Oh college. The words fun, freedom, and adulthood probably come to mind when you think about the adventure you’re about to embark on. For those just entering college, get ready. Dorm life is very different from living in an upstairs room at your parents’ – with your meals made and an early bedtime. We like to be honest with you, so here it is – living in the dorm and keeping your Catholic lifestyle and morals will be hard. We wouldn’t leave you stranded, so here’s some advice for both guys and girls on how to keep your integrity inside your residence hall. We asked Megan and Luke Reetz, a couple from Colorado who have both served on university campuses as Catholic missionaries, to share their wisdom for men and women.
What to Expect
Luke – Living in a dorm brings a lot of different young people into close proximity with one another. At secular universities the opposite sex might be your next-door neighbor (who you may have to avoid on the way to the shower at 8am). Your roommate might impose his lifestyle on you by having his girlfriend over for the night and forcing you to either leave or “deal with it.” This happened to a couple friends of mine. What would you say or do?
Some guys will decorate their rooms with pictures or posters women who… have some issues with modesty. It took courage for a Catholic guy in the freshmen dorm one year to confront their friend and charitably demand he take down the pictures – for the respect of others and himself.
Megan – As women, the pressures of the world are so great in college. It all happens to the most intense degree in the dorms. Women feel the pressure to dress immodestly, act catty, drink underage and in excess, and sleep with their boyfriend. Women want to be attractive; we love attention and feeling loved. It can be easy to surrender in order to be liked and fulfill these longings. It takes a woman of strong character to stand against it all.
Even in positions of leadership within dorm life, the secular ways of the world will be imposed on you. A girl at the University of Massachusetts who was the R.A. (Residence Assistant) on her floor was “required” to keep condoms in her room for any of her hall residents who might ask for them. She politely refused to do so. Most women worry what others will think of them if they refuse to give in to the pressure and dare to say “no.”
Living Your Faith Day to Day
Luke - With freedom comes responsibility and a balanced life of prayer and the sacraments. Ultimately, everything good that comes from our faith flows from the Mass. Make a goal to attend Mass one other day than Sunday. Bring a guy or two with you and over time you will have fostered solid friendships. Foster your relationship with Jesus in the sacrament of confession. Nothing brings greater clarity and peace of mind right before a brutal mid-term than the graces offered in the sacraments of the Eucharist and Confession. Find the chapel and you will find a great community within it. It will save your life. I promise.
Megan - The first thing to do the moment you step onto campus is get involved with the Newman Center or Catholic Campus Ministry. If there isn’t anything offered on your campus, find the nearest Catholic Church and what times Mass and Confession are (and how you will get there). Without community or support – let alone the Sacraments – our faith grows faint and the flame can even die out. It may take heroic effort to get to the church, but it’s worth it! Start talking to other students on your floor and you’ll find out who’s Catholic and who would want to go to Mass with you. It helps to have a friend to keep you accountable as the temptation to sleep in and skip class gets stronger and stronger, and late study nights and papers pile up. The more full you are of Christ, the more equipped you’ll be to endure persecution for the faith and radiate Him to others.
Being an Evangelist
Luke - It can be intimidating to share your faith anywhere, let alone in an environment that is hostile towards religion in general. However, no method has proven to be more effective or more practical that just sharing your life with someone. If what we have in Christ and the Church is so great, then we should desire to share that with others. Start by finding that guy in your class who could use a good friend and brighter philosophy on life. Put simply by Mother Teresa, “Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.”
Others will often become more open and less dismissive in observing the authentic life you live for Christ. Heck, you might even be able to invite them to an event at the Catholic Newman Center or Sunday Mass as you develop your friendship. Paul says, “With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well” (1 Thes 2:8). Christ invested his life in twelve, why can’t we find two or three?
Megan - There are many small ways to share your faith in what can be a hostile environment. One girl I knew had a picture of Mother Teresa in her room and it sparked conversations with people who saw it. It opened opportunities for her to share her experiences of volunteering with the Sisters of Charity. She also frequently invited others to Mass with her, and knew the importance of always being ready to “give a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). The more you educate yourself about the Catholic faith, the more you will be able to answer people’s questions well. A great way of doing this is joining a Catholic Bible Study or finding resources to start one yourself.
As women, I’ve found it can be easy to find natural, un-imposing ways to share the faith. Girls love to talk, have coffee dates, give each other manicures – there’s no reason you can’t talk about God while doing these things! Questions will often come up on their own when people see you’re normal and fun, but that you live out the faith in every aspect of your life. They can’t help be drawn to Christ within you! One student, after observing his faithful Catholic friend in college for a while, approached him and said, “You have something I don’t have: joy. How do I get it?” Christ said, “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.”
Just because it’s going to be hard, doesn’t mean it’s impossible. It takes strength and grace, as Megan and Luke shared, to live out your Catholic faith at college every day. Is it worth it? Absolutely. Fulfillment won’t be found in sinful living – but rather in holding onto your integrity and living daily for the one who daily pours himself out in love for you. We’re praying for you. Stay strong in Christ.