When I was in high school, I was, without a doubt, a regular at our parish’s youth ministry program. I’m pretty sure that over the course of four years, I missed our Sunday and Wednesday night programs maybe ten times – total. When I went off to college, I knew I was going to miss my home church, but I was excited about the chance to see what else was out there.
After my freshman year of college, spent at a university only 30 minutes away from my home, I decided to serve as a summer Core Member at the youth group that had given so much to me. As I gave that summer, I also received. So, when sophomore year started up, I continued to volunteer as a full-time Core Member – a role I served in for the next ten years.
I can’t tell you how many times over those ten years I had a graduated senior look at me, nervously, around the middle of July, and say, “But it’s just not going to be like this…”
Surviving Freshman Year
I know I may not sound like an authority on how to keep your faith alive at college when I went to school so close to home, and, in the end, came back to my parish’s youth ministry every week as a Core Member. But, I did successfully maintain – and even grow in – my relationship with God during my freshman year at school. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been in any place to serve on the Core Team. And even as I participated in events at home, I was still living on campus and trying to figure out how my relationship with God should be now that I was off at school.
Year after year, there were always graduated seniors who left our youth group for schools near and far – always wondering how they were going to keep their faith alive without our youth minister, our music minister, our pastor, our church, and our community. Fortunately, there are just three not-so-secret ingredients to keeping your faith alive that I can guarantee you WILL find on campus, however close to or far from home you may end up.
1. The Eucharist
You probably saw this one coming, right?
I hope you did! It’s no secret that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith, the center of all the action, the highlight of our days and week. Since we know the Eucharist to be Jesus’ very Body and Blood, why would we look anywhere else for Him?
Perhaps your college campus Mass won’t have contemporary music (or worse, their idea of ‘contemporary’ is those charming Jesuit hymns from the 1970s). Maybe there won’t even be Mass on campus, and the closest Catholic church is full of retirees – and the preaching is decidedly directed at them. And at first, when you show up to Sunday Mass, rather than being met with twenty or thirty or a hundred of your closest friends, you may not know a soul. That’s okay – because at every single Mass, wherever you go, anywhere around the world, Jesus is guaranteed to be there.
When I went off to school, my favorite Mass didn’t end up being the 9pm ‘student’ one on Sundays, with a full choir, packed church, and ice cream socials after. My favorite Mass at school – much to my surprise – ended up being the 7:15am daily Mass in the tiny chapel under the giant church (and to this day I have no idea how I managed to wake up in time to attend them). In that peaceful, quiet, simple setting, the reality of the Real Presence hit me in powerful ways. Between meeting with Him in that tiny chapel and sitting with Him in the chapel of my freshman dorm, I came to understand that He is only ever as far away as the closest tabernacle.
If you want to keep your faith strong in college, keep going to Mass. Keep receiving Communion. Keep spending time in Adoration, even if Jesus is sitting in the tabernacle instead of on the altar. Pope Pius X said that Holy Communion is the shortest and safest way to heaven… so it seems fairly obvious that you need not look any farther.
2. The Scriptures
Another secret weapon of keeping your faith alive in college is (probably) already in your packed bags. If Jesus is only ever as far away as the closest tabernacle, He’s also as close as the closest Bible – which is hopefully already on your nightstand.
John’s Gospel begins in the beginning, where there was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. While the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith, the Mass is broken down into two equally important parts – the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The book of the Gospels is elevated before the Gospel is proclaimed in the same way that the host is elevated during the consecration before the Eucharist is consumed because Jesus is truly present in both.
Hebrews 4:12 says that the Word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword. You want a powerful weapon to keep your faith strong? Dust off that ol’ Confirmation gift and put it to good use. And if the Bible you have isn’t one you use, head out to the store – online or otherwise – and purchase a Catholic edition that you’ll actually crack open. I recommend something small, leather-bound (because it’s durable, not just because it makes you look like you know what you’re about), with tabs to help you find what you’re looking for more easily (you can purchase these separately and add them in yourself).
So at school, each time you hit the campus library, take that Bible with you. Spend ten minutes in the Scriptures before opening your organic chem textbook. Read part of a Psalm before your Victorian lit assignment. It’s not as complicated as we make it seem – you can easily dive into the heart of God on a regular basis, just by cracking open that cover.
When Jesus was sending the disciples out, He sent them out in pairs. In St. Paul’s letters to the young Church, there are tons of names. Saint Francis had St. Clare, St. Benedict had St. Scholastica, and St. Ambrose had St. Augustine. We aren’t made to walk this journey alone.
While you aren’t bringing your high school youth group with you to college, you aren’t going to be the only Catholic on site. Whether you’re heading to a campus of 2,000 or 20,000, there will be people there who, like you, want to stay strong in their faith. You can find them in the pews, or campus ministry, or the Newman Center, or small-faith sharing groups. So go find them, because only they will really understand what it’s like to live out our Catholic faith as a college student on your campus, right here, right now.
I certainly hope you don’t just head to college and immediately seek out your own little Catholic clique – there are a lot of new people out there the Lord wants you to meet, so you can introduce them to Him – but don’t try to be a hero and walk this walk by yourself. Find a group of like-minded friends who are seeking the Lord with their lives and can help bring you closer to Him.
Heading off to college will obviously mean missing your youth ministry program back home. Things are going to look different – and that’s okay. High school youth ministry programs are designed for high schoolers, and now that you’re in college, you’re going to need something more. Fortunately, no matter where you go to continue your education, you’ll have what you need to continue growing in your faith as well.
So head to Mass, pack your Bible, and meet some new friends there. It’s all waiting there for you, so go ahead and get after it.
I work for a retreat ministry called the REAP Team, where it's my full-time job to talk about sex, love, dating, and chastity (which can sometimes lead to some awesomely awkward moments). I love being Catholic, my bearded husband, watching movies, and browsing antique malls. The only thing I have against winter is the fact that there's no baseball. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @raleininger