Why did I start this blog? Well, why does anybody start a blog? My first ever post back in the misty distance of November 2015 (my goodness, 2015?!) proclaims with all the confidence a freshman can muster that this blog will be a place for me to share stories, adventures, and advice during this four year journey through the Joint Degree Programme. So far, that aim has been pretty well met. However, in addition to the academic, social, logistical, adventurous, and culinary pieces of my college experience which fill these webpages, something else has long been under-represented…
In the past three years, the incessant undercurrent of my experiences has been a great journey of faith. The Lord has worked so powerfully in these years to continually bring me closer to Him and His Church in faith and practice. I could never thank Him enough for the incredible opportunity He has given me to receive this unique and enriching college education, but in the midst of that I have been even more blessed to see Him instructing me and so many of my friends and neighbours in His ways of holiness. God wants to use all of our experiences to draw us to Himself, if only we would let Him! I can’t lay any claim to being any kind of expert on prayer, theology, or spirituality, but then who could? God’s ways are infinite: we will never be “experts” on Him because He is far greater than anything our minds can comprehend. What I do know as a 21 year-old college student who is trying her best to live as a daughter of God in this life is that Christ has called each of us to share in His mission to be the light to the world revealing His salvation with the knowledge and talents we have received (Mt 15.14). Now, in grateful recognition of His invitation to share in that mission and salvation, I offer this new portion of my blog as my little illumination from the lessons He has given this bookish student.
At the beginning of the past school year, in one of the weekly talks held in the Canmore Chaplaincy I heard a speaker define the ideal “university” as a place where students can access the instruction, discussion, and personal support they need to form a unified understanding of the world in which we live. He adapted that definition from the writings of Oxford academic and cardinal Blessed John Henry Newman—the namesake of all of the Newman centers found on campuses across the U.S. Throughout the year, those words have ruminated in my memory as I thought and prayed about academic challenges and wondered what exactly would come of these four years.
Today’s secularized universities often make it their mission to bar any mention of God from the classroom. I have frequently found myself among the hundreds of Christian students who cringe at hearing professors speak slightingly of the truths of our faith which we hold as the very heart of existence. In the classroom, Christ’s life, death, and resurrection may be treated as historical events, but the suggestion that they were really divine mysteries breaking into human history to change its course for eternity is out of the question. The universal Church can be discussed as a social construct, but to consider it as the supernatural Union of Creator with Creature is again out of the question. Outside of the few remaining Christian universities and theology departments, it is rare for students today to receive instruction which integrates spiritual and moral lessons with academic lessons.
I was immediately struck by the secularism which dominated campus culture from my first days of college. In high school, God sparked in my heart a deeper desire for knowledge and love of Him. My family and I had always been practicing Catholics, but I began to become more engaged in my faith by saying short prayers before going to bed each night and reading a few passages of scripture or the writings of the saints during breakfast before starting each day. Since then, my relationship with Christ, love of His Mysteries, and devotion to Him in prayer has ever increased. When I found myself in an unfamiliar environment away from my family home where I had been given the gift of faith from my parents, I knew that I would need some extra support to continue my very gradual spiritual journey.
Thanks be to God for university chaplaincies—I truly don’t know what we would do without them! While many students drift away from their faith during college, chaplaincies provide amazing support and resources for students who long to receive the spiritual instruction and support which are truly necessary for the development of the unified understanding of the world described by Newman. I know I am not alone in saying that the decisions to join CCM at William and Mary my freshman year and CathSoc at St Andrews the year after that were the best I ever made. On campuses often seething with stress, dissatisfaction, empty self-indulgence, and broken relationships, where else can young people find true hope besides in the fellowship of their brothers and sisters and the arms of their Heavenly Father?
I have benefited boundlessly from the joy and love which flow out of university ministries and friendships founded on shared religious conviction, and I hope that this new facet of The Unconventional Collegiate will help others gain those blessings throughout their own studies. Watch this space for more of my reflections on how God is working even in the college life and how students can welcome Him as the greatest of teachers and friends!