Building the Kingdom

Author: Mara Trionfero Lucas

We wished to abandon all to follow Christ. We learned in time that we still had it within ourselves to hold back. We wish to be wholehearted yet we are hesitant. Still, like the first disciples we know that He will draw us along and reinforce our loyalties if we yield to Him. - Holy Cross Constitutions

When I began working in Student Affairs at Notre Dame, our then Vice President, Fr. Mark Poorman, C.S.C., gave a talk in which he emphasized that each of us, regardless of position, religion, education, or background, is tasked with building the Kingdom of God by nature of choosing the Notre Dame mission. He reminded us that building the Kingdom isn’t just the work of Holy Cross priests and brothers, but an endeavor we can personally adopt whether as a new entry-level employee or a seasoned departmental director. I appreciated this perspective a great deal as it gave language to the reason I came to work here in the first place; it was, for me, a true “a-ha” moment. 

I have undertaken this call to follow Christ and build his Kingdom with a “wish to be wholehearted yet [I am] hesitant.” Approaching students wholeheartedly on challenging subjects can be hard, especially when they don’t want to meet with me anyway. Pouring forth compassion, time, and effort that may be met with skepticism or indifference often feels like a futile effort. It’s even worse when they tell me with candor my work doesn’t and couldn’t make a difference on this campus anyway (it’s happened more than once). What if I say the wrong thing? What if I miss an issue with a student who needs attention? What if don’t hit on the elements that would motivate them to make better decisions? Worst of all, what if I’m actually not making a difference and failing in the call Fr. Poorman vocalized so many years ago?

Rather than building the Kingdom, I often feel I’m rolling a boulder uphill a la Sisyphus with it never quite staying in place to stack the next. There is weariness and hesitancy in continuing to do so wholeheartedly, semester-in and semester-out, with no discernible progress and the aforementioned student feedback. It sometimes feels like trends are heading in the wrong direction, with students bringing more struggles and less inclination toward personal well-being. I become tempted to hold back or check out, to try a cookie-cutter approach that would be easier for us all, hesitant to go all in and face discouragement. But unlike Sisyphus on those challenging days, I know I have Christ laying out the path for my boulder. I have the pillars of a Holy Cross education to steady that boulder upon, and I have colleagues adding boulders of their own in support.  

Through each of these elements and the faith that “He will draw us along,” I have found higher meaning in my work. The pillars have guided me and provided an alternative measure of success. If I say the wrong thing, I trust my students will hear it coming from my heart and that my words will plant seeds in theirs. If I miss a crucial issue, I trust that in the process of educating them they will learn strategies and resources for help-seeking down the road. If I’m not quite motivating them to change, I trust I’ve modeled zeal in every conversation I’ve already entered into with them. This zeal for letting them know they are loved unconditionally by God sustains me year after year, and I believe it is accepting that love and having a personal understanding of grace that will ultimately motivate their growth. My colleagues as family have shown me that grace as well, inspired me in my hesitancy, and dusted me off when I’ve stumbled. All of this is done in the hope of the cross as with the awareness that it will not be easy. But as I take on these boulders in grace and love alongside my Holy Cross family, I can find the courage to dive into building the Kingdom wholeheartedly like the first disciples yielding deeper in each encounter.

- Mara Trionfero Lucas, Assistant Director Assessment & Education, McDonald Center for Student Well-Being