Listers, college students are not only searching for jobs. Underneath all of the career recruitment and empty promises of radical individualism and liberation, there is a restlessness that resides in their hearts. Speak to many who live and work on college campuses across the country, and they will tell you that there is an uneasy anxiety amidst the student population. Students are like sheep without a shepherd, searching for true meaning and authentic relationships in their lives. These young men and women are also searching for something much greater and they do not even know it. They are in search of Christ and His Church.
So how can we, as faithful Catholics, bring the love of Christ and the beauty of our faith to our peers? St. Peter’s List offers four ways of evangelizing on college campuses:
1. Start with the Beautiful
Beauty is non-threatening. It breaks into our lives without our even noticing. It is captivating and awe-inspiring. Anyone can gaze upon the beauties of nature and be left speechless. Beauty has a way of transcending the human experience, moving our souls to recognize something beyond ourselves. Beauty is also able to galvanize the heart and mind in ways in which other forms of evangelization are incapable.
Thankfully, Holy Mother Church provides us with some of the greatest beauties the world has ever known. It is time that we unlock the treasures of our faith ranging from art, architecture, literature, and music. Throughout the past 2,000 years Catholicism has flooded the world with beauty, and we must show others this positive impact of our faith. Above all, the greatest contribution of beauty offered by the Church is the liturgy. The Mass is heaven on earth. Its beauty is indeed divine and we should not rob ourselves of dignified and beautiful worship. Unfortunately, our generation has matured in an age in which the liturgy has been abused, and many times these abuses have led to ugly liturgies. This has caused widespread disinterest in the liturgy and we must reclaim its beauty. Too often we are bombarded with things that are contrary to beauty and the Mass offers us a glimpse of our true home: heaven.
2. Witness Through Life & Community of Friends
“Preach the Gospel always, and when necessary use words” - so goes the famous saying of St. Francis of Assisi. The words of this great medieval saint still speak to us today. The joy that is shared amongst young men and women who are living their faith in a culture that is hostile to it is perhaps one of the greatest and most powerful witnesses to the Gospel. As another famous Francis, His Holiness Pope Francis, stated, “Christians are ready to proclaim the Gospel because they can’t hide the joy that comes from knowing Christ.”1 This joy of our faith must radiate to all of our friendships and activities on college campuses.
College is a time when friendships are built. We are all in search of friends that truly care for the good of the other. We must build a culture and community of friendship on campus that is deeply rooted in our Catholic faith. This does not mean that we become enslaved by our faith or live a form of lay-clericalism; rather, friendships rooted in Christ free us to care for one another truly and enjoy the ‘“unseriousness” of our lives. Belloc said it best: “Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, there is always laughter and good red wine.” Let us celebrate our faith and enjoy the victory of Christ on the Cross. Create events, parties, and activities around the liturgical calendar. Have celebrations on the feast of great saints, invite friends to Mass, host a barbecue. Whatever it may be, if you build up a Catholic community based on authentic friendships and joy, people will flock to it. Tap into groups such as the Knights of Columbus or Catholic Daughters of America to host events.
3. Articulate Catholic Teaching
In this world of false idols and pseudo-truths, young men and women hunger for truth in their lives. Christ is the truth that will set them free. He is the One they are searching for and His truth is held by Holy Mother Church and her teachings. Let us then “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet 3:15). We must bring our views to the classroom, invite speakers to give lectures, and start reading groups. Build your own community of learning. Catholicism contains an intellectual history that surpasses every other entity in the history of the world. We must unlock this beautiful tradition for those who are searching for the Truth.
Finally, do not hesitate to defend the Church against a group of peers or professors in the classroom. Many times people haven’t even heard of a true defense of the Church or the answers to the many issues that she is attacked for holding. More often than not, people will respect and even be surprised by the Church’s answers to these questions.
Mother Theresa, Saint Dominic, Pope Francis… why do these holy men and women capture the hearts and attention of the world? No matter what time period or culture, people are drawn to works of charity and mercy. We must practice what we preach. Inviting friends to participate in works of mercy and charity will turn even the hardest of hearts into living flesh. Serving food to the homeless, volunteering at a crisis pregnancy center, or building a place of shelter for those in need are all practical examples of Christian charity.
However, we must never lose sight of those on the “existential” peripheries. Those who do not know Christ are truly the poorest among us. It is also a work of charity to bring Christ into their lives. We have a duty to help those who are confused about the Church and reject her teachings. Clarifying what the Church stands for — and why — is also an act of charity for those who are outside of Her life-renewing sacraments.
Conclusion The restlessness experienced during these college years often leads students to search for something deeper in their lives. As the great Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. said, “College exists so that we are freed by knowing the relation between “Veritas” and “Logos,” between “Cosmos” and our minds, between the what is and the “I am.”2 Catholicism is all-encompassing. It permeates our whole life, not in a way that binds us, but in a way that frees us toward the good our community, and our friends. Let us share this great gift with those around us.
St. Thomas Aquinas, patron of students, pray for us!
Louis Cona is an undergraduate at Georgetown University studying Government and Philosophy. He serves and coordinates the Traditional Latin Mass on campus and is an active member of the Georgetown Knights of Columbus. He is also the author of the SPL list 4 Ways to Save your Soul on a College Campus.