Sitting on the wall above my desk are five items. Three Icons: Christ of Maryknoll, Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton. A ceramic depiction of the sanskrit word OM. And finally a quote which reads:
A young Buddhist teacher in a Catholic high school was offended by the religious symbols, particularly the chapel. A senior Buddhist on the faculty took him aside and said, ‘You don’t understand. In this school, the moment you enter the gate, everything is chapel. But what makes the school sacred is the students. Wherever the students are is chapel.’
Each of those items hold a special place in my heart. Christ of Maryknoll reminds me to find God on both sides of the suffering fence. Om reminds me that in my struggles, peace can be found in just a simple sound. Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day remind me that even the simplest most average people can possess saintly possibilities. The final piece, the quote printed on generic printer paper, however reaches to a depth the moves beyond the windows of the icon.
Having now worked at St. Xavier High School in Louisville, KY for a semester, seeing the students as sacred is not difficult. St. X, like Xavier University, is filled with a multitude of students from backgrounds as varied as our fingerprints. We—collectively as students, staff, faculty, alumni, friends and family of varied educational institutions—live uniquely. We laugh uniquely. We love uniquely. We worship uniquely. Not a one of us can fully comprehend the depths of the other’s existence, but we try.
But what does that “trying” look like?
For the Buddhist faculty member struggling with the religious iconography, “trying” means turning towards people to view their sacredness. In this advent season, this is our task, to turn towards the sacredness found within our humanity. Pope Francis, in his recent publication reflecting on the “Joy of the Gospel” writes, “[the] human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development” (Pope Francis, Evangellii Gaudium 213). His words, put as plainly as the Buddhist teacher, reminds us of our sacred humanity. Calling us to not only recognize our human sacredness, but to also worship it. If we only attend chapel to worship, then how are we sitting with those who suffer, like the example of Christ the Maryknoll? If we forget to worship the sacredness of others, then are we undermining their potential for sainthood like Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day?
To worship fully, therefore means that we must expand our breadth of holiness and worship the sacredness that flows beyond the chapel.
In every laugh, sacred. In every door held open, sacred. In every hug, sacred. In every tear, sacred. In every lesson, sacred. In every shopping-cart, sacred. In every student, sacred. In every teacher, sacred. In every person, sacred.
To worship fully, means to worship the sacredness of the people who surround us. Our neighbors. Our friends. The people we work with. That person who cut us off on the way to work. The homeless beggar who our eyes rarely catch. That talk show host whose views drastically differ from our own. No matter who they might be, to worship fully means to give them, everyone, the utmost dignity and respect. To worship fully means to love the sacredness that exists in every human person.
Though we might not always be within the walls of a chapel, we are always on sacred ground, let us rejoice and worship fully wherever we stand.
Bobby Nichols ’13 is currently working as an Associate Campus Minister and Theology Teacher at St. Xavier High School in Louisville, KY. During his time at Xavier, he worked in the Dorothy Day Center for Faith & Justice for four years. In his free time he is occupied by two rambunctious puppies who have an affinity for raiding the laundry bins.