It's not easy to be a Catholic. It's hard enough when there isn't a new scandal in the news. It's frankly nigh near impossible even with your best efforts and attitude. Yet, the reality is we are made for greatness, made for friendship and union with God, made for Love.
Over the course of my ministry, I have identified four types of Catholic college students. This list is by no means exhaustive. Rather, I hope this list will challenge each of you to assess honestly where you are in your walk with the Lord and to make the necessary steps to move forward.
The four types of Catholic you meet in college are: 1) the None, 2) the earnest skeptic, 3) the hesitant believer, and 4) the missionary disciple.
When asked, the None will tell you, often politely, they believe in nothing, follow no particular religion, or, if they are particularly kind, they are a former Catholic. It's not unusual for the None to have attended a Catholic grade school and/or high school. The None might or might not recognize a higher power; they are much more likely to see their lives as fine just the way they are. They don't have animus toward the Church, God, or even the believer. They just don't see a compelling reason to care. The idea of conversion, universal truth, the natural law are nice ideas, but it's more important you do you. Lastly, the None knows enough about the Church to disagree, but doesn't really care enough to explore any ideas that might conflict with his or her worldview. For the None, a common phrase is "You do you," or "Because I can" or "As long as nobody gets hurt."
The Earnest Skeptic
At 3 am after a few beers, the earnest skeptic is ready to talk about God. When invited to join a small group Bible study, go to Mass, or attend a retreat, the Earnest Skeptic will express an initial desire and might even sign up... then never show or always have a convenient, plausible excuse or do a complete reversal and ridicule you for having a faith. Though this person desires to change and recognizes a hunger and thirst deep in his soul, the Earnest Skeptic usually prioritizes the now over the good or the eternal. In other words, whatever is possible now is more important than anything better that could come along. If ever you get the chance to talk with an earnest skeptic about faith, they will engage thoughtfully while expressing real doubt about anything universal, anything that would challenge someone else's deeply held convictions. Consequently, though they were raised Catholic, the earnest skeptic hold most major claims of the Church suspect.
The Hesitant Believer
Every Sunday, the Hesitant Believer is in the pews. The Hesitant Believer, when asked, will identify as Catholic with a qualifier like "but I'm not that serious." In a difficult time, the Hesitant Believer might pray, but otherwise prayer is, at best, irregular or nonexistent. The Hesitant Believer shows up to a small group Bible study, but doesn't say much. The Hesitant Believer might even lead a small group or be in discipleship, but feels completely unworthy. Moreover, the Hesitant Believer can point to moments of profound grace and blessing, but the Hesitant Believer regularly struggles to understand or believe why God would continue to love them because of regular and/or recent struggles with serious sin and brokenness. The Hesitant Believer is struggling, but deeply desires more. When called into mission, into discipleship, into greatness, the Hesitant Believer moves, but each at their own pace.
The Missionary Disciple
The two telltale signs of a missionary disciple on a college campus are (1) honesty about imperfection and the need for God's grace and (2) a life of prayer -- the absolute priority of Divine Intimacy. Just as importantly, they are normal. They are in the dorms, members of a fraternity or sorority, at the games, up late at night with friends. The Missionary Disciple strives to make everything in their lives meaningful, intentional, other-oriented from prayer to conversations to study groups. The Missionary Disciple walks with others because of love. The Missionary Disciple desires to be in your life at a cost and with no gain for themselves because you are worth it. The Missionary Disciple sees everything -- from sin, to moments of extraordinary grace -- as an opportunity for conversion, for grace, for redemption, for becoming the saint you were created to be.
This list was not meant to be exhaustive. There are many types of college students, after all. My purpose in composing and sharing this reflection is to both challenge and affirm. Challenge you to more, to greatness, to becoming a missionary disciple. Affirm you in God's love; no matter where you are, you are loved beyond measure by Your Heavenly Father, you are His beloved son or daughter.
To be clear, my goal is to form each of you into a missionary disciple for the building up of the Kingdom of God here on campus. Your work and my work are not, however, complete here on campus. You are called to go out from this pace as a missionary disciple to another parish, city, state after graduation to continue in your vocation to change the world.
Let's get to work.
Fr. Patrick is a Dominican priest and the Campus Minister.