Jesus + Mary + Joseph = the Holy Family

We might ask what the Holy Family has to do with student life and the domain of the University. Is this not the time when young adults typically step out from the shelter of family life, and encounter the ‘big wide world’ as independent and autonomous individuals – an intermediate stage when one is no-longer-a-child and not-yet-a-parent?*

*Those students who are also parents will have to forgive me for this generalisation!

All this is true, and yet, after decades of contact with students, Auckland Catholic Tertiary Chaplaincy (ACTC) took on the motto ‘Home away from home’ because at university there is a clear need for a new form of family, based not on biology and dependence but on … well, something else.

I believe we can take much inspiration from the Holy Family as we ponder what this ‘something else’ might be. Before revealing himself to the world, Jesus spent 30 years living an ordinary family life. The fact that we know almost nothing about this time does actually teach us something. It shows how much God values the ordinary, silent, mundane, habitual, and hidden things of human existence. It was in all these ordinary things that the Son of God remained in total communion with His Father, where every moment presented an opportunity to contemplate the divine mystery. The world, it shows us, is at each moment presenting us with the imprint of God’s hand, if we have eyes to see. So, what unites us here at the chaplaincy, what makes us a kind of ‘family’, is not a kinship of blood or culture, but a sense that the world is like a great book to be explored together, and that our lives are an ongoing search for meaning and a mutual exchange of wisdom.

What does this look like at ACTC? At first glance it is a free space for people to meet to develop friendships, to study, to discuss ideas, to ask questions. We aim to be as hospitable as possible which is why we provide free high quality coffee (and tea), a well-stocked fridge and pantry, as well as home-baking, regular social events and the famous Tuesday gourmet lunch. For those wishing to go deeper we have a chapel where Mass is offered twice a week, and every weekday at 11:30am there is half an hour of contemplative prayer known as ‘Adoration’.

In Adoration we have the chance to encounter Jesus in a way that is similar to His existence at Nazareth – silent, hidden, ordinary, and yet (can we believe?) bursting with transformative power and a personal love that reaches to the core of each one of us. It is there, spending time in His gaze, where we find the Source of all meaning and wisdom, and where our eyes are adjusted to better perceive God’s creative imprint in the world.

Just as the bonds of family strengthen over long stretches of time, Adoration is about spending time with Jesus, reordering our priorities, and making silent prayer a deeply entrenched habit. We will be introducing music and scripture (chosen by the students) at the beginning and the end of Adoration to help people find a ‘way in’ to this form of prayer – music in the service of silence and the senses in the service of the spirit.

Jesus, have mercy on us!

Mary and Joseph, pray for us!

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