago where the atmosphere and the music was phenomenal---I instantly felt like I was home after a long day of travelling car, plane, train, and bus to get there.  A couple weeks later, I flew down to South Carolina to experience Sunday Mass at the College of Charleston where a Dollar Dinner was cooked and offered by students for students after church.  The following week I attended the grandeur Mizzou Mass at their Newman center in Missouri which had a beautiful chapel fit for 400 students and had fantastic music as well (shout-out to the drummer Tommy Larsen who gave me a great tour the next day). What I liked about their Mass was that the songs and the prayers of the Mass were projected on a giant wall.  I thought that was neat that if a falling out Catholic were to come to their church, he or she could still pray the prayers like the long Nicene Creed with everyone else because it's right there in front of them. And with the new Mass translations, we all might need a projector in front of us.

Sometimes Mass happens in the most humbling of places.  Just last night I drove to the University of California-Santa Cruz where Mass was celebrated in a huge lecture hall for classes.  Because the parish is off campus, the priest, Fr. Jerry, and their staff decided they wanted to bring Mass to the students. It was well attended with probably the most diverse group of students I've seen so far with Asians and Hispanics probably taking up the majority of the room.

Perhaps what I’m most humbled by are some of these schools host DAILY Masses.  At the University of Missouri of Science and Technology (also previously known as University of Missouri-Rolla), I probably went to the most lively daily Mass I’ve ever been to in my life with their plethora of instruments playing in the corner.  I’m pretty sure I saw a djembe drum, a keyboard, a flute, and oh, three guitars (they claim there’s usually six).  And we sang these great upbeat songs where all 40 plus people in the room were singing and it was a Thursday night!  Oh yeah, and they’re all engineering majors with at least half the students in there being guys.  Later that night we went on a hayfire bonride (yes, I said that right) but that’s a whole other story.

I’m also just as humbled to have attended a small intimate daily Mass at Clemson University in South Carolina.  Fr. Jack and the director Fred leave the off-campus Newman center every Wednesday afternoon and drive to the student union to bring daily Mass to any Catholic student who desires it.  I remember we were in a small lecture classroom with a long table seated for maybe 20, and three guys showed up.  So six men gathered in the middle of the day to celebrate the Word and the Eucharist together.  It was beautiful.  It brought me back to my Esto Vir days going to Mass with my brothers.  To top it off, Fr. Jack treated all of us out to Chili’s and we feasted like men…with our bare hands, grunts, and bodily noises.
               
I was telling Andrew who had asked me about prayer in the first place that I have to constantly adjust how I do things, like a running back who never runs the same route all the time, constantly shifting side to side based on what the defense gives him or what hole opens up.  My prayer life is the same way.  Instead of waiting until night where I’m dead tired, I get my God in when I’m driving and done listening to how to move it like Jagger.  More importantly, I get it from the students and the universities I visit.  And there’s something (very) cool about how universal the Catholic church is…I’m saying the same Hail Mary whether I’m in South Carolina or Missouri, and it’s the same Eucharist, same Mass, almost the same songs to sing and pray whether I’m in California or now in Minnesota.  Although I’m away from home for these past two months, I find home, and more importantly feel at home in the various churches and Newman centers where we say the familiar name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Prayer life on the road.  The life of Catholic Volunteer Network recruiter.  Tryin' to keep it real. Matt Aujero out.