This is part of a series of reflections on "How to Succeed in College." Click on the author's name for previous entries.
A few years ago I visited a young family whose wedding I had performed and whose child, the following Sunday morning, I was about to baptize. But the father, whom I had taught and with whom I had run many miles in college, revealed that he no longer goes to Mass. Why? It’s boring. The sermons are unprepared. A waste of time. So I challenged him: pick a local church and we would go to Mass together.
We went. It was a very big church and we sat toward the back. The pastor celebrated, and when he came to the pulpit he rambled on about who knowswhat. He had obviously not spent ten minutes preparing the one sacred opportunity he had to communicate God’s word to his people. I had to confess to my friend that he was right. But that did not free him from the responsibility of finding a church where he could really pray.
College students are blessed in that, for the most part, campus ministries put together a series of liturgies designed to speak to college students.
Recently I had an email from a student I had not heard from in 40 years who in the 1970s had come to my informal midnight Mass at Fordham. Three priests cooperated in running it. We sat on the floor in a basement chapel, read the readings and talked about them together, then gathered around the altar. The ‘60s and ‘70s were, in my judgment a marvelous time in which, inspired by the spirit of Vatican II, newly ordained priests, consistent with their training, improvised liturgical prayers, shared homilies with the congregation, were informal without being careless or disrespectful, and held onto a generation of young people who might otherwise have simply opted out.
I’d say that the central insight was that the communal prayer had to come, to some degree, from the group itself. They were not there just to listen to the man at the altar, they were involved at every moment. So, as much as possible, the words, prayers, petitions came spontaneously from the 10-15 people sitting around on the chapel floor.
Today’s liturgies are much more by-the-book. But they can still serve as spiritual breakthroughs, moments where we temporarily leave the world outside the church door and enter into the silence that allows us to put the outside word in perspective.
Students are making a big mistake if they do not use their college years to re-introduce themselves to the Mass. Not just on Sunday, but every day of the week. For three reasons:
First, most campus ministry Masses, as a comment on my recent report said about Seattle University, involve students and their talent at every level — singing, playing musical instruments, speaking, reading, and taking time at the end to report on social projects you should join if you want to serve other people. And for the most part the celebrant has carefully prepared what he has to say and looks you in the eye when he says it. (At least I did). They are community events which reinforce student bonds in prayer and also in a social gathering after the Mass.
Second, the purpose of Mass is to get ourselves out of ourselves. We bring the burdens of the day — dull classes, texts we have to read, busted relationships, family angst — to the church. Suddenly the Gospel or the words of consecration, or the reception of the host and wine remind us that we are not the center of the universe, that we are one among up-teen million people all over the world receiving the same communion and that we are in communion with them.
Third, I like to end the final prayer with a line I got at our midnight Masses from an older Jesuit who was one of the Society’s and the church’s greatest sociologists. “Lord, stay with us always as you are with us now.” The presence of God felt in that half-hour to 40 minutes must fuel us — till the next Mass.
Which is an argument for going every day.
Raymond A. Schroth