College and Catholicism.
These words might not always go together.
The culture at your college might be diametrically opposed to Catholic truth, and maybe you feel like you’ve been thrown into the lion’s den. Perhaps SEEK23 was an oasis for you, being surrounded by a sea of thousands of students who possess the same fire for the faith that you do. But after this glorious mountaintop experience came to a close, perhaps you’re back in your daily grind and once again feeling like an outsider. So, what can you do to make sure you keep your faith afire, even in a “foreign land”? Here are five tips to enrich your walk with the Lord and keep you on the right track. It’s what I call a “Catholic in College Survival Guide.”
1. Stay “spiritually armed.”
It’s easy to forget about spiritual warfare because we can’t see it with our own eyes. The enemy seeks to destroy and will stop at nothing to discourage you from living out your faith. There’s nothing more efficacious in combating this threat than living a consistent, devoted sacramental life. This can involve a whole host of practices, habits, and devotions; here are a few powerful ones that come to mind:
Go to Mass weekly, and, if possible, daily. Say the Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet every day. Pray with Scripture and incorporate Lectio Divina into your daily life. If you don’t know how to do this, you can read more about it here!
Go to Reconciliation at least once a month, or whenever you are conscious of mortal sin. Consider wearing a Scapular! Keep holy water in your dorm room. Find a church near campus that offers perpetual adoration where you can visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Pray the St. Michael Prayer. You have no reason to fear attacks from the devil when you practice these important spiritual habits.
2. Find your “saint posse.”
I wish I could say I came up with this term on my own, but I have to credit Jeff Cavins for that one. In his book, “The Activated Disciple,”, he explains how helpful it can be to choose five saints that inspire you the most. These saints may be people who you can relate to, who shared your struggles, or who inspire you in some unique way. Once you have found them, consider reading their writings or studying more about their lives. And most importantly, ask for their intercession! They were normal human beings who knew what it feels like to be lonely, to be pressured to fit in, or to be overwhelmed. Saints are sinners who never gave up, and now they are enjoying the beatific vision, rooting you on!
3. Find your community!
Consider joining a Bible study on campus or get more involved with FOCUS or in your Newman Center. “Iron sharpens iron” and authentic fellowship is essential for every Catholic. You were not meant to be an island, so learn and grow with other Catholics who can help you on your faith journey. Also, consider those peers who may be distracting you from your mission or leading you away from your faith. Although this may be a difficult decision to make, some friendships may need to be reconsidered. It’s vital to surround yourself with people who challenge you to live your faith to the full, rather than those who will challenge and oppose your commitment to the Lord. An intentional community of disciples can also equip you with tools for evangelization, enabling you to go out with confidence and bring the Lord to your non-Catholic friends.
4. Consider getting a spiritual director.
This could be a priest, religious sister, or trusted lay mentor. It’s a great way to deepen your faith and experience accountability and support in your prayer. It’s especially important to find one if you’re discerning a vocation or major next step in life. My current spiritual director has helped me to recognize the movements of my heart and shared how to cooperate with them to glorify Christ. Spiritual directors can often see things in us that we can’t see in ourselves.
5. Ask God to point out any “other voice” that needs to go.
Media, technology, and the noise of this world can often distract us or even tempt us to sin. If there are movies, music, or other types of content that are causing us to stumble, we should step away from them. As Jesus reminds us in Matthew’s Gospel, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.” Over the years I’ve had to make difficult choices to stop listening to certain forms of music and watching certain shows. At first, this was a painful loss for me. However, I now ask myself why I even liked it in the first place! Finding wholesome content, on websites like FORMED, uplifts my spirit and has only helped me grow closer to God.
Remember that even though it may seem that the opposite is actually the case, you’re not the only one trying to become a saint. You may think that you’re the only one, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. In college, I began my studies at a Protestant school and considered leaving my Catholic faith, partly because I was convinced that there were no young Catholics who really cared about living virtuous lives. When I was invited by a FOCUS missionary to SEEK, I’ll never forget how life-changing it was for me. I was so encouraged to see people my age striving to follow Jesus; this eventually led me to transfer to Franciscan University. The temptation you may feel to throw it all away and just conform to the culture may be strong at times, but remember, you are called to be a saint! Don’t back down on your convictions! Others are probably watching you and are curious about the joy you have that they don’t. You could be that person to accompany them and introduce them to Jesus. Be a counter-cultural warrior for Christ! It’s a decision you will never regret.