You made it! You’ve graduated, and your future is a thrilling and terrifying mix of the known and the unknown. Maybe you’re leaving home for the first time, and moving away to go to college. Or maybe you’ve left college and now you’re headed out into the job market, or to a different university for grad school. Wherever you’re headed, it’s almost certain that your life is about to change in a very significant way.
Often when we move into new circles of friends, our old life gets shaken up a bit. Did you used to be the star athlete? The valedictorian? The most popular kid in school? Those titles are no longer guaranteed. But you know what won’t change? No matter where you go, you’ll still be a part of the Body of Christ, a member of the Catholic Church.
Yeah, yeah. That’s a given, right? You grew up going to Mass every week, and maybe sometimes on weekdays too. You know the Mass prayers well enough to say them in your sleep. Here’s the deal. When you go away, to college or out into the workplace (or possibly to your friend’s couch while you search for a job in the workplace) you may encounter people who don’t like Catholicism. Anti-Catholicism, or possibly even worse, ignorance of Catholic teaching, are real struggles in our society today.
As my Facebook feed fills with well-wishes and quotes from the graduation staple of “Oh, the Places You’ll Go.” I can’t help but think back on my graduation day, and wish that someone had told me a thing or two about what life would be like, as a Catholic Christian in a secular world. So here’s my gift to you, Graduate: 4 Things Every Catholic Grad Should Know about the Church
1. The Sacraments aren’t sexy. But sexy won’t get you to heaven.
It’ll be easy, as you move away from the nest of your parents’ home, or possibly the haven of a small Catholic college community, to lose contact with your faith. Oh, it won’t happen on purpose, or quickly. But if you aren’t vigilant, all the joy of your newfound freedom will keep you too busy to go to Mass, not to mention confession, prayer groups, and bible studies. It’s a lot more fun to stay up late on Saturday, then sleep in and watch football with your roommates than it is to walk out the door and head to Mass.
Here’s the thing. The Sacraments, especially Reconciliation and the Eucharist, aren’t here to ruin your Sunday. Really they’re not. They’re here because we need them. So do your sleeping in on Saturday, and get yourself to Mass on Sunday. If you hit the early one, you can even make it back before the good games are on.
2. Questioning Church teaching is allowed. Just make sure you’re asking the right people.
If you come from a Catholic school, or a strong Catholic family, you’ve likely been surrounded by faithful people who support the Church. This is great news! But there’s a chance that if everyone in your life is on board with Church teaching, no one has asked you the hard questions. The ones that make you go… “Hmm. I’m going to have to get back to you on that.”
It’s okay. It is absolutely okay to wonder about Church teachings and question why certain things are believed or practiced. This type of doubt is a healthy part of the growth of our faith. Even Pope Francis says so.
If one has the answers to all the questions – that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself. The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble.
But (you knew that “but” was coming, right?), make sure you are seeking answers from reliable sources. Consult your priest, read your Catechism (or Aquinas, or Augustine), check out Catholic Answers. Whatever you do, don’t take cues on Catholicism from the HuffPo or the New York Times, or any other mainstream media outlet for that matter.
Church teaching makes sense. Ask and it shall be opened unto you. Seek and you shall find.
3. The Church doesn’t hate anyone. Accepting behavior does not equal love.
This one’s a doozy. Let’s all take a deep breath here.
You already know that the Catholic Church sets itself apart from the secular world in many areas of controversy. Same sex marriage, abortion, contraception, just to name a few. Just as you probably had a loving parent set rules for you, so too does our Church teach us the truest and straightest path to heaven. Sometimes, just like when we were small, we may chafe at these rules. We might think that we know better than our mothers, or better than Mother Church.
But your mom could no more change the laws of gravity or the rules of the road to make the toddler-you happy than the Church can change the truth about our humanity to suit our physical or emotional desires.
Some people in your life will call the Church’s guidance hate. That’s because they, and our society in general, are confused by the exact nature of love. Love is willing the good of another, and sometimes that’s difficult, and often it’s hard to explain. Respond to those people with love, and with the assurance that the Catholic Church hates exactly no one. The Church wants all of us safe in Her folds, especially those who are struggling with or who are lost to sin.
Being Catholic isn’t easy, not by a long stretch. But in the long run, sticking with a Church whose ultimate goal is to get everyone to heaven is going to be a lot more fruitful and a heck of a lot more fulfilling than jumping on a bandwagon that makes you popular.
4. Church teachings are infallible. Church members are not
Sometimes, in conversations with non-Catholics, or former Catholics, you will hear something like, “Well, I could never be Catholic (anymore), because look at all those awful priests/the Inquisition/the Crusades/etc.”
On the surface, those people have a point. What is a Church that has a bunch of sinners for members? It’s a human Church, that’s what. You will not find perfection under the roof of a Catholic Church, except in the perfect and true Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Everyone else comes to Jesus to be healed of their sinfulness, not because they lack it.
But here’s a related problem: many people have been hurt by Catholics, some of them even in the name of the Church. Even more people are misinformed about Catholicism and it’s true meaning. Pray for them. Love them. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you to the right actions: does this person need you to tell them the Truth, or does he/she simply need the love of Christ, given in whatever way you can offer it?
So that’s it, grads. On behalf of the Catholic Church, I wish you a heartfelt congratulations for all your accomplishments. May your future endeavors, whatever they may be, bring you always closer to the heart of Christ.