I’m pretty sure the youth ministry small groups I lead are sick of hearing it, but if it weren’t for kids like them, I wouldn’t be Catholic today. I didn’t grow up in a practicing Catholic family, although I was baptised as an infant. Growing up, material things were all that mattered to me. Especially in high school when it seemed that only those who aced AP classes, were in a dozen extracurriculars, and graduated in the top 10% were successful.
So, when I got to college it’s no surprise then that when my life fell apart (as lives tend to do) none of the instrumentally valuable things that I had been chasing were able to help me. I had chosen to go to a college that was 444 miles away from home because I felt success meant getting far, far away from the small, never-changing town where I grew up. In reality, it meant I was alone and helpless. I attribute my ability to get through that time solely to the grace of my baptism.
You see, my freshman year I had one friend from my high school who attended the same university. We tended to stick together a lot that first year. He was Catholic and it was because of his invitation that I went to the second mass I had ever been to that wasn’t a funeral or wedding. (The first was my little brother’s baptism.) We were having one of those deep, intellectual-type conversations that college kids love to have when somehow the Bible came up. (Dun, dun, DUN!) These days I can only remember bits and pieces but I remember we talked about Jesus and how the New Testament fulfilled the new. It was a very logic-oriented conversation. I do remember leaving with a feeling of awe and wonder. Before I had an inkling that there was a God, but now I was mostly positive he was real.
That awe stayed with me and provoked my curiosity. I would go to mass on occasion, and even by myself. I know now that it was the Holy Spirit stirring within me. So when things had gotten to their worst, it was that stirring of the Holy Spirit that led me to the Catholic Campus Center.
I was terrified. I drove past it twice before turning in to the parking lot. My heart was racing as I sat in the car. I wasn’t afraid of being ridiculed or excluded. Rather I was afraid of the encounter I knew God was calling me to. But my heart was restless and I knew I wouldn’t be able to not go inside. I walked up the sidewalk and to the front door. (I stalled by reading every thing posted on the bulletin board.) I faced the front door. Do I knock? Do I just go in? I think there was a sign that said, “Come on in!” so I resolved to open the door with a simultaneous courtesy knock. As I peaked my head in, I was greeted by a big, “Hellooo!” from Jeffrey, the student intern.
That day the campus minister invited me to their upcoming retreat. I met a girl whose first time at the C it was also, and it was because a fateful happenstance that we later bumped into each other and, recognizing the fatefulness of that moment, resolved to go the retreat.
Now looking back, I am amazed. It was through a person that the Holy Spirit first stirred within me. It was a few more people who first invited me to open myself to encounter God on that retreat. It would be the people who I encountered throughout my time at the C that helped me to live my Catholic identity, leading me to go through RCIA and Confirmation, and affirming me throughout my journey.
It was through these ordinary college students that the Holy Spirit showed me the beauty of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, adoration, and the Bible. It was girls who loved themselves more than the world who helped me to find joy in modesty. It was them who opened my eyes to the sanctity of life and the pro-life cause, the treasury of the saints, and the beauty of the rosary.
These people not only seemed comfortable with their Catholic identity, but joyful because of it.
The impact these people had still resonates within me today. Nowadays, I volunteer with a high school youth ministry program here in Austin. God has brought me full circle from being the one who is impacted by faithful youth, to one helps form faithful youth. Not only do I find joy in providing teens with the faith formation that I never had, but I hope to empower them. What they learn now has the potential to help so many others who are on their journey to Christ like I was. I tell them that it was because of the faith of youth like them that I was ever able to know and love God.
Whenever I encounter teens who are lukewarm or uncertain in their faith, it is because of my own personal conversion that I am able to help them to see the meaning of their faith and help them to look forward to the potential impact they can have on countless others. It’s a beautiful place to be.
If you’re in the position to form a youth(s), or are someone who has lost sight of meaning of your own faith, take heart. I promise you have a purpose, and on behalf of everyone who you will bring closer to God, thank you.