What Beginning College Taught Me About My Faith
Photo by Katie Moretta
I am 19, finishing my second year of college, and single. Being a young catholic should make me the number-one candidate for community activities, and for getting involved in my parish whenever they need some help. At least, that’s what I thought until I discovered nearly two years ago what it’s actually like to be a young catholic single student. But what I didn’t know at the time, is that it would help me reconsider my faith (in the sense that I had to make it mine), and moreover, grow closer to Jesus and my Father in Heaven.
College is everything but easy: it challenges your personality, values, ideas, social skills, and many other things, but as a Catholic it also challenges your faith. When you begin college, you often (like me) leave your family behind, as well as your home and a loved parish. So, when you start over elsewhere, alone, that’s when you see the struggles running at you, and can feel very defeated.
First, there’s the question of keeping faith during that college time. According to the friendships you begin and the college you’ll go to (I see you, Catholic students in secular colleges), your faith will be impacted and shaken, sometimes to its roots. No, it’s not easy to stay Catholic when everything around you tells you that it’s easier to quit and leave that faith. The biggest struggle in keeping the faith is, according to my experience, finding the energy to go to mass every Sunday and important days that we celebrate as Catholics. Let me reassure you: I never missed a mass. But it was often difficult to go. Not because I do not love Jesus or find joy in the Eucharist, but because I was alone (most of the time) and that it’s way more difficult to get motivated when you’re alone (and have work to do for the coming week).
My second point is related to the first: going to college had me reconsider my faith, I had to make it mine, and that left me disorientated for quite some time. And when I say disorientated, I mean that I even considered giving up because I didn’t know anymore where I was in my faith. When you grow up in a Catholic family, you are used to being in a community, you follow your parents, they are the ones who take you to catechism and make you join youth groups, you go to mass with your parents and pray with your parents, in a word, faith is more like a component of daily life, something you’re used to but not really acknowledging. On the contrary, when you become a college student and leave home, you are suddenly confronted with how you nurture your faith and how you live it, and it can be hard to realize that, in the comfort of your habits and of a strong Catholic community, you’ve never really taken the time to grow a personal relationship with the Lord (for example by setting some time to think, to pray, or to cultivate your knowledge of the Church in a more personal and committed way).
Lastly, maybe the biggest struggle I didn’t even think about before being a college student, was the lack of a real community. As I said before, when you leave for college, you need to find new landmarks, and that includes a parish and a community. When I was living with my parents, that didn’t really bother me, in fact I didn’t think about the importance of a community and how you fit into one. But as soon as I started studying in September 2017, I realized that I had to find a) a parish I felt comfortable going to mass to, and b) a welcoming community. For the moment, I’ve only found the former, and am still in search of a strong community that can accept me. Why is that? I think there’s this empty spot in our Catholic parishes today, that students and young adults fit into, where you’re neither your parents’ kid, nor have a family of your own. And that can be difficult, because when you consider it, oftentimes there’s nearly nothing for people my age and situation in the Church, and when there is, it’s not always the most practical. Furthermore, parishes or families in the parishes often assume that it’s difficult to organize something for young adults and students because they’re moving a lot, and not always here two Sundays in a row (e.g. if they’re visiting their families). And no matter how true it is, I, we are still longing for a place to fit in, a place where people would talk to us after the mass, or invite us at their homes for a meal or a chat, a place where people would greet you because you sit next to each other every Sunday.
So, what do I do now? As I said, if I’m still struggling to find and fit in a community, I have found little things that help me cultivate my faith, to develop and strengthen my relationship with Jesus and Mary. My position in this time of singleness and being a little more alone in the Church, is that I should take advantage of that time, as hard as it can sometimes be, to grow in faith and educate myself on the Catholic Church, in order to be able to give back someday, and to help others who struggle. I’m going to share with you three tips that I’ve found very helpful in these matters.
The first one, is to start a personal prayer life. Consider all the time you can spend on social media or doing nothing: I’m sure you can find five or ten minutes for the Lord, when it’s the best moment for you. I usually take ten to fifteen minutes each night, before going to bed, to read the Gospel of the Day, and a commentary of it, plus the readings and the canticle of the day if I feel especially motivated (I use the site dailygospel.org but there are plenty others, as well as apps!). Sometimes, I listen to a worship or meditational song in the background to help me focus and give some love to the Lord. And I always have a little notebook by my side to write down any prayer, thought, intention or striking Bible verse. I have learned that this time with the Lord makes me more peaceful and grounded in my faith, and that I never regret taking it (even if sometimes it can be hard to stop and do it).
The second tip is to start educating yourself through amazing resources. Thanks to social media and the Internet, so many wonderful tools are offered to us to keep alive our faith and learn more about it. I personally enjoy reading blog posts on websites (The Catholic Millennial, The Catholic Woman), listening to deep podcasts while travelling or at night (like The Catholic Feminist, The Catholic Hipster or The Catholic Podcast), or connecting with other Christians through Instagram. I also can’t recommend you enough to start reading encyclicals or other kinds of approved theological texts, written by priests, popes, and saints.
And the last tip is to carve out some time for the others. That can be in your local parish choir, in catechism, in scout movements – so many opportunities are open today to young adults who want to be involved in the Church! I think it’s the best way to start making friends and getting to know people from your parish, and eventually be a part of this Catholic community.
I would like to finish by reminding you that good things take time, and that if you struggle today with your faith and or the lack of a community, turning to the Lord is the best option there is, because He is the one who will always support you and give you strength to go through this and grow in His love. And as in the Parable of the Wise and the Foolish builders, taking time now to stay faithful, build your faith and be educated on it, is the best service you can do to yourself but also to your future community, and maybe future family. Because “it didn’t fall, for it was founded on the rock” (Matthew 7:25).