“Loving God, thank You for the gift of this day.”
There is no day quite like Notre Dame football game day. And as a kick-off to Thanksgiving break, the opening line of the ACE morning offering prayer rings particularly relevant.
For educators everywhere, this week we celebrate the long-awaited Thanksgiving break. We pause – *breathe a sigh of relief* – to celebrate the joys and recover from the challenges of the fall, and to reconnect with family and friends in the places we call home – and to give thanks.
One of God’s greatest gifts through ACE is to call so many new places home - and there is something truly special about the feeling of stepping back onto Notre Dame’s campus: home under the Dome. I will never forget the anticipation of stepping on campus and seeing the Golden Dome for the first time during April retreat not even two years ago. The Dome being under scaffolding during its regilding this past summer made the homecoming reunion, in all its gleaming golden immensity, that much more special.
This past weekend was my first Notre Dame game day, and my first time being on campus in the fall. The magnitude of the collective camaraderie on game day is magical and overwhelming in the best way possible. To simply pause and rest and be in a place filled with so much joy, so many memories of radiant summer peace, and to make new memories with family – biological and chosen – is a gift I won’t soon forget.
I remember when I said yes to ACE, the immense joy and peace I felt reading the words “Welcome to the ACE and Notre Dame family.” The gift it has been to find family in the people I’ve met this past year and a half, and to share our families with one another – at family weekend, at the EPIC Markley family tailgate, in the hospitality of friends’ families who literally open their home to make these cross-country travels possible – I never could have imagined the blessings that would come with being part of the Notre Dame family.
Back here on campus, I am reminded how many people there are who love me and challenge me to be a better version of myself and call me to greater goodness, just by being around them. Taking in all the senses, I savor and give thanks to God for the graces of this day.
To walk out after coffee at Cafe J at the Morris Inn toward the Dome and the tailgates set up on the quad knowing I really get to relax and enjoy the part of my ACE experience where I get to simply be a Notre Dame grad student. Joyfully snapping a random family’s Christmas card photo in front of the dome. Taking a sip of an ACE-provided limoncello-flavored La Croix (iykyk) from Kathleen Fulcher while catching up with Fr. Lou. Introducing my mom, aunt, and uncle who were all able to be at the game, to the ACE friends and pastoral staff who have been so formative in my own journey. The roar of the entire Notre Dame stadium when Sam Hartman scores ANOTHER touchdown and the ensuing touchdown push-ups (being one of the principal people hoisting an entire human being up and down in the air 45 times was quite a successful workout for the day). Hearing someone’s voice in a public place (the ACE tailgate) call out my full name loudly and enthusiastically and the surprise of not knowing who it could be (it was my coworker from San Jose!) but being in a place and being seen and known and loved and celebrated for who I am.
At Mass in Remick Commons – back in the room where it all started at April retreat and that first full week of first ACE summer – following the game, I’m reminded deeply of the reason why we’re all here. To make God known, loved, and served because we have first had the privilege to know, love, and serve Him. Pausing from the day-to-day stresses of lesson planning, management, and teaching, it’s these moments holding my friends’ hands as we pray the Our Father, hear God’s word, and share the sign of Christ’s peace that cause my gratitude to overflow as I recenter on what is most truly important – presence to people, and the life-shaping gift of this presence, the journey of accompaniment as we cheer each other on in our collective journeys deeper in faith and further along our development as professional educators, and any and all the other wonderful things this Notre Dame education has prepared us to be and to become.
Through ACE, God has given me the gift of places to call home and friends to call family, literally all across the country. To know I have this place to call home, in the middle of the country, thousands of miles from where I now live, thousands of miles from where I’m from, thousands of miles from where I was before, under the dome, to return to and find God and His peace that passes all understanding, is truly a remarkable gift I will not get over anytime soon. In a particular way this Thanksgiving break, I’m certainly savoring these graces.