Mr. Jason Downer, SJ
A Reflection on Long Experiment
During his long experiment, Jason worked in the Univeristy Ministries office at Scranton University. He is currently in First Studies at St. Louis University as a member of the Bellarmine Community.
Once in a while a TV show comes along that makes me think, “I wonder if I could do that”. For Friday Night Lights I was disappointed I never went out for football and I wondered if it was too late to be a High School football coach like Coach Taylor and my grandfather had been. During Lost I often thought about how I would react if I were stranded on a desert island. Would I be one of the supporting cast characters that just show up for an episode and then die or do I try to be a member of the community? I might even be able to trace my own vocation back to a short lived show, Nothing Sacred, which was on for less than one season in the mid-90 ‘s. Don ‘t bother looking for it on DVD, it hasn ‘t been released yet. This show centered around a young priest in New York City and his struggles and joys of being a priest. This January as I began Long Experiment at the University of Scranton I got hooked, for reasons I still can ‘t explain, on a BBC show called Downton Abbey.
The show focuses on the lives of Earl Grantham and his family in early 20th Century England and their servants. As I watched the show I became fascinated with the servants and how many of them have dedicated their lives to "service." Mr. Carson, the head butler, is an example of someone who does this service out of love for the family and because it connects him to something bigger than himself. I was intrigued as to why Mr. Carson and others could be so happy in a life of service. As the months have gone on at the University of Scranton, the reasons for a life of service have become more and more clear.
Working in the University Ministries office I have had the opportunity to serve in many different ways. The first week of January I found myself with two professors and 15 students in Los Angeles. One of my duties that week was to help with transportation to various sites we would be visiting that week. What a great way to get to know students by driving around and navigating the streets of LA. Fast forward a couple of months and I was with a new group of students driving to DC to spend their spring break doing service at the McKenna Center, a Jesuit apostolate serving the needs of homeless men. With both of these groups, I was able to serve and learn alongside them. This is one of the great opportunities of working in campus ministry. Not only do I get the experience of service but I am witness to seeing the growth of students during these "immersions." The work we did was not extraordinary, in fact most of the time it was very ordinary: cooking, cleaning, counting beans. The experience on a trip like this has as much to do with the ordinary work as with the people we meet. These people, who greet group after group with kindness and generosity, are more often the most lasting memories.
On campus in the day-to-day work, it was the very ordinary ways of being available and serving the students at Scranton that I found to be the most consoling for me during my time here. I was also moved by how the staff and students respond to their own personal call to service. The staff here, as at other Jesuit institutions where I have been privileged to work, often goes above and beyond to serve the students. They are generous with their time and with sharing their lives with the students.
Many of the students I‘ve met seem to always be looking for ways to live out that call to be men and women for and with others. I‘ve seen this so clearly this semester in students who volunteer regularly around Scranton, who serve as leaders on retreats, the weekly Examen, orientation assistants, international service programs, resident assistants, and the student programming board. I can go and on, but it has been truly remarkable to see these students serve in so many different ways.
Well, I guess I can give one more example: it is of the students that are getting ready to graduate and want to continue this life of service. I‘ve gotten to see the smiles on the faces of those men and women when they are accepted into year-long volunteer opportunities with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and Mercy Volunteer Corps. I‘ve seen the dedication of the education majors as they are student teaching, the nursing majors with their clinicals, and all those who just by the major they‘ve chosen will be serving others as a career.
So you get it, I like the idea of service. But what does this mean? Am I going to leave the Jesuits and look for a job as a butler? No, but I do think I would have made a pretty good one if I do say so myself. During my time at the University of Scranton this idea of life as service has begun to make more and more sense to me as really being a call from God. St. Ignatius ‘ prayer for generosity says it best:
Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to ask for reward,
save that of knowing that I do your will.
Some days I served God by being a chaperone or driving a van. Some days it meant being part of an interview team for retreat leaders. Durin others it involved just being present at a late night event or going to an RA program. It’s not easy to recognize God in all these little moments of service, but this prayer challenges me to do it: to pray for the grace to recognize that I don ‘t do this for myself, for money, or for glory. The biggest realization from this semester has been, that no matter how I am serving, if I am doing it in response to God’s love and generosity, I can happily live a life of service.