Saturday, May 4, 2013

Aggie Catholics...there's something in the water

I am amazed by the Catholic community at Texas A&M and in the surrounding area. I've personally met a few of their members years ago, and although I was far away from my normal surroundings, I felt right at home due to their genuine love and earnest desire to lift up others. They were individuals, each striving to build a Christ-centered life and to share that joy with everyone they met. We became fast friends, and I was really sad to see them go when we said our good byes. I haven't kept in touch with them as I'd like, but every time I think about them and the weekend we shared, I smile and feel their joy once again.

In addition to my personal experience, two other things stand out to me that distinguish this group and solidify it in my mind as a vibrant, life-giving community.

Awakening retreats have popped up at more than 40 college campuses across the country. The retreat is generally a weekend away from campus consisting of small group discussion and activities, talks by fellow students, lots of singing, silly costumes, confession, mass, and community-building to deepen participants' love of Christ. It is well-scheduled and well-designed, and each college adds a little of its own flavor.

I had the opportunity to serve as coordinator years ago. There were some stressful moments (as you'd expect when running a 2-night, 100-person event): regulating preparations, keeping speakers on schedule, and discerning successors, but overall it was such a rewarding and humbling experience. Strong, lasting friendships were formed, many tears were shed, and the community dedicated themselves to Christ in a profound way.

My first time on the retreat, I was moved by the outpouring of love by the staffers, even before I had any concept of the hard work and prayers they had contributed to make the weekend happen. After staffing in many different capacities over the subsequent years, I came to understand and appreciate even more what an extraordinary retreat it is. One day I'll post my prayer talk, which I still find relevant to my life today.

The retreat is decentralized, so it only spreads as students talk about their experiences and other colleges reach out to current participants for help setting up their own retreat. Without Texas A&M, this retreat would not have spread across the country like it has. McNeese University started the retreat in 1974, and Texas A&M got a hold of it in 1983. The Aggies have the largest and longest-running Awakening retreat in the country, and they have helped many other colleges set up their own, which is how I met these lovely people!

They drove 700 miles, missing Friday classes and lots of sleep, just to help another college get their retreat off the ground. They were eager to help and didn't complain at all the entire weekend. I don't know how many other colleges they directly contributed to, but their influence is widely felt (whoop!).

40 Days for Life

The campaign against abortion has never been stronger. 40 Days for Life is a prayerful protest of abortion clinics across the US and spreading into other countries. It started in Bryan, TX (where else!) by the Coalition for Life in 2004 to protest the Planned Parenthood clinic down the street. Its first year going national, more than 80 cities joined. Today, there are more than 500 cities (including 19 other countries) contributing to the effort. That's amazing. (Looking back through pictures of my time with my Aggie family in 2007, I noticed that one of them was wearing a 40 Days for Life shirt. More than 5 years later, I am now discovering what a great cause they had already begun!)

I just finishing the book Unplanned, which told me about the role this Texas community has played in the pro-life movement. I'm looking forward to participating in my local 40 Days for Life campaign in the fall. As a result of the community here, a surgery center that approved second trimester abortions in 2009 had many patients cancel there appointments, and the center never performed a single procedure. They abandoned their plans to offer abortions after peaceful protests and questions into the legality of the procedure. What a victory!

These two programs have done great things for the Bryan/College Station community, the US Catholic community, and the world at large. This is a loving group that is making a big impact in such an inspiring way. In the manner of Switch, we need to examine this "bright spot". What makes this Texas community so successful at cultivating a loving environment and launching wide-reaching programs? How can we foster those same qualities in other communities to make their efforts as impactful as they can be? There must be something in the water.

For now, I stand in awe.