Exposing high school students to great works of literature is a good thing, but honestly not many kids have the life experience to really appreciate the human drama and existential questions explored by Dostoyevsky, Melville, Joyce and Fitzgerald – to name just a few. In fact, even the Bible requires a certain sophistication garnered from life experience and an appreciation for context that most young people don’t have.
Then comes college, a time that is meant to teach people to think critically, but all too often college is dominated by a secular point of view that requires conformity. Young people may encounter, often for the first time, criticism of Catholicism and challenges to their belief in God. Instead of applying critical thinking and analysis to these challenges, there is great pressure to simply conform to new and heady ideas.
Even well-catechized youth can find their world rocked, not only by these challenges, but also by the temptations of drugs and alcohol; sex; activism and peer pressure. Sadly, if their faith is not grounded in an adult-version theology that knows the answers to prickly questions they can fall away as soon as they are lured in a new direction.
The child who left home an altar server may return at Christmas an avowed atheist, anarchist and gender-neutral stranger.
So how can we help our young people stay connected to God and faith when they venture out into the wilds of a secular society? Sending them to a Catholic college is no protection, this is the time the individual must choose to remain in the light of faith or, as some would say, go to the dark side.
Father Damien Giap, O. Praem, has been counseling college bound students for more than 11 years. “The first thing to drop off is Mass attendance, it is often just laziness,” says Fr. Damien. “When this happens, parents should remain calm encourage them to become active in a Newman center or other Catholic club on campus where they can be supported in their faith and build friendships. Let your child know you want to be a sounding board and encourage them to talk to you.”
This isn’t the time to badger or argue, but a time to listen. It’s also a great time to bone up on your own understanding of Church teaching – not just the rules, but why the rules are there and how following them will lead to peace and happiness.
There are a lot of resources online that can help people resolve the arguments against faith. The Magis Center, based at Christ Cathedral, has one of the best websites (magiscenter.org) for questions about faith and science, the existence of God and much more. Established by Fr. Robert Spitzer S.J., an astrophysicist by training and former president of Gonzaga University, he understands how to present spiritual questions to the discerning adult mind.
Other online resources include catholicanswers.com, which provides Q&A on the most common questions and arguments. There are literally thousands of books available from Catholic publishers such as Ignatius Press, Sophia Institute, Loyola Press, Ascension Press and Ave Maria press.
The best thing to do is to pray, prepare yourself while they are away and remember Jesus’ words in John 14:1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.” God loves your children even more than you do. He gave them a good mind. You gave them a loving, Christ-centered home, and even if you didn’t, God is in charge and will find a way to lead your children back to him. Use this time as a learning experience — just resist the temptation to roll your eyes.