For some students, going away to college is often viewed as a chance to be liberated from their parents and the restrictions of family life. One such parental rule that is exercised in many Catholic homes is the one about Mass attendance. I can still hear my own father and mother saying to us when we would rather stay in bed on a Sunday morning, “As long as you live in this house you will go to Mass.” Does this sound familiar?
Aside from the natural tendency many young people have to rebel against authority, living away from home, especially for the first time, presents many challenges. It can be difficult to live the faith without good support systems. In most cases we learn about our faith from our parents, teachers and other mentors. College is a prime time for a young person to begin to mature in and really own his or her faith. Attendance at Mass and practicing the faith becomes a personal responsibility. No parent or authority figure is around to make one go to church. It becomes a personal decision.
Sometimes I have heard students and other young adults declare, “I didn’t ask to be a Catholic. My parents made that decision for me. I was just a baby and not able to choose my own religion.” That is true for those of us baptized as infants, but the fact still remains that we received the gift of faith through our parents and one of the tasks of young adulthood is to own that faith and mature in it. We are part of the Church whether we chose it or not.
College is a special time for intellectual growth and that should include growth in knowledge and appreciation of our Catholic faith. When I was a campus minister at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor we had a course every semester entitled “Catholic Update.” The pastor always gave a plug about the program at the end of Masses the previous couple of weekends before the first session. He would challenge the people, particularly the students, by saying it seemed strange to him that so many of them were working on degrees in higher learning while they often had little more than an eighth-grade education in their faith. That statement really made an impact, and we always had large classes of students sincerely seeking to know and understand more about the riches of Catholicism.
Some students have a great need to explore different faith traditions during their college years. However, it is important to include the Catholic Church in that exploration. Sadly enough some people abandon their faith without ever actually knowing what the Church really teaches and why.
As many will discover, it is when one is away from his or her support systems that he or she needs the Church even more. And not only does the Church provide a haven during college days, it often provides a chance to discover and exercise one’s gifts. Many students who get involved in campus ministry or at Newman Centers (Student Parishes) discover leadership abilities that they often use throughout their lives.
My advice to college students who are serious about their faith and relationship with God — or want to be — is to try some of the following suggestions: First of all, find someone to go to Mass with you. Most young adults hesitate to go to a Mass on their own. It is a lot different not being connected to a family or with familiar people at Sunday Mass. Establish a group of “Church friends.” Students have told me that they met some of their dearest friends while they were involved in campus ministry or at the Newman Center of their university, and often their spouses.
Second, sign up for at least one activity that campus ministry or the center provides. Get involved in a liturgical ministry. Join a faith sharing or Scripture group. Sign up for a retreat.
If you are a commuter student who does not live on a campus or goes to a school that does not have its own Catholic Center, find a parish where you can get involved. Talk to the pastor about opportunities to connect and use your abilities there. Find some other students who are also interested. Start your own sharing or service group!
Find a mentor or a spiritual companion, with whom you can express your doubts, fears, concerns, questions, etc., about the Church. This can be a priest, religious brother or sister or any good Catholic that you trust and admire. It is not good to go it alone when you are searching. A wise, listening ear is often a big help in times of confusion. Also, a friend like this can also help you grow in your faith.
Last, but certainly not least, take a little time to pray each day. Give Jesus some of your quality time, even if it is only five or 10 minutes a day. Share your joys and concerns. Deepen your relationship with Him and ask Him to help your faith grow. When it comes right down to it, it is your friendship and faithfulness to Him that will sustain you throughout college and your entire life. The Church is here to support us in our efforts to be disciples.
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