Student Spiritual Life
Five Tips for Catholic Freshers
The first weeks of Uni will probably be the most exciting times you’ll ever experience. They can also be some of the most stressful. This is true especially for those who’ve been observing their Catholic faith before coming to Uni. You might feel anxious that you will be pressured to move away from your faith. If you feel you want to continue to be a Catholic when you begin at University, or maybe to explore your faith a bit more, here are a few tips that some people have found helpful.
1. Find your Catholic Chaplaincy (or Christian if there isn't a dedicated one)
Most chaplaincies are places of light and fun, offering plenty of openings for you to get involved. You can join music ministry groups, or get involved in social outreach, perhaps to the homeless or refugees. Of course, fewer than 20% of Freshers continue to be involved in things they sign up to, in the wild enthusiasm of Week 0! There will be lots of pressures on your faith; it’s easier to conform, to follow the crowd. The Chaplaincy can support you and give you strength, not least at regular Sunday Mass. You’ll also find lots of opportunities to learn new things about your faith.
2. Avoid the Catholic 'Ghetto'
Resist the temptation to immerse yourself in a wholly Catholic world. A student in London recently said that she had a wonderful life, going only to Catholic events –she could spend the entire week without interacting with any non-Catholics. But later on she felt she had not really been to University. University is when we stretch our minds, challenge all our understandings. Getting to know people who do not share your faith will stretch you and that’s good. You’ll grow.
3. Be Yourself
St. Catherine said, “be who you are, and you will set the world on fire”. There will be a huge amount of pressure on you to present a certain image of yourself to the new people you will meet. You might not realise that it’s happening. Or you might realise and inwardly be a bit embarrassed by it, wishing you had made another choice. What can you do about it? Draw yourself gently back to the idea that nobody else in this uni or lecture hall, has quite the same blend of talents and personality as you have, and you’re great!
4. Make Space For You
Friendships can form very quickly and intensely in these first few weeks. Sometimes these instant friendships last for life. Others fall apart as early as Reading Week in the first term, for many reasons. That can hurt. How do you avoid being hurt? PROTECT YOUR PRECIOUS “ME-TIME”: it’ll take some time to get into a rhythm but maybe you could try setting aside a few moments, at the end of each day, to reflect on your day, the happy memories and the hurtful ones. The Examen Prayer is a great tool for this, used by many people each day, for a more abundant life.
5. Put Yourself in God's Hands
another great saint, Ignatius of Loyola, once said “Few souls understand what God would accomplish in them if they were to abandon themselves unreservedly to Him and if they were to allow His grace to mould them accordingly“. One way to make that real in your own life is to begin each day with a brief Morning Offering, soon after you’ve woken up. It can be as simple as making the Sign of the Cross – that’s enough! Or you could spend a little more time, in a prayer like this one:
“Here I am before you, Lord, at the beginning of this day. I want to remind myself of how your wounded heart speaks to me of God's love for the world. I am about to walk out the door into that world. Help me to recognise you in the people I meet today and the situations I find myself in. Remind me to turn to you in the touch moments, when there is pressure on me to do or say something that contradicts what I know to be true and good. Come to me in the weak and the vulnerable and help me to see you in them. And tonight, at the end of the day, help me to see where you have been in my day, so that I may be a better disciple tomorrow.” Then your evening reflection will be richer – you can ask, “how did God come into my life today, through which people and what events; and how did I respond?”