“We know certainly that our God calls us to a holy life. We know that he gives us every grace, every abundant grace; and though we are so weak of ourselves, this grace is able to carry us through every obstacle and difficulty.”
—St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
Growing up my Catholic Faith was always most important to me. When I became a freshman in college I was quite aware that my faith would be tested time and time again in such a secular environment, especially as a biology major. However, I was not ready for the extremely hostile environment towards Christians that was created both by the other students and professors.
From the moment I stepped foot on campus I could sense the anti-Christian sentiment that echoed from the classroom to even the student center. The professors seemed to have an objective to ridicule and mock the Christian faith at any given opportunity. Sitting in Psychology class I recall the professor lecturing on various mental disorders, which included schizophrenia, and the example that she chose to use for a case study was Moses talking to the burning bush. Another time, during an education class, the professor suggested that we participate in a celebration of the summer solstice by performing a ritualistic hand-washing and sitting in a circle outside with a fire in the middle while reading poetry. In another instance, a professor made a disparaging remark about Catholic priests, stating “I want to ask all of you to always tell the truth, don’t be like Catholic priests and lie.”
“Prayer is the best armor we have, it is the key which opens the heart of God.”
—St. Padre Pio
Despite the hostility towards Christianity I was able to remain grounded and steadfast in my faith by keeping a prayer life throughout college. When I would have six hour lab classes I did not remain idle while waiting for a sample to heat, performing water distillation, or observing organisms at the wildlife refuge, but would often sit and spend time in prayer. My schedule was often hectic between classes and working as a teacher assistant, but in making time for God during the busy day I kept a sense of peace, and was able to focus on the bigger picture in life.
I found solace and consolation in the words of Sacred Scripture, especially during the moments when I felt alone and isolated by my peers because of my Christian faith. A verse that I often found myself reflecting upon was Romans 8:38-39, which states “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” It was in this verse that I found strength in knowing that any adversity or opposition that confronted me would never be a match for God’s infinite love.
Another verse that deeply resonated with me during my time as an undergraduate student was Philippians 4:6-7, which reads “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” The words reminded me that that no matter the challenges and obstacles that I was facing as a twenty-something year old Catholic trying to keep my faith in a sea of secularism, I could always bring my struggles to God in prayer, and He would hold me close to Him embracing me in His Holy Presence.
Despite the opposition that I faced as a Catholic attending a public university I continued to practice the Faith. I attended Mass regularly and read a lot of books on Catholic theology and spirituality teaching myself more and more about Catholicism. It was during this time I became involved in Frassati Fellowship, a Catholic group based in New York City for young adults, and attended a few of their retreats. It granted me the opportunity to become a part of a community of believers who were also practicing Catholics millennials, and could relate to the challenge of remaining committed to the Faith in a secular world.
One of my most memorable moments in college was during a particularly difficult semester when I was taking Organic Chemistry, which consumed most of my days completing homework assignments and studying for exams. I felt as if I was being pulled in two different directions attempting to balance my coursework while at the same time remaining active in the Faith. I was incredibly frustrated one evening, and found myself down upon my knees pleading with the Lord to offer me guidance and strength.
It was in that heartfelt prayer that I felt a wave of peace wash over me, and I could feel God’s Presence even in the midst of all of the struggles that I was enduring at the time. It was then that I reflected upon Isaiah 40:31, which reads, “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” The verse reminded me that if I continued to rely on God and not my own ability alone He would give me all the strength that I needed to make it through the tough times. God would never abandon me.
“I urge you to remain steadfast in faith, so that at last we will all reach heaven and there rejoice together.”
—St. Andrew Kim Taegon
Looking back at my college days, I am thankful for the many ways that God offered me sustenance, and helped me to always keep the Faith at the center of my life. It was challenging at times, but the Holy Spirit empowered me to be able to continue living authentically and genuinely according to the truth of the Gospels. Throughout the ups and downs of fighting to remain a faithful Catholic in the midst of a college campus that did not promote Christian values, God would keep reminding me of His grace and the splendor of His love.
Catholic college students can strengthen their faith while in a secular college environment by regularly praying, receiving the Sacraments, particularly Confession and Holy Communion, and seeking out Catholic communities like the Cardinal Newman Society or local young adult groups such as Frassati Fellowship, Credo Young Adults, Ignite Young Adults, or Corazón Puro. These communities can provide support, accountability, and encouragement to live out their faith amidst a hostile environment.
Jesus never taught that being a Christian would be easy. He said to the disciples, “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you” (John 15:18-19). We can maintain our Faith through any trials and tribulations by entrusting ourselves to God and placing our trust in Him.