Growing up I’ve always been a member of a community. Whether it be my family, my school or the Catholic community of my parish. As a student at Notre Dame, this understanding of the community has deepened with the friends I’ve made, the professors who have challenged me and the people who have pushed me to do my best, encouraging me all along. Notre Dame is more than just a place of higher learning, it’s a community, a family.
But what is it about the Notre Dame community that makes this university so special? To attempt to answer this question, we must first understand ourselves, the individual puzzle pieces, and then figure out how we fit together.
A fundamental theological truth that we believe as Catholics is that we are made Imago Dei, in the image of God. While this holds many implications relating to our human nature, one such implication is that we are made in the image of the Trinity, three persons who are fully one God. While the Trinity is a complex mystery that transcends our human knowledge, we can still study the Trinity as a model of the perfect community, one which we should strive to imitate. The Catechism states that “there is a certain resemblance between the unity of the divine persons and the fraternity that men ought to establish among themselves.” (Catechism 1890). We will never attain the perfect unity of the Trinity because of our fallen nature, however, we are called to strive to imitate the harmony and solidarity of the Trinity within our communities.
What does it mean that we are made in the image of a God who is a Trinitarian God? When we begin to study the Trinity, we quickly learn that we cannot come to know and understand one person of the Trinity without understanding the two other persons. Each person of the Trinity is defined individually and in relation to each other; we come to understand each person of the Trinity through their relationships. Similarly, we as human beings define ourselves in relation to others and understand others through our relationships. We call ourselves sisters, students, classmates, doctors, and friends, roles that imply a human connection with other persons.
A second implication is the natural tendency for human beings to form themselves into a society or community. “The human person needs to live in society. Through the exchange with others, [...] man develops his potential” (Catechism 1880). Not only do we naturally form community, but we need to live among a community or society to realize our full potential. If we attempt to disregard society as defined by our relationships with others, we will not be able to fulfill our human vocation.
A song from my childhood stands out regarding this topic: “Don’t build your house on a sandy land, don’t build it too near the shore, well it might be kind of nice but you’ll have to build it twice, so you’ll have to build your house once more”. As a child, it was a catchy song with fun hand motions, but the meaning remains same: we need a strong foundation for our faith. This foundation is found in our communities and our relationships with others. The Notre Dame community is so special because it has taught us the value of living in relation to one another, to discover ourselves through learning about other people. It has called us to imitate God in our communities through exemplifying our nature.
Catholic Church. Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd ed. Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011