\”You are looking into that school?\” Many of my parents\’ friends looked at me with narrowed eyes. \”Every student has to take 20 credits of Bible classes. Imagine that: learning faith from a non-Catholic point of view.\”
In response, I smiled nervously and shrugged my shoulders. Despite my excitement at the nondenominational school I had chosen, the judgement of others frightened me. What if I was teased for my faith? Would there be any other Catholics on campus? How would I react to professors who tried to indoctrinate me with the opposite of what I learned from my parents?
Going away to college is a huge step for young adults. Stresses such as leaving home, functioning independently, balancing homework and activities, feeling lonely, and worrying about the future cause students to grow and change. People discover their passions and purpose in life or lose hope in finding a job and fulfilling their dreams.
The sudden changes and new environment of campus life motivate youth to leave behind parts of their past to mature into an adult. This process is a normal part of maturing.
However, leaving behind one\’s home can result in loss of faith. The Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs found in their 2012 survey on millennial values that many college students turn away from the religion of their upbringing. It found that, \”while only 11% of Millennials were religiously unaffiliated in childhood, one-quarter (25%) currently identify as unaffiliated, a 14-point increase. Catholics and white mainline Protestants saw the largest net losses due to Millenials\’ movement away from their childhood religious affiliation.\”
Thus, my parents and their friends had reason to be concerned about my choice in school. Yet, the aghast glares and whispered warnings mostly confused me. After all, those same couples happily sent their children to state schools. Was it worse going to a nondenominational school than a public one? If I left my Catholic faith, wouldn\’t it be better if I remained Christian?
I know now that I made the right choice for education. My classes challenge me academically, while professors encourage my work. Despite my introverted nature and nervousness around others, making friends has been a healing and fun process. Best of all, my faith has grown so much stronger.
That is right; my Catholic faith has flourished at a nondenominational university. Not everyone would have this same experience. For some, a Catholic college brings them closer to Christ. Others find great fulfillment in standing up for their faith at a state school.
Yet, Catholics should not discount Christian schools. Just because they are not our exact same denomination does not mean that these institutions are against us. Believe it or not, we have more similarities than differences with other Christians.
Opening up our minds will remind us to not judge our brothers and sisters in Christ. Although we disagree on many issues, we still are aiming for the same goal of honoring and loving God while serving others.
These are some of the benefits I have received by being a Catholic at a nondenominational university.
1. Deciding what I truly believe – Growing up, I took what my parents taught me for granted. We confessed to a priest because the Church said to do so. The Eucharist was the Body of Christ, and you should never question that. The seven sacraments were easier to remember than the pledge of allegiance. Going to school at university that did not teach certain elements of my faith helped me to think about my beliefs.
In doing so, I came to deeper appreciate the faith I was raised in and make it my own choice to follow.If we do not question and explore truth, we do not come to truly dedicate ourselves to it. In the article \”How God Invites Us to Grow: Six Stages of Faith Development\” by Rev. Richard J. Sweeney, this stage is described as personal faith: \”The passage to a personally \”owned\” faith rarely occurs without significant tension and struggle.\”
2. Bonding with fellow Christians – One of my favorite quotes is from The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien. An elf named Haldir states, \”Indeed in nothing is the power of the Dark Lord more clearly shown than in the estrangement that divides all those who still oppose him.\”This is sometimes how I feel with the other Christian denominations.
Differences often seem to tear us apart and cause disunity. Instead of realizing our shared faith in God, we sneer at their literal translation of each Scripture while they gasp at our devotion to Mary. This judgement and tension causes rifts between our siblings in Christ. Yes, the Catholic Church has the full truth, but other denominations are still part of the body of Christ.
Pope Francis recently urged this message, as reported by Catholic News Service. He stated in a video, \”Pray to the Lord that He will unite us all. Let\’s move forward, we are brothers; let us give each other that spiritual embrace and allow the Lord to complete the work he has begun. Because this is a miracle; the miracle of unity has begun.\”
3. Deeper study of the Bible – Most Protestants study the Bible deeper than Catholics. This statement is not always true but is what I have commonly encountered and what people tend to believe. Since Vatican II, the Church has encouraged more personal prayer including reading of Scripture.
As a young child, I heard and read much of the Bible. However, digging consistently into God\’s Word by analyzing passages and researching the historical culture has brought a new awareness of my faith. Maybe finding out the Greek root of a word seems trivial, but this type of learning has deepened my understanding of Jesus and the Jews. Now I can better apply the Bible to my life.
4. New applications to daily life - In one of my classes, the professor had us practice going to the Holy Spirit for an examination of the conscience. With divine help, we would realize what struggles to work on with God\’s strength. Every sin might not come to our attention immediately. Instead, the Holy Spirit would show us what areas to focus on at the present. God knows what we can handle.
Confession suddenly made so much more sense to me. Before, I had tried to remember each sin and fretted over what I might have forgotten. In the end, the sacrament left me miserable and guilt-ridden. Applying this concept from class has helped me to enter fully into Confession and leave feeling clean.
Again, I had learned similar ideas growing up like these wonderful examinations of the conscience from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. However, giving all of the power to God instead relying on my own memory brought a sense of peace.
People, even non-Christians, still question my choice of higher education. A Catholic going to a nondenominational school might be uncommon, but it does not need to be a shameful or unwise choice. My past few years have been filled with growth spiritual, mentally, and emotionally as I have deepened my faith and grown closer to my siblings in Christ.