I opened the letter to find a Post-it note stuck to a magazine article: “You could do this.” And that is why I am writing this. Let me explain.
There are few things one can count on in life. For the lucky ones these things include family, friends and the chance to spend time working toward an education or a fulfilling job. I am one of the lucky ones. Each day I have my parents, my brother, my school and classmates, my faith—and a letter in the mailbox from my grandmother. She is the most devout, energetic, lovely Catholic you will ever meet and also the one with the most stationery.
My grandmother is constantly taking time to send an encouraging word, often enclosed with an old picture of me when I came to visit or a clipping of a newspaper article she enjoyed. So when she saw that America was calling for articles from young people about “the joys and challenges that come with living out one’s faith in the midst of real life,” she naturally took out her scissors and sent the clipping my way.
I can particularly appreciate this phrasing, the midst of real life, as I am in the middle of my senior year of high school, and it seems as though every major life decision is packed into a truck speeding toward me. If there is one thing I have noticed, though, on this wild road to college acceptance, the first stop in the “real world,” it is that few people seem to be very interested in my faith. Maybe this is just a symptom of our politically correct society. Yet the fact that one college application tells me I may omit any questions that seem to require mention of religion does not strike me as correct at all. If we are really striving to be open-minded people, would it not be better to allow students the opportunity to share their personal beliefs without remorse and without fear of prejudice? My application folder should be leaking light, because the best way I can identify myself amid a sea of other applicants is to share the light and the joy that I receive and try to give as a Catholic.
Colleges are always asking for lists: of grades, classes and scores, of experiences, of accomplishments. Many of the greatest accomplishments of my life, however, involve sharing my faith, and though these are important to me, they might not stand out next to the boy who was voted class president or the girl who developed her own app at age 15.
Even so, I want to tell admissions boards and the whole world about the wide range of special events that have shaped me as a Catholic. This includes the time I had the privilege and joy of singing a song I wrote for our bishop at my confirmation—and my grandparents surprised me by driving 10 hours to be at the church. Or the time I was selected to go on a school trip to Italy and had the chance to go to Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica; I cried tears of joy because I felt so close to God gazing up at the small stained glass window of a dove on the center wall, which truly felt like the Holy Spirit present with and in me at that moment. Or, finally, when I wrote a paper for my English teacher, who does not practice any religion, and he commented that my words gave him hope that there truly is a God and a heaven.
Faith is often regarded as a source of inspiration or of hope, but for me—an ambitious, college-bound young woman—my faith is also a source of opportunity. It is a reason to demonstrate my talents and my blessings. Galatians 6:10 reads, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” God granted us each special gifts: perhaps the gift of devoted parents, the gift of a special talent or the gift of strong moral character. He created each of us with something constant in our lives that we can use for good. In my case, because I have been raised with things I can count on—my family, my faith, even my grandma’s letters and clippings—my life has been full of love and meaning. I have the opportunity to bring love and meaning into the lives of others by sharing my gifts and trying to set an example by living with purpose.
The great naturalist and author Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “If you would lift me up you must be on higher ground.” As Christians our recognition of God’s blessings gives us a reason to serve others, and what the Bible and Emerson both describe is my greatest joy: knowing that we all can do so by simply being ourselves. This is a joy that I have now in the midst of real life—a joy I will have in college, in the workforce and perhaps one day as a grandmother myself—encouraging my own family to take every opportunity to lift up others with their faith, to look at one another and say: You could do this.