3 Essentials For Staying Catholic At University
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Now Reading: 3 Essentials For Staying Catholic At University
11 months ago
I’ll never forget the beginning of my first university lecture. Standing before the class, my theology professor sombrely informed us, “by the time you finish your degree, your faith will either be stronger than ever, or non-existent.”
Granted, I was studying theology – a subject directly concerned with the critical examination of religious belief. But in hindsight, I think my professors’ statement applies just as well to university on the whole.
For most Catholics, our time at university deeply challenges our faith. Either we confront those challenges and in the process our faith is strengthened, or our faith does not rise to the challenge and it subsequently fades.
So how do we ensure the former? How can we make sure that by the time we’ve acquired a tertiary qualification (and a student debt that would rival the Vatican treasury), we’re still Catholic?
Here are 3 essentials:
During my time at high school, I was part of a solid church community. I had post-Mass coffee on Sunday mornings, youth group on Sunday nights, and helped out at the junior youth group on Fridays. Some weeks it felt like I was at church more often than our parish priest!
Then I started university in a different city, and all of that was gone. It was like I had stepped into the no-man’s land of the Catholic Church. There were a couple of Catholic students’ groups that I made half-hearted attempts to join, but to be honest, they weren’t really my kind of Catholics. Some of them tucked their t-shirts into their jeans.
Instead, I tried to do faith alone. I would go to mass on Sunday and make my best effort to live my faith in day-to-day life, but most of my friends at uni weren’t Christian. I learnt pretty quickly that it’s hard to stay true to a faith that no one around you shares.
John Donne wrote that “no man is an island.” We aren’t meant to do faith alone. We need a place to go to share our successes, to get support when we are struggling, and to help out where we are needed. We need community.
I put this essential first because if its’ something you lack, it should be your first priority. You can have a consistent prayer life, solid intellectual formation, and be reading Catholic blog posts on the daily, but if you don’t have community, you’re going to struggle.
So find a Catholic group you can join on campus and/or a young adult’s meet up at a church near you. If there isn’t a Catholic community at your university, create one. I know that’s easier said than done, but be assured that there are other young Catholics just like you who are searching for likeminded friends.
University is going to challenge what you believe. As someone attending a secular university, it became clear pretty quickly that many of the students and faculty held views in stark contrast to my Catholic faith. And many had what seemed like good reasons for believing what they believed.
What made this even more challenging was the prevailing attitude on campus towards the Christian position. It certainly wasn’t a viewpoint to be intellectually considered or debated.
Instead, religious values were treated with contempt. To hold such values, you had to be a fool, a bigot, or at the least tragically ignorant.
The first few times my beliefs were challenged at university, I remember getting pretty defensive. Yet when I paused to reflect on why I was reacting the way I was, I realised it was the symptom of a lack of confidence in why I believe what I believe.
If someone were to tell me that murder is perfectly moral, I wouldn’t get defensive. Why? Because I have solid reasons for why I believe murder is immoral, and I am confident that this is the truth.
So, if I believe in the truth of my Catholic faith, why would I get defensive? Shouldn’t I just confidently explain the reasons why it’s the truth?
In my experience, having your beliefs challenged can be a really good thing. It’s often the catalyst for diving deeper into why you believe what you believe. Intellectual formation is essential (1) because it makes you more confident in your own Catholic faith, and (2) it’s so important we can give a well-reasoned explanation for our beliefs to our classmates.
So, if there’s a Catholic group on campus that’s hosting a talk on a particular controversial issue, make an effort to go along. Find some podcasts that explore and explain what Catholic’s believe. Catholic Stuff You Should Know and The Matt Fradd Show are great places to start. Subscribe to blogs (like this one) that grapple with the challenges that young Catholics face in day-to-day life.
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It’s no secret that a lot of young Catholics lose their faith while they’re at university. But for the vast majority of these, I don’t think it’s because they’re wracked by intellectual doubt or swayed by the post-modern arguments of their professors.
It wasn’t for me. Instead, university life just got busy. My days filled up with study, student groups and social events. Add to this a university culture that often felt contemptuous of Christian faith, and it was easy for my relationship with God to slip by the wayside.
I became a Catholic on “autopilot.” I would still go to mass every Sunday and hang out with other Catholics from time to time, but I lacked any real relationship with Jesus.
What my first couple of years at university taught me is that there’s no pause button on our relationship with God. We can’t just leave it for a day, a week, a month, or a year and expect it to be the same when we return.
At any given point, our relationship with God is either deepening or diminishing (and if it’s not deepening, then it’s diminishing). The decider is how deliberate we are about prayer.
So as we come to the end of our five minutes together while you’ve been reading this blog post, I want to ask you: Are you being deliberate about prayer every day?
If you aren’t, how could you start? Could you set aside 10 minutes every morning to talk to God about the day? Is there a church or chapel you could swing by for a few minutes on your way to class?
If you’re already praying every day, how do think God wants to lead you deeper in prayer? Could it be through reading the Bible each day? Could it be by setting some real time each week to go to adoration? If you’re not sure, pray about it.
God wants to be part of our university journey. He wants to be walking with us through the study, the stress, and the social pressures. The best thing you can do every day is invite Him in.