This week, like many others her age, my niece and only godchild heads off to college. It is hard to believe this time has come. As the saying goes, “they grow up too fast.” I remember her informing me on her first day of kindergarten that the “big” kids on the bus said “bad words.” Needless to say I was disturbed by this contamination of her five year-old innocence. As she begins her college career I have some of the same feelings, although now it seems more appropriate to be concerned with the new outside influences she faces. Her parents, like most, have raised an exceptional young woman in whom I have a great deal of confidence. Yet as a protective godfather and a priest, I worry about the encounter with new “big kids,” in her life.
As a spiritual father to many others who are at this same new beginning in their lives, I thought I would offer an open letter to my niece and all her fellow college students.
Dear College Student:
Congratulations! With mixed feelings of excitement and anxiety you are about to begin the most important years of your life thus far. You are in my prayers and I wish that you may be blessed with wisdom, fortitude and happiness.
Like all adults in your life, I have concerns about the road ahead. The world you will now encounter may not always support and validate what you have been taught by your parents, role models and your faith. While it is important for us to be challenged on the path to greater wisdom - it is also important to recognize and respect the wisdom we have already been given. So I offer you the following counsel .
Respect your freedom - You will now have a new found independence and with it comes responsibility. You have the freedom to be faithful to your studies or to ignore them in the name of fun. You have the freedom to experience new things as well as the freedom to make destructive decisions in the process. You have the freedom to grow and evolve into an adult, but you also have the freedom to remain childish and irresponsible
Respect your body - You have heard that you have been created in the image and likeness of God and that your body is the temple of the Spirit. These teachings are the truth and not just pithy sayings. Respecting the body that God has blessed you with is a means of recognizing your own human dignity and a way to show others how you expect to be treated. Respecting your body means being mindful of what you eat, getting the sleep you need, and being physically fit. It also means that you must make good decisions with your use of alcohol and drugs (including those prescribed by a doctor.) Respect for your body includes attentiveness to your sexuality. Taking advantage of the body of another or allowing another to take advantage of yours for the sake of personal fulfillment is a disrespect of your body and what it is made for.
Respect your faith - Practicing your faith and growing in it is an important part of your college years. Now facing the challenges of an adult life you ought not to abandon the practice of faith but perhaps even increase it. Be faithful to Sunday mass. Many college campuses meet the needs of a college student by offering mass on Sunday evening. Spend time with others who not only share your faith tradition but are also facing the same challenges and struggles which you are. Cultivate a habit of prayer: pray the rosary, read the scriptures and talk to God daily.
Beloved college student, your families, your communities and your church wish you well and will keep you in our prayers. In the words of Jesus, we hope that you will always strive to “enter through the narrow gate,” [Lk13:24] and not take the easy way out. Respect the person God has made you and your parents formed you to be. GOD BLESS YOU!