By Patrick Schmadeke
Over the last three years, I have been a member of the intentional community that is the Master of Divinity program at the University of Notre Dame. Going back to the fall of 2017, my first semester in the program, I started writing monthly columns for The Catholic Messenger. It has been a privilege to reflect on my coursework, family life and experiences in the program. In the future, these columns will take a different shape.
Having graduated in May, these recent weeks have been a time of transition to the future as well as recollection for me. In this final installment of columns during my time as a graduate student, I would like to reflect on some dimensions of community life that the MDiv has highlighted.
The setting of seven lay and six seminarian students was rich with diversity of life experiences and vocational trajectories as we pursued life together in a committed group of men and women. My time in the MDiv has highlighted a few essential and interrelated dimensions of community life that I will carry forward with me. These are some of them:
• Community gives shape to faith. We are not atomized individuals operating independently of each other. We all form each other. Our influences upon each other can be explicit and well known, but they can also be subtle in ways that we don’t even notice. For example, I wonder about all the ways our three-year-old will influence our second child, who is to be born two weeks from now, and vice versa. The capacity to influence and to be influenced is no less true of adults than it is of children. The upshot of this is that the life of faith is a communal project. Every member of the body of Christ contributes to the community. The concrete realities of daily community life are the conduit of the Holy Spirit. This heightens the urgency with which we commit ourselves to the whole community and to each other individually.
• In community, we discover ourselves and find acceptance. This is a matter of discovering beauty in particularity. In the MDiv, it has been precisely one person’s particular passion for canon law, another’s for liturgy, and still another’s for Scripture that has brought into relief the beauty of each person’s theological passion. In community, we have the privilege of watching these interests unfold over time, helping give shape to them through encouragement and conversation, and witnessing the interest blossom into what might be an essential dimension of another’s vocation. This is truly sacred.
• We find unity in our diversity. Just as much as canon law, liturgy and Scripture, for example, are discrete disciplines, focusing on one of them highlights the importance of the others. Not a single theological discipline can stand all on its own. Each person’s commitment to a specific discipline is itself a unique manifestation of that discipline. Therefore, each person contributes uniqueness to the beauty of the whole. Like collaboratively weaving a tapestry, in community we each do our part, giving shape, color and symmetry to the tapestry that would be something less without each person’s contribution. This too highlights that we must give ourselves over to community and the delicacy with which we must receive each other’s contribution.
In summary, community forms our faith lives. In community, we journey towards ever-deeper self-awareness. In community, we contribute our whole personhood for the betterment of the community. The experience of community, which was a hallmark of the MDiv, highlighted the fact that community is a hallmark of Christian living. Indeed, the joy found in giving oneself over to a community is of unspeakable beauty. All of us can embrace the concept of community, the place where love and forgiveness reign.
(Editor’s note: Patrick Schmadeke is a graduate of St. Ambrose University (‘13) and a graduate of the Master of Divinity program at the University of Notre Dame.)