Dear Catholic Freshmen,
Welcome to Behemoth State College (BS-C). I’m sure that orientation week has so far been a mixture of excitement, anxiety, awe, and BBQ’s. Ahead of you are some of the most fun years of your life, and–though you may not realize it yet–some of the most formative. Odds are good that you will met some of your best friends in the next few years. You will also encounter a great many new ideas, some good, some bad, and some downright harmful. Unfortunately, you will also find that your faith is challenged in ways which it never has been before–and with a directness and intensity which it likely never will be again. It can all be very overwhelming, yet it is not impossible to leave college with a stronger faith than you had when you entered. With that said, here are three pieces of advice for avoiding apostasy in college, and perhaps beyond.
First, make Mass attendance an absolute priority. Many people who lose their religion in college begin to do so because they cut themselves off from any kind of church community. This is the first step down the road of “apostasy via apathetic attrition,” because it begins by not caring enough. The first step down this road is to fail to take a step, that is, to choose to stay at home and sleep in Sunday morning–and to avoid the evening services on Saturdays and even Sundays. Participating in Mass gives you countless graces, graces which will strengthen you for your everyday life as a student, and beyond. Indeed, this effect is even greater if you can attend the daily Masses which your Catholic student center or parish will no doubt celebrate. If you are paying attention during the Mass–as well you should be–then you will hear several readings from the Scripture; will confess that you are imperfect, a sinner who cannot “make it on your own;” will confess your belief in God Who is perfect, Whose graces can help to perfect you. You will also find yourself in the company of a community which is there to help you with your spiritual struggles, a community which provides both friends and mentors. And most importantly of all, you will receive God Himself in the Eucharist. All of this will work wonders to keep your faith alive and well.
Second, keep an active prayer life. Mass is a very good start for this, but keeping some kind of additional prayer life is important, too. Perhaps you can pray a decade from the Rosary between classes, or maybe you prefer to set time aside for Eucharistic adoration. Perhaps you prefer the structure found in liturgical prayer, in which case the Liturgy of the Hours is for you; or maybe you desire something less “structured” and more meditative, in which case there is always the Lectio Divina. And then there are the countless special devotions and prayers, whether to a saint or to the Sacred Heart or the Divine Mercy. Find one or a combination of these, and make time for prayer. Saint Frances de Sales advises that we should pray for half an hour each day, unless we are busy: then we need a full hour.
Third, get involved in your parish community. As with my second bit of advice, Mass is a good start, but some additional commitment is important, too. If you are lucky, then the Catholic student center affiliated with your campus will be active with many ministries, otherwise look to the local parish. Join the parish pro-life group, or get involved with its book-club; join the choir, or volunteer to be an RCIA sponsor (and be sure to attend the catechesis session!). There are several effects of any one of these. First, you make friends within the parish community. If you have a good core of Catholic friends, you will suffer less peer-pressure to leave the Church, or for that matter to engage in the kinds of activities which are at odd with Catholic social and moral teaching. Moreover, by getting involved in one of these ministries, you will now have an actual investment in the community which you did not previously have (tithing helps with this, too!). You’ll be less likely to leave it if you have some sort of investment in it. Better still, your investment of time in at least some of these ministries can touch other lives as well. There is no satisfaction quite like being able to share in another person’s faith journey (as in RCIA), nor is there any joy quite like learning that the woman you’ve been praying for has chosen life for her baby.
These are my three best pieces of advice for how to survive the challenges and temptations of college with your faith intact. It is by no means exhaustive advice–and I do hope that you find that it is not exhausting advice to follow!–but it is a good start. I do hope you enjoy your time at BS-C. The friends you’ll meet and memories you’ll make should make your stay here a happy time: especially if you are able to enjoy the freedom which only faith can give.