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Where Two (or Seven) Are Gathered

Monday, November 21, 2016 by Brett Cavanaugh - ACE 20, Brownsville

Brett Cavanaugh Community

As a discerning senior, I was certain of only two things: I wanted to serve the Church, and I enjoyed working with young people. With those two ideas as my guide, teaching in a Catholic school seemed like the natural fit. As I learned more about the ACE program, I was thrilled about the teacher training component and confident that I would grow in my faith through teaching. The great unknown was the pillar of community. As a quiet person, I was a bit hesitant. I was used to having time to be introspective and was comfortably confident in my ability to be independent.

Brett Cavanaugh ACE 20 Brownsville CommunityBut as I prayed and discerned, I came to realize that community living would push and challenge me beyond my comfort zone. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” I knew that there was much to gain from gathering with others who would share my mission. 

Living with six strangers offered challenges, yet it brought about tremendous amounts of beauty as well. I learned the importance of true communication–it wasn’t enough to simply ask about each other’s days or to hear the good things that had happened. Instead, we had to look deeper: we had to open ourselves up to share our difficulties, our challenges, our worries and our fears. Especially as I encountered my new life in the Texan Rio Grande Valley, talking with my roommates like Chelsey helped me understand the culture of my students and how to best address many of the anxieties and troubles that my students and their families struggled with. I came to realize that talking about my faith was important too; hearing what my community members thought and prayed about helped me to grow in my own faith life. 

We had to learn to be ourselves with each other too, to be silly and fun. Liz taught me how to dance to G.R.L.’s Ugly Heart in our giant living room mirrors. Brian reminded me to relax and smell the roses and then actually joined me, watching football and getting lost in comedy clips on YouTube. These moments were communication too: they created a space where we felt comfortable with each other and that comfort helped us to grow together.

After two years of breakfast tacos, Texas history, and tarantulas, I left the Rio Grande Valley. Since I hadn’t spent any significant time abroad, I went to serve God as a lay chaplain at a university in Cork, Ireland. My new community consisted of a priest, a secretary, and Nathan, another lay chaplain. Nathan was forced to work AND live with me, which only served to show the importance of all types of communication. We were better roommates/coworkers (we coined the phrase ‘co-mates’) because we grew together in many different ways. Nathan has a master’s degree in theology, so we spent time examining our beliefs together and thinking about some of the deeper aspects of our faith. We also bonded over deep dives into the wild world of Wikipedia. We traveled Europe together, prayed together, and consoled each other when the Irish asked about our upcoming presidential election. 

"We need more than just the day-to-day chit chat between acquaintances; we need to open up to each other and hear the true thoughts in each others’ hearts and minds."

In August, I traded the green fields of Ireland for the concrete jungle of the Bronx. This time, I was more worried because I didn’t have a community to join; I knew that I needed to create an intentional community in such a large city. But ACE continued to help me form my community: my classroom shares a floor with one of the four ACE 23 Teaching Fellows in New York. Even after a difficult day with middle school students, Séamus never fails to put a smile on my face, humors me in my love for pointless sports trivia, and invites me over to watch when Notre Dame breaks our hearts. Beyond ACE, I have built connections with countless other zealous teachers who inspire me each day to be better for my students.

Even though I was worried about the community pillar of ACE at the beginning of my journey, I have come to realize how important true connections and deep relationships are in my life. We need more than just the day-to-day chit chat between acquaintances; we need to open up to each other and hear the true thoughts in each others’ hearts and minds. If I am blessed with children one day, I hope to pass on my appreciation for community. I may not force my four hypothetical sons to live in the same bedroom, or ask family members to make countless grocery runs to H-E-B, but I will teach them that God is truly in our communities. My experience is living proof.