Ok, so I’ve gotten some questions from readers asking about the specifics of how exactly to do this—that is, how is one to go about being “young and Catholic” in the world today?
Below is a battle plan of sorts…
1.) Regular Mass and Adoration
The non-denoms have it right when they say that relationship with Christ is what your faith has to be grounded on. But you won’t get there if you don’t make it a point to schedule time with Him. For this reason the Church makes it mandatory for all of us to go to mass every Sunday and on Holy Days of Obligation—but mass is offered every day of the week. Sure, I have friends with whom I only check in for an hour or so a week, but the people closest to me in my life I talk to on a daily basis. It’s true that we can pray to Christ whenever we want and wherever we are (and we should!). It’s also true that you’ll never be more united with Christ than in those moments after you receive Him in the Most Blessed Sacrament. How close of a relationship do you want?
Reality Check: Many of us young people can’t make it to mass on a daily basis (especially if we’re not at a Catholic school or do not have a particularly vibrant Catholic parish nearby). To those I say first of all to still try. If you have trouble getting up every morning at 6:30 to make it to 7:30am mass, make it a goal to go to daily mass one day out of the week. Christ will honor your sacrifice of sleep. If you can’t make it to mass and receive Christ in the Eucharist, make a spiritual communion instead. And find out the hours of your parish’s Blessed Sacrament (or Adoration) Chapel. Make it a habit to spend at least an hour in there a week.
2.) Regular Confession
We’re talking once every two weeks. …Seriously? Yes. I know the typical rule of thumb nowadays is once a month, but I personally find myself needing to go more often than that. And for me, it’s much easier to answer the question “Did I go last week” than, “Have I gone yet this month?” Let’s face it: we all do little things that hurt our relationship with Christ on a daily basis. What kind of friend would you be if you didn’t say, “I’m sorry”? And besides, who couldn’t use more grace?
Reality Check: A lot of us are afraid of confession. It’s not that we can’t do it every two weeks, it’s that we don’t want to. But I promise you, after the first time you go to confession saying, “It has been two weeks since my last confession,” you will want to come back the next time being able to say the same thing. Make it a habit and you won’t be sorry. No one regrets having his or her sins forgiven.
3.) Spiritual Reading
If you’re not reading the Bible, or something written by a saint, or a sound theologian of the Church, you’re going to find it difficult to grow in your faith. Our love for God grows the more we know about Him. Plus, reading will make that hour a week you’ve just committed to spend in the chapel go by that much quicker
Reality Check: Where am I to find said books? The Bible is a good place to start! The word of God in the very words of God—can’t get much closer than that! Other books I recommend: Introduction to the Devout Life (St. Francis De Sales), I Believe in Love, True Devotion to Mary, Confessions of Saint Augustine. Send me an email if you want more suggestions.
4.) Be honest.
If your friends don’t know that you’re Catholic, there’s a problem. You don’t have to turn into the crazy religious kid who doesn’t talk about anything but church, but do let your friends (religious and non-religious) know that you’re Catholic. Going to confession on Saturday? Invite your Catholic friends. Headed to Mass? Invite all of your friends (but politely let the non-Catholics know beforehand that communion is only for Catholics living in a state of grace). Speak up if someone bashes the Church, and maybe skip that frat party on Friday if you know that it will lead to you having to go to confession on Saturday.
Reality Check: It’s a little late for some of us. We have friends who already know us as someone we no longer want to be. Time for a heart-to-heart. Lay it all out on the table. Write a letter if you don’t think you’ll be able to say it all. Look, I know I used to do this or I told you I’ve done that, but I’m trying to change. I’m going to take my faith more seriously and as my friend I just wanted you to know what’s going on with me. But please: Don’t drop your friends for Jesus. He wouldn’t do that, and it’s not a very good witness to faith if your friends think you dropped them because they’re “not holy enough”. Now, you may find that you can no longer take part in certain activities and as a result some friendships may naturally fade away, but make it a point to be upfront and honest so it’s not perceived as a personal attack.
5.) No really, be honest.
You don’t have to pretend that you’re perfect now that you’ve decided to take your faith seriously. In fact if you do, no one will take you seriously. Your Facebook statuses do not all have to be about Jesus or taken from the Bible. You’re allowed to have a social life outside of church. You can listen to non-Christian music. Most importantly, when you mess up, own up. It’s human to struggle.
6.) Find Catholic friends
Like I said, don’t ditch your non-Catholic friends (so long as they’re not leading you into sin). But it’s important to have friends within the Church, too. Why? Because being a Catholic is difficult, and human beings are not able to survive without friends. Sometimes you just need the friend next to you in the pew, or someone to call when you don’t understand the Church’s teaching on something. They don’t need to have the right answer for you, but you need someone who understands the struggle, and who can encourage you in faith.
Reality Check: That’s nice, but what if the only other Catholics in your town have gray hair? Two suggestions: 1) Pray, pray, pray that God will send a friend your way. And keep an open heart—be a friend to everyone. He could be preparing your non-Catholic friend’s heart to receive His truth through your friendship. 2) Make friends with the old people! They’re probably awesome and full of stories and great advice.
7.) Do well in school (and/or at work).
Chances are good that God is not calling you to drop out of school and go off into the desert to pray. It could happen, but it’s more likely that He is calling you to live your life for Him right where you are: in school, at work, at the gym, etc. You really want to be a good witness of Christ? You have to strive for excellence in all that you do. Period. In other words: Do your homework. You may not be able to get straight A’s, but you better try your hardest. Offer your hard work up to Christ as a prayer. Jesus didn’t cut corners, so neither can we.
Reality Check: When asked, “Is it befitting a cardinal to ski?” Blessed JPII replied, “What is unbefitting a cardinal is to ski badly.” Seriously. You cannot be a Christian and settle for mediocrity.
Bottom Line? Do good, avoid evil. Easier said than done, of course. But be encouraged! You are not alone in the struggle.