Young Adults and Faith After High School

I — or rather some former students and friends of mine — are going to offer a series of posts on how they are experiencing their faith life in college after Catholic school — in this case, Jesuit High School in New Orleans.  Since I taught several Senior theology classes, I have been able to keep in touch with many of these excellent men, and I would like you to listen to them as we all reflect on the future Church.  According to recent polls, after the sexual abuse crisis and the shortage of priests, the lack of participation of our youth ranks third on the list of greatest concerns of the lay faithful. So I think we should listen to what they have to say.

I sent out the following list of questions:

1.  Where do you go to college? What year are you?

2.  Please describe your current faith life (regular mass, daily prayer, involvement in clubs, etc. or lack thereof)

3.  Did Jesuit prepare you well for a life of faith in college? 

4.  Since leaving Jesuit High School, have you become more or less committed to your faith? 

5.  Since leaving Jesuit, have you become more or less adult and mature in your faith? 

6.  What could Jesuit High School do better to form you in the Catholic Faith?

So far, well over thirty have responded and the number keeps climbing.  I could have asked better questions; I sent out the survey on a whim.  But be that as it may, they have offered some wonderful answers, so please listen.  You may respond, and if you want to respond to a particular young man, go ahead and post and I will alert him to your post. All posts will be anonymous.

I will post 4 at a time.  Enjoy as you read, and again, I (and they) very much welcome your comments.

***

1.  Sophomore at Auburn University

2.  I attend Sunday Mass as often as possible and am a part of the Catholic group on campus, however I do not participate too much in that.  I have been involved in multiple service projects on campus as well.

3.  I believe so.  I feel that someone outside of yourself can only lead you in your faith so far and you have to pick up a large part and do it yourself.  Jesuit supplied me with the tools I needed to be successful in my faith as an individual and I am better from that.

4.  This is a tough question because I think that the next question also ties into it.  Have I committed more time since high school?  Probably no, just because of the busy schedule that I run but I have had to rely on it more.  By this I mean I have been faced with bigger problems and moral decisions than I had to face in high school and my faith has played a big part in my decision making.

5.  I think my answer above covers this question as well.  I would say I have definitely become more mature in my faith due to the harder challenges that face me today.

6.  In order to answer this best, let me tell you what I think Jesuit did best.  I thoroughly enjoy the relationships that I formed with some of the Jesuits on campus as well as the lay theology teachers.  I feel that these bonds help the student see that theology and faith happens outside the classroom and to me, that’s a big step for the student’s faith.

 ***

1. I am a Sophomore at Louisiana State University.

2. My current life of faith consists of occasional prayer and mass attendance.

3. I believe Jesuit prepared me in a way that helps me to understand that faith is an important aspect of my life. Faith is constantly present in my mind, and I attribute that to Jesuit High School. I have never had a fully committed life of faith, but I believe I am beginning to take the right steps to establishing a life of faith that I am content with.

4. Since leaving Jesuit I have become more committed to my faith. As stated before, my life of faith is still not perfect; however, I am confident I am taking the right steps.

5. Since leaving Jesuit, I have definitely become more mature in regards to my life of faith. I have reached the point in my life where I realize I have full control of my faith life. Jesuit High School has presented me with every aspect of the Catholic faith, and now it is my job to do what I want with that information.

6. I believe Jesuit could use more active learning in the classroom. Fill the room with open discussions about faith, instead of making students memorize religious terms and teachings.

***

1.  I’m at second year at UVA.

2.  As of now, I have pretty much no faith life.  I don’t attend church or pray, nor am I in any faith-based organizations.

3-5.  While at Jesuit my faith was pretty strong, and I feel like it certainly prepared me to continue my faith if I had chosen. I still feel as though I’m much more educated than most of my peers in the faith, I have just chosen not to follow it. Even in my senior year, my spiritual life was less strong than earlier at Jesuit, but it has completely died out since.

6.  As far as what Jesuit could do better, I honestly have no idea. I think it was more of a personal decision to quit on my faith life, and not a lack of a religious education.

***

1.  I am a sophomore at Notre Dame.

2.  I attend mass on the vast majority of Sundays, I probably pray too little on a daily basis, and I am involved in a number of service organizations through Notre Dame including Circle K and another organization which focuses on work in the Gulf Coast (though I suppose these are not technically religious organizations).

3-5.  Since leaving Jesuit I believe that I have become more committed to my faith and much more mature in my faith, but this process has not been an easy one. I expected, going to Notre Dame, to be in an incredibly Catholic environment, and this has been largely true. Still, I find myself in an environment in which I am exposed daily to people with very different opinions and philosophies from my own. Many ideas which I used to take for granted have been challenged, whether in my classes or by friends, and I have been forced to deeply reexamine my own positions and the thought behind those positions.

4.  I think Jesuit does a good job of teaching the Catholic faith and its positions to students. I do, however, think that Jesuit is seriously lacking in one area of its religious education. By the time I graduated from Jesuit I feel I had (and still have) a very clear understanding of the Catholic faith. What I did not were many of the most commonly posed criticisms to Catholicism. Except for one of my theology classes senior year, I was never exposed to such people as Nietzsche, Dawkins, Harris, Freud, or any number of other famous writers and thinkers that disagree with the Church on fundamental issues. Not having been exposed to these people, and therefore not having been exposed to the Church’s arguments against these people’s positions, I was somewhat taken aback at hearing so many different people disagree with the Church’s core teaching. I realize that a course addressing these issues might be one that is incredibly challenging and attractive to a fairly limited number of students, but I think the benefits which this instruction would provide could be invaluable. If Jesuit wants to improve its religious education, it should aim to better arm its students against those philosophies an arguments that come into direct conflict with those of the Church: for it is certain that students heading into college will encounter these often disturbing ideas, whether they are prepared or not.

One Response to Young Adults and Faith After High School

  1. Faith is one thing, morals another, and, on the evidence of their replies, I don’t think that you (who ARE you anyway? ‘Twould help if you told us, huh?) or the students you queried make that distinction. Your last poster talks about “Catholic positions.” Unless I miss my guess, he’s talking about the stance that the official Church is taking on certain moral positions. We cannot consider the men he cites, Nietzsche, Dawkins, Harris, Freud as taking positions against the faith as such. (Well, maybe Dawkins.)

    It is inevitable that when our kids go off to a university, even a Catholic university like Notre Dame, they will encounter arguments against so-called official Catholic moral teachings on things like birth control, abortion, the non-liceity of stem cell research. If they feel challenged by these ideas, then I suspect Jesuit High gave them a rather simple view of “the Catholic Church” that brooked no dissent. Did Jesuit High ever tell them that the pope is not the Church, or that we are all Church?

    According to Richard McBrien’s two-volume work, Catholicism, the Church’s faith-teachings come mainly from scripture. Its teachings about morals derive from reasoned applications of the first principle of the natural law, which is to do good and avoid evil. But what exactly is evil? McBrien says that’s a prudential decision made in conscience by the individuals who possess the most information about the circumstances of each case. And even then, the decisions are not easy. McBrien writes, “We Christians search for truth and for the genuine solutions of problems in collaboration with others and in fidelity to our consciences.” He quotes St. Thomas Aquinas. “Anyone upon whom the ecclesiastical authority, in ignorance of the true facts, imposes a demand that offends against his clear conscience, should perish in excommunication rather than violate his conscience.”

    So much that passes for Catholic teaching today in the U.S. (if we listen to our bishops) isn’t teaching at all, and does not encourage Catholics to “search for the genuine solutions of problems in collaboration with others and in fidelity to our consciences.” I wonder if Jesuit High in New Orleans is doing that? Or if it’s just teaching its kids that, to be a good Catholic, they should do and think what their bishop tells them to do and think?

    Robert Blair Kaiser, a Jesuit for ten years and still a Jesuit at heart…

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