Sunday, September 13, 2009

Nourishing Your Faith at College

This is a "guide" that myself and two good friends (my best friend and girl friend, to be exact) have compiled on how to nourish your faith while at college. The three of us attended Franciscan University so that is where most of our advice applies, but there is advice for those not attending a Catholic university.

There are so many wonderful opportunities at Franciscan and the key is to really take advantage of them while you're there. It's mentioned a few times below, but I want to state again what the biggest obstacle to nourishing your faith is - YOU. You must make the decision to grow. You must find time to do what it takes. You must be disciplined enough and have the will power to continue to pray daily, to go to Mass daily, and to always strive towards perfection in and through Christ. If you make the effort you will be greatly rewarded.

Specifically at Fransiscan:

- first and foremost we must all recognize our need for Christ. This isn't easy and it doesn't come quickly. Reflect on God's will for you and how He is working in your life. For me, spending the semester in Austria helped me in this more than anything else. Especially freshman year it is easy to get caught up in everything that's going on - it seems like there's always something to do. Be sure to spend time with Christ, to hear His voice, and feel His embrace. Pray for a desire to love Him more completely.

- pray without ceasing! This is an absolute must. You have to find time during your day to pray. Trust me, the time is there, you just have to make it a habit. I found that the best way to get into a habit of praying daily is to sign up for a holy hour.

- I am no expert on prayer but one of the things you will always hear people say or advise is to pray in a silent, holy place - if you can. Fortunately there are several such places on campus. Probably the most convenient being one of the chapel's found within each dorm. Each chapel has access to the Blessed Sacrament and is a great place to go and pray.

- Remember that prayer is a dialogue, not a monologue. We will never hear God speaking if we do all the talking. Sometimes the best prayer is one of silence, from the heart.

- If you're having trouble with how to pray find a "manual of prayer" to get you started. Read the lives of the saints during your prayer time or recite a Novena or Rosary. Find what works for you.

- this is one of the most powerful and beautiful things you can do. Developing a love for Christ in the Eucharist is of infinite worth. Sign up for this early in your college career. I waited until my last semester senior year and it is one of my biggest regrets. If you're a little intimidated by the whole thing just sign up for one hour a week. You can find a time that will be convenient for you but that isn't really the point either. Our faith shouldn't "happen" only when it's convenient for us. Make a sacrifice.

- go to Mass as often as you can. There are a few daily Masses on campus as well as off. Go to Mass both on and off campus to see which you prefer - they are very different. This is another one of my big regrets. I waited until my senior year to start going to daily Mass on a regular basis. You will be amazed at how wonderful it is. The biggest obstacle to overcome is your own will. Simply realize that any time you set aside for God will be rewarded. And with daily Mass it isn't going to be long, at most an hour. Again, make a sacrifice.

- Along with Mass, frequent the sacrament of confession on a fairly regular basis. Just because you are at Franciscan does not mean that you, or anyone else, will be free from sin and temptation. The difference is that at Franciscan there are always priests around willing to hear a confession. The more you frequent the sacraments the more grace you will receive and you will notice a difference in your life.Grace is life changing and life saving.

- one of the great blessings of going to Steubenville is the number of wonderful priests and religious who are always around. Even if you don't go to one specifically for spiritual direction, it will definitely be worth while to get to know them. If you are particularly attracted to one person, think about going to him/her for spiritual direction. This is especially important early on as they can really help with your spiritual formation during your time at college.

- regardless of your major, try and take at least a few theology courses. After all, it's kind of what Franciscan is known for. Learning about your faith is always a good thing and Franciscan has some of the best teachers.

- Do not be intimidated by how much others seems to know about our Faith and don't be ashamed by how little you may know. You must ask questions if you really want to learn. Asking questions takes courage and humility but you and everyone in the class will benefit from it.

- Amy, my girlfriend, specifically recommends Foundations of Catholicism with Sirilla.

- realize the importance of being in a Catholic community. You are all there to build each other up and draw each other closer to Christ. Some people may seem very "advanced" in their spiritual life but don't let that intimidate you. Remember to be humble and ask questions. If someone seems to you to have a great spiritual life, ask them what they do - always be learning and developing ways to grow closer to Christ. Everyone at Franciscan is at a different stage in their life, there is no right or wrong "level of holiness." What is important is that you are trying to grow.

- Community also means that you reach out to others who are struggling. You will be most Christ-like when you help those who may not be your first choice as friends, or even those people who you flat out dislike. Feeling alone is a terrible thing, and these people may be in your life so that you can help them. Remember the Golden Rule.

- Accountability is also an important aspect of community. Whether this be your roommate or just a good friend that you trust, find someone who will challenge you and be with you in your struggles. Whoever you choose, be sure to pray about it beforehand. You don't want to open yourself up to anyone, but to someone who can truly help you.

- Franciscan also has groups called households. These are not for all people but they may be for you. Check out different households to see if there are any you like, and pray about it! Members of households help each other to grow and be accountable to one another. Because the members are from different grades there is a variety of experience within each one.
- A great way to be part of the community is through the club and intramural sports. This an excellent way to meet new people and just have a lot of fun.

- between your textbooks, the great library, and the bookstore, there should be no shortage of books to read. The problem is in finding time to read them! Definitely, definitely, take advantage of the library! There are so many good books there and they often have great book sales. And of course, be sure to read your bible. The key to this is reading it with a guide or commentary. You will get so much more out of it and it will take on a new meaning in your life.

- make sure you get off campus everyone once in a while! Different groups sponsor all sorts of events in the surrounding area. Even if you just befriend someone who as a car - do it! As great as Franciscan is, sometimes you just need to get away.

- we truly must die to ourselves in order to live in Christ. Amy says it much better than I can:
We have to detach ourselves from the world and material goods to attach ourselves to Christ. You can't hold Christ's hand with your right while still holding onto an addiction with your left. It doesn't work that way. He expects all of you and nothing less. He expects total reckless abandonment given to Him every day. Without this, it's pretty much impossible to grow. You might be stretched a bit but you'll never be free. It's like the image of holding the Lord's hand with one hand but in the other hand is a rubber band that is tacked to the ground. The Lord is pulling you up to heaven, to Him, to experience eternal joy but tacked to the ground is that addiction that you can't let go of. You may have a hold on Christ and he may be stretching you a bit and you may be growing but you will never be free to be completely with Him since you are giving part of yourself to your attachments.

Not specifically at Franciscan
: [though as many of the above as possible should apply]

- if it isn't offered on your campus, search around and find a church where you can go as often as possible. The grace you receive through Mass and the Eucharist will strengthen you.

- Research the school's Newman Center in order to discover if this would really be an authentically Catholic resource center. Some schools have phenomenal Newman Centers, while many others can be spiritual wastelands.

- Associate yourself with genuinely good people. This does not mean that all your friends should only be Catholics. Rather, search for people who are authentically seeking to better themselves psychologically/morally/emotionally. You want to be with people who will help you foster real human development

- the more you grow and develop your faith, the more you will Witness to Christ and His Love. Especially in a place not specifically Catholic, or religious for that matter, this is so important. Lead others to Christ through your example. You don't have to be "holy" to do this, sometimes just the effort is enough to inspire others.


Laura said...

This is a great post! Two things that come to mind: 1. This all applies to anyone - collegebound or not! 2. Now that you've found some of these things (Adoration, daily Mass, etc) and you don't have such easy access to them, keep trying hard to hang onto them! Your life will be off to a much better start if you stick with all of the things you guys listed, even if they are harder to find (for example - a good priest to talk to who hears confessions other than Saturday afternoon for 30 minutes!!!!!!!) It is so encouraging to see young adults striving for holiness! It was something that I wasn't exposed to at your age. God Bless!

Sara said...

Yeah, Laura's back.
P.S. Marcus - this is great!

Marcus Toft said...

Thanks Laura and Sara! And you're absolutely right Laura, the advice in this guide doesn't just apply for college students, but a place like Franciscan is such a great place to develop and form your spiritual life and create good habits, like going to daily Mass. If I hadn't been exposed to so much at Franciscan I would be in a much different place than I am now. Praise God!