Over the course of an academic year, the University of St. Thomas School of law has several Mission Round-Table lunches for students, faculty and staff. Yesterday was one of those, and our invited speaker was the President of the University of St. Thomas, Julie Sullivan, who is nearing the end of her first year of service here.
President Sullivan began by talking about what it means to speak of faith inspired service, suggesting that our faith gives insight into our service potentials, provides the foundation for our service and gives us the enduring strength and perseverance we need to serve. She then spent some sharing her own responses to the three questions she posed for our consideration and discussion at our individual tables: What are you God Given talents? How are you using them in service to others? How does your faith sustain and nurture your service?
In speaking about the first, she shared her own difficulty overcoming a hurdle many people face: an upbringing that warns against boasting and against tooting one’s own horn. She came to realize something we often talk about in the vocation retreats we do with our law students – that there is an enormous difference between boasting and reflection. We have a responsibility to use the gifts we have been given in service of God and others, and we cannot meet that responsibility unless we recognize our talents.
Part of our service to our students is providing ways to help them to recognize their gifts and to discern how they are being called to use those gifts in the world.
The third question she posed recognizes the role of faith in our service and our need to be nurtured by God to be able to effectively use our gifts. President Sullivan observed that different people have various ways they most keenly feel the presence of God. She then shared one of her own practices, which I found very moving. Before giving a big talk or engaging in some major undertaking, she makes sure that she takes some time alone. During that time she holds her arm out, palm facing upward and prays in that position until she feels pressure against her palm.
I love the childlike trust conveyed by that image – holding out one’s hand waiting for God to take it.
How does your faith sustain and nurture your service?