FR. DAVE PIVONKA, TOR
I still look out my office window. It’s beautiful, but it’s just so … so wrong, weird, different, not sure the right word.
The trees are all budding, the ends of each of the branches are deep red, and every day more of the trees come alive. The yellow daffodils are popping out all around campus. And there are those little purple flowers, not sure what they are called, but they are beginning to show themselves. Everything is green and coming alive after what’s proved to be a pretty mellow winter.
It’s beautiful, but still something is missing. It seems all wrong. The campus should be alive right now, but it isn’t. Or not like it should be. The students should be throwing a Frisbee around campus with everyone chillin’ on the grass. Spring athletics should be in full swing with the fields busy with practice and games. Students should be in their hammocks with a book in hand catching up on study. Love should be in the air with “spring romances” developing. Everyone should be throwing off their winter clothes and the friars should be talking about appropriate dress for the chapels.
Rather, what I see is packed cars pulling off campus. Everyone forced to leave because of an enemy we can’t see.
But, the most beautiful thing I see comes from our students. A few days ago, I saw a student driving around the circle. She stopped to talk with me, her car was fully packed, and it was clear she was going home. She was crying and said she was so happy to see me before she left. We had never met before and she told me her name, “Mary.” She then went on to tell me that she is a senior and she has to go home. She began to thank me for the year, crying. I was getting emotional; it was pretty much a train wreck in the rosary circle.
But she then began to explain that she had just returned from a mission, that it was “life changing,” and that she was so glad that it hadn’t been cancelled. She shared with me, as tears were flowing off her face, how God has been so close to her, how her years at the university were amazing. And then she actually said, “this was just the perfect ending; I wouldn’t change a thing.” We talked for a minute or two more and said goodbye.
It took a minute for it to set in, but she actually said, “I wouldn’t change a thing.” Unbelievable.
My encounter with Mary was far more beautiful than the budding trees and the emerging spring flowers. Mary was more alive, even with her heart broken, than the blossoming springtime. Mary discovered that the deepest goodness, the richest beauty, the most enduring happiness lies in accepting the will of God.
I don’t understand why things happened the way they did, but I have been reminded many times that COVID-19 is not a surprise for God, that he is not overwhelmed and that from the beginning of time he was aware of how the semester would end. He also knew that young college students would reveal his goodness and faithfulness, his love and mercy by the way they accepted and embraced a cross they did not ask for. God knew that students (and I should add, faculty and staff) from Franciscan University would confront this awful situation with grace, virtue and humor and that they would give witness in a world riddled with fear to a God who brings peace, hope and presence. That is beautiful. Thank you for showing me this.
I wish I could have had a few minutes with everyone before they had to leave, but I know that wasn’t possible. Please know how grateful I am to have been with you this year. Being honest, I may have changed a few things, but I do believe in hope that does not disappoint. So, I hope in the Lord for each of you and pray you in the tender care of the Father’s hand. I look forward to seeing you back on campus, in God’s timing, and hearing about how you have shown beauty to a world that needs something beautiful. Amen? Amen.