I have a few thoughts about my recent letter of advice to Catholic freshmen. I would like to add a few comments here--the kind of thing which wouldn't really belong in the letter, but which might be points of interest and/or confusion. First, the letter was written more-or-less as a follow-up to my first post (My Non-Apostasy Story), and represents three pieces of advice which I would give to any new students. I reflected back on my college experience as an undergraduate, but also on some things which I have learned since then in writing this. I mean to say that I did do all of the things which I advise as an undergraduate, though it was only later that I began to really recognize and appreciate what each of these things were doing for me, that is, how each was a channel for God's grace.
Take tithing. Even as a poor undergraduate, I tried to give a little bit of money each week. It was by no means a lot, nor even really a percentage of my income, meager as that was, but it was something. We think of tithing as a thing which we go through so that our parish can make ends meet: feeding the priest, paying the electric bills, paying the staff for the parish and/or school, buying the sacramentals (candles, etc) and indeed the hosts for the Sacrament. And, in fact, our contributions do allow the parish to do these things. But even supposing that the parish could pay for all of this without our contributions--and most parishes cannot by any stretch of the imagination do this--so that our contributions do not go to helping the parish to run smoothly, if they were but going to allow the priest to live lavishly*, they would from our own perspectives still be worth making.
This is because they give us that sense of investment in the parish well-being. We've parted with something of ours, and quite probably made some sacrifice--conscious or otherwise--to do so. "I gave up coffee this week because I think that my parish is a better cause than coffee." Thoughts like these, when combined with some desire to remain Catholic, can bolster that desire. I love my Church enough to have made this small sacrifice, so I might think twice about abandoning her on the smallest pretext: e.g. a discomforting lecture given by my sociology professor or a moment of temptation at that party.
The second point is that some people who read my non-Apostasy story may scratch their heads and wonder about a seeming contradiction between my advice and my story. I tell people to get involved in their parish, yet I also state that I was scarcely involved with mine. In actual fact, I did do very little with my parish directly until my senior year (during which I convinced the priest to teach a sort of Catholicism 101 class at the Newman Center). As far as I know, there was no parish pro-life ministry; however, there was a campus pro-life club--OSU Students for Life (later renamed to OSU Right to Life), which began during my freshman year (actually, it was started by a couple of my friends). I got involved in this group, a little at first and then a lot later: and roughly half of the members were fellow Catholics, albeit ones who were heading home for Mass on the weekends.
Much of the rest of my time at OSU was spent involved in various "ecumenical" groups (I was usually the lone Catholic). By God's grace my faith flourished under these conditions, but I think that my story was the exception and not the rule (though Mr Colin Gormley's story is similar). Working with Protestants meant being able to constantly be affirmed in the "Mere Christian" aspects of my faith, which ultimately made affirming the specifically Catholic elements easier in a way; on the other hand, harder, because those elements were challenged by virtually everyone. This latter bit is why the time with OSUSFL was so important, because it meant that I did have a few Catholic friends. Now that I've been to a second university with a vibrant (and orthodox) Catholic community--complete with a large number of clubs and ministries through the Catholic Center--I can compare the two and say that while the former was good, the latter is much better in the sense of being much easier. Challenges to my Faith still arise--they always well--but I no longer have to feel like I'm facing them alone. I had a strong support group through the various clubs and ministries at the UCC (and now through my parish off-campus) which would encourage not just Christianity, but also Catholicism.
Finally, I should close with a final note about the advice itself, and advice in general. No advice is perfect, and no advice is fool-proof. In particular, no advice works if it is not followed, but their is an additional caveat to this advice in particular. That is that it will not work if it is done merely as rote or formula, that is, if somebody follows it to the letter in a spirit of just "going through the motions." Although God can works with this, the devil is just as willing to try and do so. This is advice meant for people who want to not lose their religion while going to college. There are plenty of people who do want to lose their religion, or at the very least who do not want to practice it. If this advice is taken in a spirit of putting up a front, then it will mean little else. If every Sunday the routine is going to Mass while grumbling about not wanting to be there, then you will soon find that the "obligation" of going to Mass gets added to your list of reasons to not continue practicing your faith. If tithing means a bitter parting with your money, then this small sacrifice will loom large in your excuses for not wanting to go to Mass. Stoically continuing may eventually pay of rewards. But take the small step of changing your outlook, of viewing these things as a means of rendering some small amount of justice to God and as a means of improving your own life in the bargain: this will yield an abundant harvest.
*Those few priests who are in this position should consider giving the excess to less fortunate parishes, or to some other charity. However, I do not personally know any priest--religious or secular--who finds himself in that position.