Spring Hill College Magazine
Reflections on starting anew and creating a sense of community
By Rev. Philip Steele, SJ
When Dr. Puto asked me to preside and preach at our Mass of the Holy Spirit, I spent more than a few anxious moments wondering what I would say that might speak to the students and faculty as we began the new school year. Realizing that probably half of the congregation would be freshmen, I started thinking about them. What could I say that might speak to what they were thinking and feeling on the first day of their first semester of their college experience?
It wasn’t hard to imagine. After all, I was in effect still a “freshman” myself, having been at Spring Hill only since early November of 2015. After a lifetime bouncing mostly between Denver and St. Louis, I found myself living in the Deep South for the first time. After many years working in high schools, I found myself working with college students for the first time. I had left family, friends and everything familiar to start over at the age of 67! I didn’t even know the Jesuits, except for a distant memory of Fr. Viscardi with whom I had studied philosophy 45 years earlier!
My own feeling of uprootedness, my struggle to find my place in this new (for me) world, helped me appreciate what the freshmen must be experiencing– some with more, some with less difficulty. We tend not to appreciate the power of home until we have to leave it behind. So my Holy Spirit homily began to take shape around the yearning each of us has to belong, to discover our place, to find our “peeps,” to feel at home. We were gathered to pray for the grace to make The Hill a Home.
It takes a lot of hard work and determination to forge a place of comfort, acceptance and safety, which is what a home is. A home is a place where brothers and sisters grow up together – not always getting along perfectly, but never forgetting the special loyalty that comes with family. There is no room for violence in a home – and when tempers are lost and hurtful words are spoken, forgiveness must spring up. There is no room for sexual assault in a home – who would treat a sister or brother that way? There is no room for vandalism in a home – only respect for all the pieces that go into creating a home. (I still remember how mad my mother got when as a child I broke her ceramic rabbit!)
In fact because of God’s lavish generosity to us, we have all the gifts we need to make Spring Hill College the most remarkable, wonderful home imaginable. We have those whose gift it is to bring joy and fun. Others have tremendous gifts of persistence and will not give up until the task is done. Some are peacemakers and can step in to help reconcile a disagreement. Some will listen patiently to all sides and then speak with a wisdom that cuts through all the different points of view. Some are on fire with a sense of justice and will call our attention to what is not right. Some have a deep sense of respect for life and will not stand by silently when someone is treated with disrespect. All these gifts, given by God, are gifts we need. We simply need to pray that we will each have the courage and hope we need to share these gifts.
There is one last piece to the puzzle. It’s reflected in the promise made by Jesus in John’s gospel:
“Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.
My Father will love them,
and we will come to them
and make our home with them.”
What could be better than having God make a home with us? Can we make room for this to happen? Can we love in such a way that God will dwell here among us? It’s what God longs to do. Jesus promises that if we welcome His Spirit, that Spirit will teach us all things – and what better Teacher could we have?
Of course there is always a danger that our home will be too small. We talk about the “Spring Hill Bubble,” which can isolate us from the harsh realities with which many in our world – and even in our city of Mobile – must live. But if God is in our home, we will not be “playing house.” After all, whatever home we build together is temporary. The reason we are here is not to build a permanent home on The Hill. The reason we are here is to gather the resources we need to be able to go out from here and to make the world our home, to prepare to take our place in the building up of God’s kingdom – as St. Ignatius said, to “Go, set the world on fire.”