Monday, August 11, 2014

Are... you... READY?!?

Leaving your hometown and heading off to college can be an overwhelming experience. No matter how well-adjusted and "ready" you might be, you're bound to encounter some difficulties. So, you need to be prepared. 

Drawing from experience as a (former) college student as well as time as a campus minister and a freshman class instructor, I've put together some practical tips for new and returning college students on how to maintain (and strengthen) the most important aspect of who you are at the core: your Catholic faith.

Step 1. Practice the “3 Holy Habits:”

First things first: you wouldn’t attempt to run a marathon without training first, would you? College, for Catholic students, is a marathon – a race of extreme endurance with two clear spiritual goals in mind: being Catholic in college and staying Catholic in college.

If you hope to be a successful student, you’re gonna have to work at it through studying and going to class. If you want to successfully maintain your Catholic faith while in college, you're going to have to “train” your spirit in ways that will strengthen your faith and maintain a strong relationship to Christ and his Church. Live up to your spiritual potential with these three simple habits: 
1) Go to Mass every Sunday (and as often as you can on weekdays); 
2) Go to Confession as often as you need to (you’re going to make mistakes—take full advantage of God’s loving forgiveness); 
3) Pray—every day!

2. Morality: Draw the Line

G.K. Chesterton once noted “Morality, as in art, consists in drawing the line somewhere.” Know that line. Baptism made your heart a home for Christ our Savior; Confirmation strengthened your spirit for the trials of moral decision-making. You have a God-given conscience that warns you when you’re in spiritual danger and in college you’re going to have some difficult moral decisions to make.

Seemingly “small” moral decisions can have unrealized consequences and place us on a slippery slope of dulling our consciences and falling into unholy habits. “Lust indulged became habit, and habit unresisted became necessity,” wrote St. Augustine of his years of bad decision-making before his return to the Church. At times, this even means you have to be wise enough and strong enough to simply leave a situation that you know is going to turn out badly for you, in a moral sense. In those situations (and you’ll know ‘em when you see ‘em), follow the advice of St. Josemaría Escrivá: “Don’t be such as a coward as to be ‘brave.’ Flee!”

3. Maintain your relationships with your parents and your siblings. 

Your family has known you longer than anyone else and they know you better than anyone else. The college years are often a time of physical separation from your family so you have to work extra hard at keeping in touch—but it will be worth every ounce of effort. Believe it or not, many of the friendships that you are making or will make in college will fade over time. Keep strong, then, your relationship with your family and rely on their strength and unconditional love whenever difficulties arise in college.

This means, too, that you must ask your family to pray for you and you must pray for your family. This spiritual exchange of praying for one another strengthens the bonds of love between you and helps to diminish whatever physical distance separates you.

4. Be Catholic first. (Fill in the blank) second. 

There’s no way to successfully maintain your Catholic faith if you “put it away” at certain times or in certain situations. In the words of Christ, we should never “light a lamp and put it under a bushel basket,” but we’re to “set it on a lamp stand, where it gives light to all in the house.” (Mt 5:15) You’re Catholic!—you’ve got a loving God and Savior in Christ, a guide and the “bulwark of Truth” in his Church, and 1.2 billion brothers and sisters to help you on your way to heaven. Be confident in your Catholic faith and embrace it like you’ve never done before!

Put your faith first. There are a lot of groups and organizations that will vie for your time and interest. But while you branch out and grow in these years (and you should!), keep Christ and his Church where they belong: first in your life and a priority on your calendar. Wear your Catholic faith on your sleeve (and maybe around your neck). Don’t just be Catholic… be Catholic, so that there is no doubt for any who know you, where your first loyalty lies. Be strong and take a stand for what is right—even if it is unpopular. Remember: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden … your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” (Mt. 5:14, 16)

5. Learn… and grow.

College is a time of discovery and personal growth. It may sound cliché, but it’s true. In these years, you’re going to be exposed to new ideas, different perspectives, and a multitude of opinions. Hopefully, your faith is well-formed and you possess a strongly Catholic worldview to begin with. But whether that is the case or not, don’t neglect to continue learning more and embracing more deeply the Catholic faith so that you can respond, in wisdom, to the challenges you face and, in the process, grow in your faith.

Make sure that you’re knowledgeable about your major and, if necessary, change it (no matter what someone else might say). But you should plan to grow not only in knowledge, but in wisdom, too. Prayerfully discern God’s plan for your life and make frequent use of the Sacraments so that you give the Lord every opportunity to reveal his will in your life. Do all of this with patience for Christ changes us to be more like him over time—in his time, not ours. “Patience is the companion of wisdom.” (St. Augustine)

Choose your friends and roommates wisely. Choose your girlfriends/boyfriends even more wisely. Go to great lengths to seek out companions who share your faith, who will hold you accountable to living out the faith and who will encourage you to grow in holiness. Do the same for them. The road to heaven might, at times, be difficult, but it is not a lonely road. One of the easiest ways to associate with other Catholic students is, of course, by participating in Catholic campus ministry programs at your college or university. Make a firm commitment to your self and to your success as a Catholic student by getting involved and staying involved with your local Catholic campus ministry.

Taking these steps (all of them), will give you the best possible spiritual foundation to face the challenges ahead. God willing, then, you will leave this place a better person and a stronger Catholic.