It is a secret, practically speaking. Few Catholics know that under American law many…
Words from a college pastor
I hope that this year of college is great for you. As God would have it, I am writing this letter from a sturdy old house that my parish recently bought to become our Newman Catholic Student Center, a place where Catholic and non-Catholic collegiates can gather to grow in friendship with Jesus Christ and the Church. The house we acquired is right across the street from the private university here in North Manchester, Indiana. May Jesus Christ bear fruit in all of the Catholic college groups and ministries throughout the country this year!
As I look at the house — which needs a lot of work, including floor repair, a kitchen redo, landscaping and chapel development — I think of the college students. College students desire to build a firm foundation for their life. They want to become someone authentic and beautiful and to make a good impact that matters now and for future generations.
College is a whole whirlwind of experiences and emotions. It is enlightening, empowering, adventuresome and hopeful, but it can also be a time of anxiety, as one thinks of future employment and prosperity, love and marriage, children, a potential calling to be a priest or religious, making a positive impact and more. In the mix of all of this, choose Jesus Christ as your foundation — it will be the greatest choice you make.
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In college, as we learn so much about the amazing and trying things that have happened on this planet for the past billions of years, it can become easy to think that we are just a meaningless accident and that there is no such thing as a true foundation for the human family. Thankfully, Jesus helps us to realize that we are not just a blip in the universe. Instead, all of the universe was specifically designed by God to host us humans, who are children of God. We couldn’t be here if the rest of the universe was not the way it is. Everything was designed specifically to house us. Without Jesus, it can be hard to grasp this and the narrative of reality. Putting on Christ is like putting on glasses so that we can see the world correctly and be at peace.
I would like to encourage college students to not only embrace friendship with Christ, but also to embrace him in a community of believers. The Christian life is meant to be joyfully lived with others. Probably the most iconic moment in the history of college students living an adventure in Christ was at the University of Paris about 500 years ago, when St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Francis Xavier and St. Peter Faber all became roommates. Xavier and Faber were Catholics, but their lives were not exemplary. In Ignatius of Loyola, they met someone who had encountered Jesus, transformed his life and desired to share Christ, and they were hooked. They prayed, evangelized others and practiced giving other students the Spiritual Exercises to help them know more clearly the path Jesus had for their lives. They called themselves the Companions of Jesus (Jesuits), and their friendship grew in numbers and worldwide evangelization.
Why mention this story? Because St. Ignatius did not keep his faith to himself. He reached out to others, and by stepping out in faith, the faith in others came alive, and they were able to make Jesus the foundation of their friendship. And this impacted the world.
I would also encourage college students to seek and live the truth, even when it is unpopular. An iconic moment in college history of someone making a difficult decision was about 150 years ago, when a professor at Oxford University, John Henry Newman, converted to Catholicism. Through prayer and study, Newman came to realize that there really isn’t a middle way to live between Roman Catholicism and evangelical Christianity. He had thought that maybe Anglicanism was a type of third way, but came to realize that Catholicism is the full continuation of the early Church. He converted to Catholicism and became a priest.
In college, choosing to follow Jesus Christ with full mind, body and soul will lead us to make difficult decisions. Newman lost most of his Anglican friends when he converted to Catholicism. To make things more difficult, even a lot of Catholic theologians did not accept Newman, because they did not understand how advanced his theology was. So he moved to Ireland and taught at the University of Dublin. It took decades for Newman’s thought to become mainstream in the Catholic Church.
About 100 years ago, a priest started a center to evangelize Catholics at a non-Catholic university, calling it a Newman Center. This idea caught on, and here we are today doing the same thing, providing college students with a place to encounter Jesus Christ in spirit and truth.
Newman Centers, Catholic priests, religious, other chaplains and campus ministry offices are all here to help college students personally and communally encounter Christ, be transformed, experience faith as an adventure and to discern life decisions. Our center in Manchester, like many others, will offer the opportunity to encounter God and the Church in this Christ-centered space through community, retreats every semester, Alpha Nights, praise-music sessions, small Bible-study groups, monthly guest speakers, Holy Spirit prayer nights, pilgrimages, devotions such as the Rosary, times available for confession, Eucharistic adoration, Sunday evening Masses and more.
Be sure to seek out the Catholic groups. They exist on most college campuses. It will be life-changing and, in this, Jesus will help you see reality in a new way.
Father Drew Curry is a priest for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana.