Keeping up with my faith at university hasn't been the easiest thing to do...
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Keeping up with my faith at university hasn't been the easiest thing to do...
Being a young Catholic can sometimes be tough. I have always been firm in my faith, but a few years ago I realised that I was living separate lives...
Being a young Catholic is a wonderful rollercoaster ride, that can be fantastic and terrifying at the same time. When I look back at my faith journey over the past couple of years, I can’t help but be astounded...
Moving out to university is one of the most exciting times of your life; suddenly you’re going to be greeted with a whole new world of freedom, where it’s up to you and you alone, to make the daily decisions, that up until now, have mainly been made by your parents or guardians. You know, it’s up to you to decide whether you’re going to actually get up out of bed that day and go to lectures (my advice to this one is DO go to your lectures, as tempting as it is to stay in bed watching Netflix all day… You WILL regret this at the end of term). It’s up to you to decide what you’re going to have for tea (more advice: nobody will judge you for having beans on toast every day, and it’s considerably cheaper than ordering in Dominos every day). And it’s up to you to decide whether you’re going to keep on going to church at the weekend. Without anyone there to get you out of bed on a Sunday morning, actively choosing to get up and get to Mass might be one of the hardest things you encounter.
First things first, you’re going to have to tell your new flatmates. For me, I hadn’t even been in the flat an hour and someone had spotted my pink sparkly statue of Our Lady. The best thing you can do is be honest from the start. It doesn’t have to be exaggerated into a big announcement, but don’t hide it. It is not your mission to convert everyone you’re living with; your presence in your halls will be enough to show people that hey, actually, maybe the Catholic Church isn’t all bad news!
It might seem that choosing to go to Mass at the weekend will mean turning up to Saturday night festivities late, or dragging yourself out of bed on Sunday morning. However, it is so worth checking out your university’s Catholic Chaplaincy. The chances are that the Mass times are chosen to suit the students – and yes, they do take into consideration the fact that even Catholic students enjoy a night out at the weekend! Getting the balance between the amount of time you spend socialising and the amount of time you spend with Jesus isn’t something you have to work out for yourself. Stick around the chaplaincy for a bit and you will find like-minded people who are in the same position as you. Many chaplains will offer spiritual direction where you can go and talk with the priest about any struggles you’re facing.
Being Catholic and being a student isn’t incompatible, or unrealistic. At university you become your own person, and your faith will not hold you back but will in fact make you stronger! Check out Phillipians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Also, I like this from Pope Francis, “Dear young people, please, don’t be observers of life, but get involved. Jesus did not remain an observer, but he immersed himself. Don’t be observers, but immerse yourself in the reality of life, as Jesus did.” Don’t be afraid to let your faith become an active part of your life, as Pope Francis says, immerse yourself! You’re Catholic, you’re not an alien, it’s as much a part of you as the way you laugh and the way you talk. Be open and be true to yourself, and you’ll sail through university life. (Just make sure you take my first piece advice too and attend your lectures!)
Moving out from home can be a stressful time for any individual or family, particularly if you’re an eighteen year old girl starting university. Like most people, beginning this journey of freedom and independence, I maintained that I needed to transfer every item I’d ever owned to my new dorm room… Dad was thrilled. However, in the one or two boxes marked ‘stay at home storage’, I managed to pack up my relationship with God and leave Him behind. For some people this concept might sound absurd; however for others it may feel all too familiar. Having freedom and independence at university requires a measure of responsibility; as a young adult, you are now responsible for maintaining and practising your own faith, and for myself I found this a challenging feat.
When I started university my faith diminished rapidly. Thankfully, although I gave up on God, He showed countless times that he never gave up on me. One day in particular, my friend and I were running particularly low on cash (something which I’m sure you’ll have the delight of experiencing). It was common knowledge around campus that the Christian Union handed out free lunches to all who attended their meetings. So, we gave it a go, and you could say that that ham sandwich changed my life. In the meeting I was reminded how much God loves each of us, and how silly it was to think I needed to separate my life and my faith. God is a part of us from our beginning to our end, through the old times and the new times, and, through the good days and the bad days. Surprisingly, from then onwards, I realised maintaining your faith at university isn’t quite the dilemma that most people imagine it to be, but actually really easy and really good fun.
So here are five tips that worked for me:
First thing to remember, you are Catholic, but this doesn’t change who you are as a person; it only adds to all the wonderful qualities you already possess. So be honest and proud of your faith, most people you meet will be intrigued and respectful, and, it’s definitely true what they say, the friends you make at Uni are your friends for life.
Between going out, socialising and the mountain of work you’ll be drowning under, making time for prayer can take a back seat. However, nearly all universities have an incredible chaplaincy service, with convenient times for students, so making a decision between a few extra hours of kip and Mass, doesn’t have to be an option. Additionally, making yourself known within the chaplaincy and joining faith-based societies really does make a huge difference. You’ll meet tonnes of like-minded people who will help you get involved with events, talks and pilgrimages.
Charity is at the heart of Jesus Christ and at university there are countless activities and volunteering opportunities which you can get involved in. Jesus came to allow each of us to ‘live live to the full’ (John10:10). Therefore, sacrificing your time to help others to achieve a full and better life is a fantastic and incredibly exciting way to show your love of God and others to those around you.
All these previous tips are brilliant for helping to fuel the fire of your faith, but for some people their relationship with God can be private and personal. So it’s great to remember that your life itself gives glory to God and to learn to live as a reflection of Christ with love, compassion and kindness will only strengthen your connection to Him. Using your talents, working your hardest, and, just making the most out of each of the gifts He gave you is what we are made to do.
Most importantly, remember that God loves you when you’re throwing yourself around a filthy club, playing corridor football, ploughing through your second consecutive all-night library session and when you’re cutting the mould off your cheese because there is absolutely NOTHING left in the cupboard.
University is a fantastic experience: I would recommend to anyone. You will share in more friendship, love, mayhem and mischief than most people will in a lifetime. So ‘Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go’ (Joshua 1:9).