Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"Being Catholic in College"

The following is an op-ed piece written recently by a GW Catholic in the school newspaper. It has been a source of discussion among other GW Catholics; let’s bring some comments about it to our blog site. I plan on commenting on it in my homily this Sunday, but ask bloggers to post their thoughts and comments.


Being Catholic in College

“Growing up in the woods of New Hampshire, the thought never crossed my adolescent mind that fasting, constructing advent wreathes from moss and pine trees in my backyard, spending hours in Church, and various other Catholic customs (with a hearty dose of Polish folk customs) were not normal.

That didn't mean I didn't dread sitting through Mass every week. But now that dread is gone and, in the midst of my 20-something partying years, it's very likely you will find me every Sunday at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle.
My faith and relationship with the Catholic Church have evolved, been tested and, in the end, been strengthened. Today, I am just as likely to tell people I am Catholic as I am a Polish-American from New Hampshire. I am proud of both my heritage and my faith.

I didn't grow up in the Roman Catholic Church, but rather in a sect of the Old Catholic Church called the Polish National Catholic Church. Despite this, and now in a time during which Roman Catholic Church pews are being deserted, I have found a reawakening of my relationship with God.

Through much of high school I was, religiously, a lamb that had wandered astray from the herd. I challenged my childhood religion. I considered my options, including agnosticism, Islam and other Christian denominations. But I knew something was ultimately missing from my religious and spiritual life. It wasn't until I actually left home and came to D.C. that my faith really felt reaffirmed.

I didn't think my faith would be strengthened in college. When I thought of college, I thought Sunday morning was for nursing headaches, not for Mass. I do not know for certain what changed inside of me. But perhaps it was the everyday freedom that allows for sleeping in and drinking that allowed me to feel on my own, in a no-pressure venue, the comfort of faith. Yeah, I'd like to sleep in sometimes, but I feel better when I act on my faith instead.

I've even found I'm not the only GW student who gets up early on the weekend to spend some time with Jesus Christ. There are a number of fellow Catholics I have come across who are also deeply religious, yet manage to lead normal college lives filled with partying, college hook-ups and hours spent Facebook-stalking instead of deep in prayer.

I found that faith of any kind does not have to be forsaken in college, even in a bastion of liberalism and free thinking that is GW. If anything, being at GW and college in general has taught me that my faith doesn't have to be all or nothing. I can be a Democrat and a Catholic. And I can party as hearty as anyone else and still be Catholic. I can lead a normal life, enjoying the pleasures the world has to offer, while simultaneously fulfilling a spiritual and religious yearning.

It's not an easy time to be a Catholic. The strength of the church has been tested at the same time the strength of my faith has. Back home, the clergy abuse scandal is local and hard-hitting. Many of the early allegations, settlements and incarcerations happened in New England towns not far or different from mine. These unimaginably horrible actions caused many of my hometown friends and their families to vacate the church. I certainly don't blame them. But as an original outsider who came back into the flock, I have looked past these heinous acts and missteps by the church to find comfort and joy.

This disease of abuse by clergy and the subsequent cover-ups has now spread to infect the church's communicants all over the world. But this situation does not spell out the fall of the church. Rather, the church is now forced to seriously, unequivocally and firmly address structural problems. The current tenuous situation can become an opportunity for the church and its leaders to refocus on tending to the herd, so that everyone who wants to can find same comfort that I have found.
Life is full of ups and downs, but that is an integral part of the journey. My questioning of my own faith before and during college has helped to cement my commitment to it. I have faith too that my church will heal and many will once again heed the trumpet call.”

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think this op-ed is very well written - it addresses the scandal in an appropriate manner highlighting the fact that the church has made many mistakes and needs to both repent and make structural changes; not just blame the media.

It is possible to lead a catholic life and be a college student - it is as simple as that.

Tayler said...

Thanks for posting on this. After I read the original article in the Hatchet, I wrote a response to it that I never ended up submitting. I wasn't sure if what I had written was too harsh, and I didn't want to come across as being hypocritical in what I said. I was also worried that the general GW audience wouldn't be able to relate to my argument (or that I said something that was just plain wrong!). I will post below what I had written up, just to see what you all think I guess. For what it's worth, keep in mind that I was worried about coming across as being unkind...and that I probably would have edited this before sending it in! Anyways, here it is:

At best, the April 8th article "Being Catholic in college" is a story about a young man returning to the faith of his youth during his college years. At worst, however, it is a gross misrepresentation of what it truly means to to live a Catholic lifestyle, regardless of one's age or place in life. Though I commend Andrew for having the bravery to write about his faith in such an open manner, I fear that his article leans towards the latter characterization.

Perhaps the most disturbing assertion made in the article is that college Catholicism does not need to be "all or nothing." This is absolutely false. When Christians are baptized, be they Catholic or otherwise, they are baptized into the total sacrifice of Christ's death. There is no proper way to live out this life other than a life of self-sacrifice for friend, neighbor, and the higher cause we so firmly believe in. This includes adhering to a set of personal standards that we believe to align us as closely as possible with God's will for our happiness.

I recognize the incredible task this presents humanity, perhaps especially those in a "bastion of liberalism" such as GW. However, willfully engaging in promiscuous hook-ups, excessive drinking, and other youthful transgressions are direct perversions of a truly Catholic lifestyle. Proud brandishing of nominal or cultural Catholicism, and even regular Mass attendance, is no substitute for the fullness of faith we are meant to realize.

I implore those who believe that college Catholicism does not need to be "all or nothing" to reconsider this view of their faith. Only when we recognize that the pleasures and whims of the "GWorld" are transient, and that we are called to live for something greater, will we find true freedom and happiness.

Matt Shoemaker said...

I completely agree with Tayler's comment. If we just compartmentalize our faith into a box where we can shelve it whenever it's convenient, how selfish is that?
Our faith should define us as people. My faith influences me in how I talk, how I act, how I dress, etc.
To not act on our faith because we might not appear as cool or normal as someone who doesn't practice their faith just shows where our priorities are. It comes down to the decision of who we are going to serve, God or man?

Anonymous said...

Tayler,

I believe you were wise, and kind, to sit on your response to the "Being Catholic in College" op-ed and to ask for feedback on your response. Extra eyes may pick up on grammatical errors, tone and content that might be overlooked. The writer, your self in this case, knows what it is thinking, but capturing those thoughts and tone accurately on paper can be challenging.

I understand your response and point of view on the Hatchet op-ed; however, I wonder if you are reading the op-ed with the assumption that the author defines a "hearty partier, college-hook-ups and hours on Facebook as you define them? Is it possible that the author parties right along with the best of the best and stays sober in the process? Maybe he has one or two beers, then stops drinking but doesn't stop having fun? Sounds odd, I know, but it does and can happen. Not every college student's definition of partying is getting skunk drunk.

As for college hook-ups, I think of one-night stands, casual sex, and the list goes on. If this is the op-ed writer's definition of a college "hook- up(s)", I'd have to say he's a little more than "off kilter" with his understanding of the Church's teachings. If the author writes with the belief that pre-marital sex is accepted by the church, he clearly doesn't understand Catholicism, or the physical risks two bodies are taking. And no, this is not OK. He cannot pick what he likes from Catholicism and ignore that which is uncomfortable. It is, in this sense, an all or nothing religion; however, something makes me think the writer may have a different definition of college hook-ups, or being around the hook up environment. I don't know - I could be totally wrong, or I'm not expressing what I'm thinking accurately. Maybe Andrew's definition of a hook-up needs to be clarified with the author before assumptions are made. I'm sure you've heard the old saying that we should never assume anything because it makes an "ass out of u and me" - ass-u-me.

The author acknowledges the freedom college offers; "But perhaps it was the everyday freedom that allows for sleeping in and drinking that allowed me to feel on my own, in a no-pressure venue, the comfort of faith. Yeah, I'd like to sleep in sometimes, but I feel better when I act on my faith instead." I get the feeling Andrew has slept in Sunday morning, had a whopping headache, blown off going to mass, - probably more than once. I think he's also been up before noon, attended Sunday Mass, without a headache, and realized how good it feels. To say "I feel better when I act on my faith instead" leads me to believe Andrew has experienced living for his values and God's values, and is realizing that he isn't dying to fun by living Christ's teachings. Life as a Christian can be a blast. In fact, it can be a great blast if, in loving the sinner, not the sin, a lost sheep is saved.

Finally, Andrew's admission to spending hours on Facebook rather than in deep prayer resonate self awareness to me. In a round-a-bout way, I read the author's words as those of admission of weaknesses, that he has a long way to go in living his faith. Pretty good insight if you ask me.

So, the bottom line, as I see it, is that Andrew may need to clarify his definition of partying, hooking-up and having a blast before he is accused of brandishing nominal or cultural Catholicism. Faith is a process. I can't help but wonder if Andrew isn't realizing that he is slowly figuring this process out, that he can live amongst sinners, as a Catholic and love the sinner, not the sin. Living with sinners doesn't mean one is promoting and committing a sin.

Anonymous said...

I find it amazing that the post above mine cautions Tayler not to "assume," implicitly calls her an ass, and then continues to assume and presume away every disturbing thing mentioned by Andrew in his article. I am confused as to why "Anonymous" above is so confident in her ability to read minds. She seems very willing to excuse the very real and disturbing issues presented in this Hatchet Column, but does not extend the same grace to Tayler - who is attempting to speak in truth and clarity to what the Church really teaches and what it means to be a Christian.

I echo Tayler's sentiments - "At best, the April 8th article "Being Catholic in college" is a story about a young man returning to the faith of his youth during his college years. At worst, however, it is a gross misrepresentation of what it truly means to to live a Catholic lifestyle, regardless of one's age or place in life." The thrust of Andrew's article is summed up when he says:

"If anything, being at GW and college in general has taught me that my faith doesn't have to be all or nothing. I can be a Democrat and a Catholic. And I can party as hearty as anyone else and still be Catholic. I can lead a normal life, enjoying the pleasures the world has to offer, while simultaneously fulfilling a spiritual and religious yearning."

That is a misleading and shallow conception of the Christian life -- one which will not only lead to ultimate heart ache for Andrew, but very likely will serve as a stumbling block to Christians and non-Christians alike. I think it unnecessary to ask the questions posed by Anonymous above, when Andrew so clearly makes his point in his Article. I take him at his own words instead of the created fantasy which some would inject in order to baptize them.

Scripture cautions in Mt. 7:14: ""For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it." The Church teaches that narrow path. Andrew's article would have us believe that the path is in fact broad and wide - able to accommodate all. But Tayler, recognizing the truth proclaimed in Scripture and taught by the Church, should be commended for pointing to that narrow path. Her comments represent true Christian charity because it is such charity that proclaims truth and requires that we lovingly correct those who are wrong.

The path is narrow which leads to God -- and between the two articles discussed in this thread -- only one accepts that fact. Thank you, Tayler.

Anonymous said...

10:51 AM anon;
Wow. Did you by chance eat nails for breakfast?! Also, what makes you think my post (11:28 anon) or the unsure op-ed response's author are female? I read both posts more than once and cannot find a pronoun that indicates gender.

Tayler, kudos to you. I think your concern about the tone or content of your response is admirable - you care about how you might make others feel - a Christian value in my opinion.

In regards to my assume (ass-u-me) comment, my intent was not to implicitly call Tayler an ass; rather, it was to point out that I think it's important that we, the reader, make sure we understand an an article with the intent the author had in mind. Mis-understandings usually lead to confusion and/or hurt feelings. When I wrote, "I understand your response and point of view on the Hatchet op-ed; however, I wonder if you are reading the op-ed with the assumption that the author defines a "hearty partier, college-hook-ups and hours on Facebook as you define them?" I wasn't trying to read anybody's mind, even my own at times! I was simply trying to say that when there is room for misunderstandings, I think it's really important to ask the author for clarification of his or her thoughts. Father Greg did a great job with this when he wrote, "I understand him to mean partying hard with excessive drinking, one-night stands and making out with random people." Only after clarifying what he thought the reader was saying did he state the church's teaching, "If so, this is clearly inconsistent with the teachings of the Church and of being a disciple of Jesus."

Please help me understand where I indicated approval of Andrew's post. My words, "If the author writes with the belief that pre-marital sex is accepted by the church, he clearly doesn't understand Catholicism, or the physical risks two bodies are taking. And no, this is not OK. He cannot pick what he likes from Catholicism and ignore that which is uncomfortable" are not giving the author an excuse for his behavior. Again, I'm simply trying to make sure I'm reading his post with the intent he had in mind. If his thinking is wrong, I have an obligation to offer the truth. It's then up to him as to what he does with the truth. But if I could potentially be misinterpreting the content, then I think it's wise to ask for clarification before offering a response.

As for, ""For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it", I couldn't agree more. If I am to speak or correct with the truth, and the truth is to be heard, both parties need to be on the same page. Otherwise, the conversation becomes one of talking at or over each other rather than talking to and with each other. Mis-understandings often result in mis-communication and hurt feelings. Personally, I don't like to hurt people's feelings. I like to give people a chance to explain their thinking before countering or correcting them. I try not to make assumptions or excuses. If I failed at making this point in my earlier post, let me offer clarification now. When there is room for misunderstandings or doubt about an author's intent, I believe it is always best to request clarification before offering a response. The truth needs to be taught; however, it only needs to be taught when beliefs are incorrect. I don't think any of us like to be mis-understood, yet alone corrected when a misunderstanding is the crux of the problem, especially in a public forum.

amy.el-tawil said...

Hello, I found this article very interesting to read. As a recently finished my college freshman year, I am looking back at the year I have had and the decisions I have made, and wondering where I stand on a lot of important issues of the heart.


I think that the most important comment I can make about this post is that as followers of Christ we are called to be set apart from the world. Not in a haughty or prideful manner, but rather, to be the shinning stars that Christ talks about in Matthew 5 with a humility that rides strong. I am not saying that I have been perfect this past year, because there are many times in which I have allowed the world to gobble me up and set me on an even playing field where I have felt the need to engage in the formalities of college life around me. But through my struggles god has really called me to stand on his shoulders as I face these new challenges.

How great would it be if the college environment was flooded with Catholics who wanted to be in the world and friend every person consumed by the world's ideas. To seek to make him famous with the ideology that you must:
First Make A Friend
Then Be A Friend
In order to Bring A Friend Christ.