In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing you will change them
and they will be discarded.
But you remain the same,
and your years will never end.
—Psalm 102:25-27 (Read Psalm 102)
Let nothing disturb thee.
I picture myself, 23 years old, sitting cross-legged on the floor, in a semicircle with six or eight other young women. It is 9 p.m. on a Tuesday evening, and we have gathered again in the windowless student lounge of Finnegan Hall.
Facing us, also sitting cross-legged on the floor, is Father Robert Susa. This Roman Catholic priest and university faculty member is the chaplain of this residence hall for first-year women.
We are at Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania, and this is my first semester in a new campus ministry position. I am a born-and-bred Protestant, now working for a parachurch ministry in partnership with a Presbyterian congregation. Gannon is a university overseen by Erie’s Roman Catholic diocese, although its students come from many different faith traditions.
Let nothing frighten thee.
Since my experience of the Catholic church thus far is limited to a handful of weddings and funerals, I am still figuring out my place in this new environment. I am committed to better understanding this cross-cultural ministry context. My prayer is to work towards greater unity within the Body of Christ by helping students of different faith backgrounds (or none at all) to understand one another better, so I figure I had better start with myself.
Step one: I accept the invitation of the university’s campus ministry office to participate in weekly staff meetings. Step two: I audit a class called “Catholic Traditions,” taught by another Catholic priest faculty member. Step three: I begin to attend the weekly “Mass and Rap” gathering, hosted by Father Susa every Tuesday evening in this dorm lounge.
Everything is changing.
It is 1989, and the word “rap” is shifting its slang meanings. We are just beginning to understand rap as “to talk rhythmically to the beat of rap music.” But for the purposes of this weekly gathering, we adhere to the already-dated definition: “to talk or discuss, especially freely, openly, or volubly; chat.”
Father Susa is a product of the 1960s, so rather than rapping the Mass a la Run DMC, he presides over a stripped-down liturgy, offering the body and blood of Christ to the handful of participants gathered. As one of very few non-Catholics in attendance, I decline receiving the Host and the cup out of respect for our differing theologies around the significance of the Eucharist. But I do participate in the prayers, listen to the Scripture readings, and meditate on the reflections prepared and delivered by Father Susa.
Once the liturgy has concluded, he opens up a discussion—a rap—about themes presented in the Scripture readings and his homily. Mass, then rap.
God alone is changeless.
Father Susa has seen and experienced the hope and fear of the Civil Rights Movement, the national polarization over the Vietnam War, the assassinations of prominent activists, the impeachment and resignation of a popular president.
I am a product of a suburban upbringing and private liberal arts college education, a child of the Cold War era, the 1970s “me generation,” the relative peace and prosperity of the 1980s.
Patience attains the goal.
I do not yet know that the Gulf War will break out in a few months, or that 12 years from now, on September 11, 2001, there will be a devastating attack on the United States. In this era that precedes social media saturation, I am embarrassingly (and yes, blissfully) unaware of the injustices and violence that take place every day around the world, and in my own country.
I do not know that, three decades from now, I will have buried both of my parents and will be navigating social isolation and anxiety brought on by a global pandemic and the most divisive presidential election season of my lifetime.
The one who has God lacks nothing. God alone fills all our needs.
I do not yet understand how the words that Father Susa frequently recites to close these evenings will comfort and sustain me during the many seasons of my life yet to be experienced, in all of their beauty and terror and joy and grief.
I cannot imagine—anymore than the Spanish noblewoman who composed this prayer 500 years ago could have—how these words will comfort me in the year of our Lord, 2020. How I will continue to borrow her prayer as I enter yet another Advent season. As I once again remember the humble birth of Jesus of Nazareth more than 2,000 years ago, and as I eagerly anticipate His promised return.
Let nothing disturb thee; let nothing frighten thee.
Everything is changing; God alone is changeless.
Patience attains the goal.
The one who has God lacks nothing.
God alone fills all our needs.
—a prayer of Saint Teresa of Avila
—Amy Maczuzak serves as Senior Editor for the CCO.