I’ve been a Catholic school kid my entire life. A fact that has provided me with a number of opportunities that many people didn’t get growing up. I had the opportunity to learn about my faith in school, to share my faith with all my friends and teachers, to pray openly. But I also had the unfortunate opportunity to watch my friends fall away from the Church.
I’m not particularly certain when it happened (although I’m pretty sure it was around the time we started college), but a couple years ago I realized that hardly any of my friends were Catholic anymore – especially the ones I grew up with in Catholic school.
It’s easy to fall away from God. And it can begin in a number of ways. For some of us, it could be the death of a loved one. For others, a series of unfortunate events might trigger it.
For me, it was fear. It wasn’t so much that I had fallen away from the Church (because I hadn’t, I was still actively Catholic), but it was that I had shut myself off from God. I stopped listening and turned a deaf ear to His call. I was afraid that God would ask too much of me – that I would have to sever relationships with people I loved that were keeping me from growing closer to Him (one of which was a three-year relationship with a girl who didn’t share my Catholic faith) or that God would ask me to do or be something other than what I had planned for myself. It can be so hard to say “yes” to God sometimes. And for a long time I didn’t.
And then I reached a point in my life where things just didn’t feel right. I came to a place where I knew that something had to change. I was stressed, I was afraid, I was angry and frustrated and cold. I felt alone. So I prayed. At that time, I was on the Youth Ministry Core Team at St. Ignatius Martyr and I went along with them to the Diocesan Catholic Youth Conference (DCYC, wooot!). At DCYC, we went to adoration with thousands of other teens and youth ministers. I have never experienced anything more powerful.
I knelt there in the dark, my mind racing back and forth among the millions of things I was struggling with – all my stresses and worries, my relationships, the place I where I was in my life, my desire to change and grow closer to God, and the fears that came with that desire. It was so much that my mind just became a foggy mess of broken and entangled thoughts.
And then in the quiet and stillness of that room, God whispered into my ear. And he said, very clearly, “Stop.” He paused, and at once my mind was clear and at peace. “Trust in Me, and do not be afraid.” At that, I broke down. And I realized that it was just a matter of giving everything to God. At that moment I placed my life forever in God’s hands and I asked God to remove anything and anyone from my life who was keeping me from growing closer to Him.
In the months that followed, I found myself happy and fulfilled (and single). I felt (and continue to feel) like I was doing what God wanted of me. That being said, living life for Christ is a constant struggle. And I, by no means, am perfect (or even good) at it. But it’s something that I work toward each and every day.
I shared this story because it is something from my life that I think many of you, readers, can relate to (and because it’s awesome : p). It is so easy to shut God out when He isn’t telling us what we want to hear or when he makes us angry or when we have fears and broken pieces in need of mending. But through active, continual prayer and with the support of faithful friends, we can reconcile our relationships with Christ.
But sometimes the fall is a little further than that… or a lot further.
One of the most common times we see young Catholics fall far from God and even from the Church completely is when they are introduced into a new territory with new people – like college. For many of us, we leave home (and our home parishes) for the first time and live in a dormitory with hundreds of other crazy college kids, most of whom probably don’t actively practice Catholicism, and with no one to encourage us to go to Mass. We make new friends, lose touch with old ones, adopt new habits and hobbies, and if we’re not careful we can quickly spiral down dangerous roads.
But there are ways to avoid falling away from Christ and ways to rediscover Christ if you have fallen. For me, surrounding myself with faithful Catholics who support me and help me grow closer to God keeps me in check. I’ve also found that reserving time for God every day really helps. I like to play guitar and sing praise and worship songs alone in my room (what a dork, right?) or spend time prayerfully journaling. And then I have found that being there to support my friends also strengthens my own faith.
12 Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
In fact, Hebrews 3:13 tells us that we are called by God to encourage one another every single day so that none of us will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. But on the the opposite side of this, we should be open to help. We should ask ourselves: Have we opened up our lives to others? Will we allow other Catholics to speak into our lives?
Think about it. If this is the means to our spiritual preservation, we should be very keen to observe it. If we want to get into heaven, we have to allow our friends to call us out on our sins; and as friends we must be willing to call out our friends when necessary. Because sin is deceptive and we are prone to believe lies, we need someone to come along side us and speak truth into our lives.
Trust in God, and trust your friends. And you might just find yourself on the better side of the struggle for Christ.