By Fr. Jeff Belger
For The Catholic Messenger
(Editor’s note: Father Jeff Belger, priest director of the Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City, wrote the following column as students prepared for the first week of fall classes.)
“And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.” — Luke 13:29
This is the second-to-the last verse in the Gospel to be proclaimed this Sunday (Aug. 21). It is part of the answer Jesus gave when asked if only a few will be saved. If taken out of context, this is all good news with no challenge. But when taken as a whole, it is the Great Commission. In fact, the responsorial psalm is, “Go out to all the world and tell the good news!”
People are arriving in Iowa City from the north, the south, the east and the west. And contrary to popular belief, this is not the Promised Land. But this is where people are gathering and so we are preparing to go out and tell them the good news. At the beginning of this past week, our staff, missionary team, and student leadership spent a great deal of time together remembering the past and preparing for the future. I asked each of them to try, as best as they could, to remember their first day of college. That mixture of excitement and being completely overwhelmed.
That is happening in Iowa City now for so many, here for the first time. Many of them also shared the first invitation they received to come and check out the Newman Catholic Student Center. How welcoming it was, and how it was a path to easing the anxiety of such a dramatic transition from a protected home life, to feeling extremely small in a very big place.
This year has started in a slightly different way and I am excited! We asked the University of Iowa to include us on the official OnIowa welcome week schedule. Wednesday evening, we sponsored a volleyball event on the Pentacrest. We welcomed nearly 200 new freshmen from all over the place. It was a beautiful night and students were eager to meet each other.
Thursday, we had our first Thursday Night Mass at 9 p.m. in the chapel. Again, it was officially part of the OnIowa week, and between 95 and 110 freshmen celebrated with us. Afterwards, back over to the Pentacrest for a great game of kickball. Even there, we were pulling people in as they were walking by (there must have been something going on downtown).
These first weeks of school will be crucial for us to invite students to make the Newman Center a part of their weekly and daily schedule. Would you be so kind to pray that as we go out to all the students and tell the Good News they will respond to the invitation?