How to help your children keep the faith in college
MONSIGNOR MICHAEL BILLIAN: Mother Teresa’s simple advice is gold for youth . . .
I recently heard a story about a businessman who had lost his sense of interior joy. He was struggling to find meaning in his life. Work had taken over, and he was constantly jet-setting from city to city on business, taking precious time from his family and parish life.
On one business trip, he found himself sitting next to Mother Teresa of Calcutta. He couldn’t believe the opportunity! He was quite nervous, but he was sure that if he could get up enough courage to speak to her, she could help him through his spiritual crisis.
Not knowing how to start the conversation, he decided bluntly to ask, “How do I find joy in my life?” Mother said you have to have joy. He interrupted, thinking she didn’t understand the question, “Yes, but that is what I need to find — joy.”
Kindly, she continued, “You must make J.O.Y. your priority in this order — Jesus, Others and You — and only this order. Then you will find the spiritual joy you are looking for and the joy God wants for you.”
As Legates we must all keep this priority order for ourselves and offer this lesson to others by our words and actions — especially to your children and grandchildren as they go off to college.
I’m often asked by parents and grandparents how they can help their children or grandchildren stay close to the Church and the faith while they’re in college. Since I am a university parish pastor now and spent the first 15 years of my priesthood working in Catholic high schools, I have a unique perspective on the important transition from high school to college.
Heeding the advice of Blessed Teresa on the priorities of life regarding J.O.Y. is a good foundation for forming and talking to young people about life as they move into college. When it comes to putting this into practice on a college campus, here are some practical steps to faithfulness you can share with the young adults in your life:
Pray daily and go to Mass. One sure way to keep the faith in college is to stay in communication with God through both private prayer and community prayer, especially the Mass. Even if you only spend five or 10 minutes daily in prayer, it will be a great help. Remember always to allow God to speak to you during this time. That means you shouldn’t do all the talking; allow God to speak to you during quiet prayer. As nice as this private time with God is, He touches us most profoundly through the community. Jesus promised not to leave us alone but to form us into the family of God, the Body of Christ. Therefore, we must commit ourselves to celebrating Sunday Mass each week so that we can hear the Word of God proclaimed within the community of the Church and participate in the Eucharist, the source and summit of our lives.
Join a Catholic campus group. Campuses across the country have FOCUS, Newman Clubs, or Catholic student associations. These groups offer the opportunity to meet fellow Catholics who share your values and are interested in growing in their faith while enjoying the exciting years of college. They often offer the opportunities for retreats, educational programs, prayer experiences and great social events.
Get involved in Christian service. Sharing your gifts and talents with the under-served is a great way of actively answering God’s call to care for your brothers and sisters. By participating in these service opportunities, remember that you do this in answer to Jesus’ call — and not just to be a good humanitarian. While the work is always good, the reason we do the work can raise us to a higher level. It’s also good to spend some time reflecting on the service you do, remembering that you’re answering God when you do this work.
Avoid the temptation of pure independence. You’ll not only have time on your hands, but also have the opportunity to make your own decisions about the time you have. This newfound freedom can be a challenge. It’s easy to embrace independence without realizing that it can be a big temptation to turn away from God and the values that are at the foundation of your life. It’s important to live your new freedom with the support of a good faith life.
By keeping the priorities of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’s advice in mind — and following a few practical steps — college students will always enjoy the embrace of God in the Church.
MONSIGNOR MICHAEL BILIAN is the chaplain of Legatus’ Genesis Chapter and pastor of Most Blessed Sacrament Parish in Toledo, Ohio.