College/My Life/Teen Life/Transitions The Only Catholic in the Room: Defending the Faith in College by Sarah McMahon Finally. High school is over and you are FREEEEEEEE! You did it! And maintained most of your sanity. Proud of you. You’ve conquered high school and now you are off to college. A time of freedom, good food, friends, and apologetics. No, not apologies. Apologetics. Defending your faith. I didn’t expect to be challenged in my faith as I confidently walked out of the safety of my high school and my hometown seeking a new adventure. I mean, I was going to a Catholic college where there would be an atmosphere of faith. Right? Wrong. Instead, my faith was challenged not only by other students, but even by professors. Sometimes it felt like I was the only Catholic in the room. It was the first time I had people really test my beliefs and get into arguments with me over faith. It was really hard for me when I was in those classes and circumstances to have the courage to speak up. I was so intimidated. Because what can you do when your friends tell you that your Church hates them? When you’re overwhelmed by the lack of Catholic community at your school? When even your theology professors aren’t sticking to Church teaching? Well, first don’t freak out and second, keep reading. Here are four other things I learned when I hit some unexpected bumps in my faith journey in college. 1. Remember you are not alone. Your youth minister doesn’t stop being your youth minister when you go to college. Ask questions. Ask them for resources, or to explain Church teaching to you, and to pray for you. I probably called my youth minister once a week at one point. He offered great advice and wisdom and really helped me learn how to defend my faith. Not only can your youth minister help you but it’s really important to find someone at your school who can guide you. It took me until the end of my sophomore year to find a spiritual director but when I did it made all the difference. It has been so important in my spiritual growth and I highly recommend that you surround yourself with good mentors. 2. Know when to speak up and when to stay silent. It’s important to recognize that while your words can bring people understanding, they can also drive people away. When my professor was teaching the class crazy stuff about the Church I had to learn which points to contest her on and which ones to leave alone. I knew that if I raised my hand to challenge everything our professor said, my classmates would get annoyed. So, I tag-teamed with some classmates and we took turns asking questions, challenging her statements, and staying silent. It worked out really well and people in the class respected us and what we had to say. Don’t shy away from defending your faith because you are scared or you don’t know the teaching well enough.The best way to learn how to defend your faith is to speak up. Do your research and trust that God will provide the words you need. 3. If you don’t like something, change it. I didn’t feel like there was a Catholic community at all when I first got to college. I didn’t even know where to look for the friends I was seeking. Then, I started to go to daily Mass and that was where our Catholic community started to grow. But we wanted more. My roommate and I started a women’s group and we have great sisterhood. But it didn’t happen overnight. It took time, work, dedication, and most of all prayer. Don’t be scared to go out of your comfort zone. Invite people to dinner after Mass, start some praise and worship on campus, or get a group together to pray the rosary. All these things will help to foster the community at your school and even if you don’t feel qualified to lead them, God will give you what you need. 4. Pray, have fun, remember who you are. I heard a priest say this recently at a Mass and he was so right. Prayer is absolutely essential. It is important for you to recognize that your relationship with God takes work. It has to be cultivated. And that happens through prayer. Get into a routine. Go to the chapel, Mass as often as possible (definitely every Sunday, but more if you can), and even schedule when you will go to reconciliation. Also, remember to have fun! Choosing not to go out and party doesn’t mean that you won’t have fun in college. Many college campuses plan activities as alternatives to drinking. My school has free movies and events every weekend. One time, I even went rollerblading in our events room. I also live close to a big city so my friends and I sometimes get dinner and explore new parts of the city. Even going into my senior year there’s still so much I want to do. And of course, don’t forget whose you are. You are God’s creation and His beloved child. That is your identity. That is something eternal. When you are questioning why you are at your school, or chose to study what you did, or who your friends are, or who you are, rest in the truth that your identity is unchanging. God will always claim you as His beloved. College is such a wonderful time and it goes super fast. I can’t believe it’s already my senior year. If I could change anything it would be that I didn’t enjoy it enough as it was happening. Make sure you take in the little things and really try to be present where your feet are. Don’t worry too much about what you’re going to say or do when your faith is challenged. Just be prepared and remember, God’s got this. Seriously, you’re great and it’s incredible that you have accomplished all that you have. Enjoy freshman year!