Best of Both Worlds: Building Catholic friendships in college

As the summer of my senior year of high school drew to an end, the inevitable separation approached: I was about to venture into the world on my own, bidding my family a goodbye vastly different from the routine “see ya” exchanged before school each morning. Along with the usual changes resulting from moving to college, this transition brought the additional responsibility of practicing my faith independent of family.

I had researched the Catholic Student Association at Rice University, where I had enrolled for the fall, but I found the Web site outdated and the activities few and far between. With low expectations, I promised my mom and dad that I would sign up for the association’s e-mails.

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My background in Catholicism had been very thorough; weekday Mass, recitation of the rosary and confession were regular events in the routine of my life. But I performed them primarily because my parents did, not because I was personally invested in them. The new independence of college life, however, forced into practice the Catholic adulthood initiated by my confirmation six years earlier, thus making my faith my own.

My journey toward integration with the Catholic Student Association began during orientation week with Mother Teresa’s book The Joy in Loving. My roommate’s friend, after noticing the book on my shelf, concluded that I was Catholic and asked if we could go over to church together. That first Sunday, we walked to the chapel for 10 a.m. Mass, and we have made this weekly journey together ever since. Having this friend by my side also allowed me the freedom to begin my involvement in the C.S.A. Initially, I was hesitant to attend events because, like many of my peers, I felt insecure about going alone. The presence of a friend provided me with the courage to go to additional activities beyond Sunday Mass. Peer pressure had always been an influence in my life, but it had never manifested itself in such a positive way.

As I surrounded myself with Catholic peers, I became more involved with the Catholic community. Having such a strong core Catholic community made me realize how lucky I was to have close friends of the same faith. In the past, I had taken Catholicism for granted, and I had never really lamented my lack of Catholic friends. In return for the new and rich friendships, I decided to give back to the community that had given me so much. My involvement in the student association at Rice grew to such an extent that I have become a part of the leadership team. My role as a discussion co-coordinator for the Freshmen Catholic Fellowship allows me to continue building the community and friendships that I valued so highly when I began my involvement with the organization.

The friendships with my peers are not the only relationships that have developed for me since my arrival at Rice. Through the sacraments I have also grown closer to God, the ultimate friend. When attending Mass or confession with my family, I often took the sacraments for granted; but once they became personal decisions for me, I came to realize their importance more fully. The graces received through the sacraments are powerful in combating the laziness, indifference and lack of courage that prevent us from practicing our faith adequately.

My attendance at weekday Mass was a turning point in my faith journey. In the second semester of my sophomore year, I began attending the 7 a.m. weekday Mass, despite the fact that sleeping is one of my favorite parts of the day. I have never been a morning person and since arriving at college I have pushed my wake-up time further and further back by working out the exact minimum amount of time necessary to prepare for class. However, when a couple of guys invited me to join them for morning Mass, I decided to try it once or twice. Then I began to attend several days a week.

The example of these two friends inspired me to pull on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt just in time to leave for my regular visits with Our Lord. The struggles of the early mornings were counteracted by the extraordinary graces received from the sacrament, not the least of which was help staying awake for my classes. During Mass and reflection, I have reached many realizations about the spiritual life as well as made several significant personal decisions that would not have been prompted except through God’s grace.

The Mass was not the only place where I found spiritual renewal. As I began to struggle with some of the sins that societal expectations encouraged, I attended confession and, after discussing the matter several times with different confessors, returned to a fuller practice of my beliefs. Thus, the sacrament of confirmation has been realized many times over in my personal decision to receive and explore the graces given me when I was confirmed as an adult in the church. The closer we move toward God, the less inclined we will be to leave him.

It is necessary for each of us to strengthen our individual spirituality in order for the Catholic community to thrive as a whole. Prayer—a simple conversation with God—rewards us with a compassionate and loving friend at a time when we most need one. The introspective nature of prayer can be daunting, especially for those who have not cultivated a prayer life prior to college. Facebook, TV or even those homework assignments lying on the desk become unusually attractive when juxtaposed with the option of a silent conversation with a spiritual being.

Setting aside even a little time for God—five or 10 minutes—ensures that we not only keep God in our daily lives but also that we build a lasting relationship that will continue to develop for the rest of our lives. In my darkest hours, my Catholic friends were there for me. So was God. The adjustment to college seems a sufficient challenge without the addition of religious growth to complicate matters, but my time at Rice has drawn me closer to God in a way that I hope will continue to expand and strengthen in the coming years.

We are all initially uncomfortable with prayer, but success in the spiritual quest requires persistence. In the words of T. S. Eliot, “For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.” Although we may often feel discouraged in our prayer lives, we are still succeeding spiritually as long as we make a consistent and conscientious effort. And freshman year of college, a time of so many firsts, is an excellent time to begin.

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