The University’s Theology Department sponsored a field trip to New York City last weekend. I and a handful of other Theology majors and minors boarded a Martz bus to New York at the very early hour of 7 am. Along with us came two Theology professors. After the 2 hour ride, we arrived safely in the Port Authority terminal. From there, we decided to take a long walk to our first destination, the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer. We stopped along the way at the New York Public Library and the Bryant Park Holiday Market, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
We arrive at St. Vincent Ferrer just in time for mass. We sat on dark intricately carved wooden chairs in a choir format (two rows of chairs facing each other) and we knelt on wooden kneelers. After mass, the Dominican who had said mass for us gave us a tour of the Church. It was so beautiful. The architecture was gothic.
We ate lunch with the Dominican at a nearby Italian restaurant. We ordered far too much pizza for our group, but it was so good, so it was worth it. We then had a bit of down time during which some of us got coffee and others explored St. Vincent more. After our respite, we journeyed on to our last stop: Park East Orthodox Synagogue. We joined the congregants for a Jewish night service. The women and men were separate, with the women confined to a small box in the back right of the synagogue. The men participated in the service, while it did not seem mandatory for the women to do so. Thankfully, many of the Jewish women around us took us under their wing and explained to us the various parts of the service as they were happening. After the first part of the service, the community invited us downstairs for a communal meal, during which a young man gave a “Torah talk” about Abraham and Isaac. The most beautiful part of the whole service was the singing during the meal, particularly the singing of Psalm 23 in Hebrew.
We arrived home in Scranton content at having such an adventurous and delightful Saturday.
On Wednesday, November 11, I ventured up to the 4th floor of The DeNaples Center with a friend. I had cajoled him into coming with me to listen to a science talk. When we entered the lecture hall, we were astounded by the number of people in the audience. Almost every seat was filled, and my friend and I struggled to find two seats next to each other. Looking around at the audience, I noticed that not only University of Scranton students filled the chairs — also adults who I had never seen before, probably from the larger Scranton community and other schools.
We were all gathered to hear Dr. T. Colin Campbell speak. Dr. Campbell is the co-author of The China Study, a book which examines the health benefits of traditional Chinese nutrition. The book, which I had started to read the week before, contains an extensive amount of research. It looks at how the Chinese diet compares to the American diet and how this affects the occurrence of cancer, heart disease, and obesity, among other medical issues. Surprisingly, the Chinese diet has more calories than the American diet, but the people there are less affected than Americans by cancer, heart disease, and obesity. Besides being more calorically heavy, the Chinese diet contains much less protein and fat than the American diet, and almost none of the protein and fat in the Chinese diet are from animal products.
Dr. Campbell began his presentation with a bit of history about himself, noting ironically that he lived and worked on a farm in his youth. He then focused the rest of his talk on the negative affects of animal protein if eaten for more than 10% of one’s diet. His powerpoint slides contained charts that were shocking: one showed how an increase in animal protein caused rats to develop cancer, while an increase in plant protein did not. Dr. Campbell explained his scientific findings well and was very passionate about his research. It was frankly stunning to see research that goes against the modern American trend to “pack in the protein” in one’s diet. Dr. Campbell’s talk was engaging and inspiring, and has made me think more about my own patterns of eating.
Several weeks ago, I and 30 other students ventured to the University’s retreat house on Chapman Lake for a weekend retreat. Last year, one of the campus ministers reached out to me, asking if I would help to lead the Mystery Retreat. I happily agreed after learning about the retreat’s focus. The word “mystery” in the retreat’s title refers to “mystagogia,” a term for the first year after a catechumen is received into the Catholic Church. During this new and exciting year, converts live in the mystery of God — they are faced with questions about the paradoxical truths of their new faith and about how to live well as a Catholic. They question everything.
The idea for this retreat was to revive the spirit of questioning among Catholic students at the University. Too often, we cease to live an adult faith that questions and we instead resign ourselves to a childish faith that blindly accepts doctrine without understanding foundational principles. The retreat seems to have been inspired by something St. Paul says in 1st Corinthians: “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things” (1 Cor 13:11). The Mystery Retreat was designed as a time for Catholic students to put away their childish faiths and enter into a period of questioning that would help them to discover the adult reasoning that supports Catholicism.
I can’t give too much away about the retreat, but I’ll describe one of the most interesting small group activities we did. On a large sheet of paper, we wrote down aspects of Jesus from the gospels. For example, my group’s descriptions of Jesus included “compassionate,” “counter-cultural,” “Jewish,” “storyteller,” and “loves children.” We wrote down close to 60 words describing Jesus! Then, we chose a hot-button moral topic and attempted to respond to it with the use of our Jesus-descriptors. What, for example, is the “compassionate” response to the question of homosexuality? What is the “counter-cultural” response to the issue of abortion? How would a “storyteller” deal with the death penalty? In this activity, we had the opportunity to try our hand at what the Church has done for the past 2000 years — develop moral thought based on the character of Jesus. We experienced firsthand the difficulties of applying the gospel to modern issues, but we were also surprised at the solutions we came to, many of which were exactly what the Church teaches.
Overall, the retreat was a great success. When we arrived back to campus for Sunday Mass, I felt that the retreatants “led” the rest of the congregation, singing and listening attentively. I was grateful that I had helped them to rediscover what it means to be joyfully Catholic.