Mr. Doug Ray, SJ
A Reflection on Long Experiment
For his long experiment, Doug Ray worked in Campus Ministry at Georgetown University. He is currently in First Studies at Fordham University as member of the Ciszek Hall Community.
Perhaps the most unexpected aspect of my Long Experiment working in Campus Ministry at Georgetown University this spring has been the fact that few people actually call me by my name. During my second week here, one of my colleagues introduced me to a group of students as a “Baby Jesuit,” and ever since, that has been what most of the students have called me. At thirty-eight years old, it has been a while since I have been called a “baby” anything, so this nickname came as something of a surprise.
In fact, this entire experience has been one surprise after another. When I was missioned to Georgetown, I did not really know what to expect. I was being sent to live in a freshman dorm, with students half my age, and to work in Campus Ministry. I did not attend a Catholic university, and was not sure what the role of a Jesuit on campus was, or how the students would respond to me. I did not know what my ministry would really be, since I was not teaching at the university, and as I am not yet a priest, I would not be able to engage in sacramental ministry. I was worried that I would not be able to connect with the students. I need not have worried, though, because the students surprised me by welcoming me with great enthusiasm. They seemed very eager to get to know a Jesuit – even a Baby Jesuit – and include me in their lives.
The students also surprised me with their generosity. I remember college as being a time focused primarily on my school work and my friends. At that point in my life, service to others was not at the top of my priority list. However, Georgetown students take their calling to be men and women for others very seriously, and work to make service an integral aspect of their lives. I do not think I met a single student all semester who was not involved in at least one service program.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for me, though, has been how happy and fulfilled I have been here. I worked as a corporate lawyer on Wall Street for twelve years before entering the Society. The work was interesting, and intellectually challenging, but none of it was as fulfilling as working with the students this semester has been. I had heard the saying “Find something you love to do, and you will never work a day in your life,” but I never really believed it before. I have worked long hours and many weekends this semester, but none of it has really felt like work to me.
I have probably spent more weekends away from campus, on various retreats, than I have spent on campus this semester. Students here are very driven, and pour themselves into their schoolwork, their extracurricular activities and their internships. One thing many of them do not do, though, is take time to reflect on their lives, and where God is moving in their lives. The retreat programs give them an opportunity to step away from their busy routines for a little while, and really look inside themselves, to reflect on their lives and their choices, and to ask themselves the questions they never have time to ask in the midst of their hyperactive schedules. I had an opportunity to speak with many of the retreatants after they returned to campus, and the number of students who spoke of how much they appreciated the opportunity to stop and really look at their lives was striking. Having an opportunity to accompany these students as they took the time to reflect on their lives was very consoling to me.
Georgetown offers a variety of retreats, ranging from the Escape overnight retreat for freshmen of all religious backgrounds (or none), to the five-day, silent, individually directed Ignatian retreat. While it was clear to me that God was working in and with the students in each of these different retreats, it was not necessarily obvious to all the students. In particular, many of the freshmen on the Escape experience who talked about how much they appreciated the opportunity to reflect on their lives would say in the very next breath that they appreciated that Escape was “secular” or “not spiritual.”
It was confusing to me how the students could be so blind to how God was moving in their lives, when it was so obvious to me. It also spoke to a deep spiritual need that many of the students did not even recognize. It was clear to me that these students were looking for something more in their lives than just getting good grades and eventually, the “right” job: they wanted a connection with a deeper sense of meaning beyond the day to day reality. They were looking for the Magis, even if they did not understand that that was what they wanted.
Their need awakened a desire in my heart to help them find how God is moving in their hearts, drawing them ever closer. As a novice, I have come to appreciate how God is always calling to me, asking me to be in a relationship with him, and it has changed my life. Working with these students this semester has helped me understand that I want to spend my life helping others to recognize how God is moving in their lives, and sharing their journeys with them. A vocation as a Jesuit offers me a unique opportunity to enter into the lives of others and travel with them.