This homily was preached at St. Thomas More, which serves the larger Brookings community:
I’m Father Andrew Dickinson, I serve on the north side of town at Pius XII Newman Center, working with Catholic college students at SDSU. Sometimes we do smart things, sometimes we do not so smart things. Saturday morning I ran 15.2 miles from the town of White, down to the Campanile. Not so smart. This weekend I’ve switched with Fr. Farke to tell you a bit about Newman Centers. Hopefully smart.
What is a Newman Center? First off, it is your Newman Center. If you’re a college student here in town, the Newman Center south of Brown Hall on 14th Ave and 8th St. is yours, come and see us. 80% or more of my week is spent with college students, stop me and talk to me on campus. If you’re a parishioner at St. Thomas More, we couldn’t exist without your CFSA, parish, other personal gifts, and most importantly, your prayers. Thank you for your generosity.
On April 30, 2009, when Bishop Swain asked me to come here, I asked him what he wanted me to do. He said, “Make it a safe place for college students.” Safety and security in the midst of college means different things for students in different places. For some students, it means simply a place to hang out. Your Newman Center has no exterior keys- it is open 24-7 and I couldn’t lock it if I wanted to. At least, not without some nails.
Your Newman Center is pace of safety for those are under attack. College can be a place of grave challenges to your beliefs and foundations. I know of several courses and professors who implicitly and even purposely challenge Catholic and Christian worldviews. Know that those challenges are not new and there are real answers for them. Your Newman Center will help you with those.
Your Newman Center also provides a safe place to hear God’s call. There are good and holy men and women who pray and play together. Wouldn’t you want a wife or husband that prays the same prayers as you? One of the biggest struggles for engaged couples is figuring out their life of faith. Also, you’ve seen how much Fr. Rod loves his priestly life and hopefully your hometown priest as well. You’ve seen how the good religious sisters her love their life of community, prayer, and service. In our open chapel you can pray with the Eucharist and with others to hear God’s call for your life. Come see why more than 100 of your fellow college students make daily Mass a part of their week with around 60 per day.
Finally, I want to leave you something for your heart. Your Newman Center is a safe place when you’ve failed. In our Gospel today, the second group is clearly identified as sinners and outcasts. How hard it is for the outcast to turn- certainly because sin is attractive but also because sin discourages? We all know that discouragement, when we haven’t been in Church in a while, when the confessional door looks dark and forbidding, when it seems like Father’s every look is one of dissatisfaction. Your Newman Center and my mission is to encourage you at just those times. I speak the words of great modern author, G.K. Chesterton, who says: “Anything really worth is worth doing badly,” because it is better to do it badly, than not to do it at all. I hope I don’t surprise you when I say, that saints started out as sinners.
What is the safe encouragement of your Newman Center? Jesus Christ. In our second reading we hear of his humility. He doesn’t wait for us, high, dry, and clean of everything while we struggle in darkness, doubt, and sin. Rather, he emptied himself becoming one like us and then humbles himself to the point of death.
Parishioners, college students, and I say this to my own heart too. What more could we want? Blessed Cardinal Newman, the English priest and university professor whom Newman Centers are named after expressed it this way. “Thou Lord, art ever waiting for me to ask Thee to be merciful to me.” Amen.
Cross posted at Pius XII Newman Website.