Paulist seminarian Tom Gibbons reflects on his formation experience and his life as a seminarian right now. Along the way, some questions will be will be answered, and a lot more will come up.
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A Walk Through Berkeley
The following continues some of the experiences I had during my novitiate year in Spring 2007. I wanted to get a few more of these in before I started writing more about “modern day” life because I felt that they give a good background as to where I’ve been.
“Nobody calls me Lebowski. You got the wrong guy. I’m the Dude, man.”
– Jeff Bridges, The Big Lebowski
On my last day before Christmas break, I found out where I would be going for my Lenten Apostolate: Berkeley, California. That’s right: I shall be spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ in the birthplace of the Grateful Dead. I makes me very excited; my over-active imagination wonders if the altar cloths are tie-dyed and if the Eucharistic hosts are made out of hemp.
During the first year in formation, your Lenten Apostolate is basically the time you spend getting hands-on experience in parish life. I was to be working at the Catholic Newman Center for UC Berkeley from Ash Wednesday through to Easter, spending time with the students but also the parishioners who attend the center as a regular parish. Specific duties in and of themselves were to be light; it was basically my job to sit an observe parish life and take some time to discern if what I was seeing would be something I wanted to include in my own life.
On my first full day in Berkeley, I went walking around the neighborhood to get a sense of the city and the campus. The Newman Center is about four blocks from campus, so I started wandering in that direction to go check the place out… and find some lunch. As I reach the edge of Cal (that’s what we locals call it around here), I look down the street a notice string of stores and restaurants.
Oh good… a Quiznos! Lots of other stuff… I’ve always loved college towns… there’s a campus book store… I’m going to have to stop in there and buy myself a sweatshirt. And then… is that a Carvel?!?! OMG, it’s Fudgie the Whale!!! Here on the WEST Coast!!! God is shining his… oooppps, excuse me… His light down on me, Yesiree! We don’t even have Carvels on the East Coast anymore. Oooohhh… look at that: a food cart that makes authentic burritos by the campus gate! I’ve been jonesing for some good Mexican since I got here; having lived in Arizona and Mexico in a past life, I’ve bee looking forward to coming back to a part of the country where the Mexican eating establishments aren’t openly traded on Wall Street.
So it’s 1:30 on a Tuesday afternoon and I’m sitting on a bench on campus, eating a genuine pork burrito and watching the world go by. Students are rushing to class, or just hanging out. I overhear two girls talking, and one of them says to the other “My attitude is: if someone’s not my best friend, then we’re just enemies…” God I miss the simplicity of being twenty. At the same time, I reflected on the idea I had on our road trip that what people really miss from their college days is freedom and community; at that moment it felt like I was twenty.
Then I got a call on my cell. It was from a number I didn’t recognize, but I rolled the dice and answered anyway. It’s my old car insurance company, USAA, wanting to know if I have some time to take a survey. With a pork burrito in my hand, a song in my heart, and Fudgie the Whale back in my life, I am feeling generous, so I agree to partake in the survey. The first question: why did I leave USAA?
“Well, I sold my car.”
“Why did you sell your car?”
“Uhhh… because I started grad school and I didn’t need it anymore.”
(I really didn’t want to get into the whole vocational life story.)
“Did you leave USAA because you wee unsatisfied with our service?”
“No, I left because I no longer have a car to insure.”
“Did you leave USAA because you were unsatisfied with our rates?”
“Did you leave USAA because of a bad experience?”
(It was then that I realized that there was no avoiding getting into the vocational life story.)
“Ma’am, I sold my car because I joined a seminary. With the exception of my iPod, I sold all of my worldly possessions and joined a religious community. You were a wonderful insurance company… Okay, except for that one year where you doubled my rates because I got into a small accident that only cost the company eight-hundred dollars… but you eventually came around. So could you do us both a favor and for all of the questions you’ve got ahead of you, just pre-fill them all ‘no’?”
“Well, I’m not really allowed to do that, so if you could just bear with me for a few more questions.
Is there anything we could do to bring you back as a customer?”
“Yes. You could buy me a car.”
I continued to walk through the gorgeous campus of old stone buildings and evergreens, after which I headed back towards the street where there were more stores to see. I passed by a restaurant with a sign, “Live Vegan Food.” This threw me; vegans don’t eat animals. Was there some sort of genetically mutated soy monster that they keep in the back? I quickly walked by, keeping my head down.
Another campus book store. I head in, thinking maybe I’ll buy a Cal sweatshirt. They have some Okay stuff, but then I find another floor with a whole selection of other “non-university” T-shirts. It was the typical stuff you’d imagine finding in a college store, shirts with bands and jokes and clever sayings; there are hundreds of them. After checking out the selection, I raise my eyes to a higher part of the wall. It was there that I found a T-Shirt with a picture of Jeff Bridges on it and lettering underneath: “The dude abides.”