I spent grades K-12 in a (*shudder*) public school. Jk, it wasn’t that awful. I now go to a private, secular college. So basically, I’ve always been on chilling out on this little island of Catholicism in a sea of rampant secularism. But the beach is sunny and the sand is warm. (Okay, I think I just took that metaphor too far. Anyway…)
Catholic students at secular schools face a unique set of obstacles. At the same time, they face a unique set of opportunities. In some ways, I think that being at a secular college is easier than being at a secular high school. In high school, your home life is very separate from your school life. In college, however, everything clashes together, and everything is simply life. In college, I do all my studying and socializing at the Catholic Center on campus, which is basically my home. All my close friends also do their studying and socializing at this home.
But high school. If you make it through that as a Catholic, you can make it through anything! (Although, it might depend on which college you go to.)
So, I present to you:
Ways to Stay Catholic, Public School Edition!
- Find Catholic Friends. Community is so important for keeping you on the straight and narrow path. Especially in an environment where there may be many people who don’t believe what you believe. You might be able to find these people in your church’s youth group or in your Confirmation class. But I will admit, sometimes these people are hard to come by, depending on how secular your area is. It could also help to go on retreats for, say, your diocese. Even if you make friends who don’t go to your high school, they still may be helpful to you (and vice versa) in your spiritual journey.
- Learn about Catholicism. When you’re faced with people who don’t believe what you believe, it’s good to know your stuff. Even if you don’t have any direct conversations about religion with atheists, agnostics, or Protestants, you may hear them talking, and you need to be able to justify your faith to yourself.
- Evangelize. One of the unique opportunities of public school! Depending on your comfort level, try to have meaningful conversations with others about religion. They might be interested and start asking you questions. If you don’t know the answers, tell them you’ll get back to them after you research. It’s a win-win situation. You learn more about your faith…and they might end up Catholic some day!
- Pray to St. Joseph of Cupertino before exams! He’s the best!
- Make time for God. This is especially difficult in high school. You have homework, homework, and more homework. You have AP Exams. You have extracurricular activities. Much craziness. It’s helpful for you to commit to ways that you will make time for God each day. Once you get into a routine, it gets easier. One thing that’s relatively easy to do is pray to God every night before you go to bed, without fail. And of course, make sure to get to Mass every weekend. Another thing that could be cool would be going to daily Mass–I never did this in high school, but I do this in college. Sometimes daily Mass times don’t work for the high school schedule (it’s a pity, really). If you’re lucky, maybe a church nearby has an evening Mass. Even if you found time to get to Mass once a week besides Sunday, that would be super awesome. (PS–Daily Mass is significantly shorter than weekend Mass–somewhere between 25 and 35 minutes, approximately.) I don’t know why, but whenever I go to daily Mass, my day feels longer…which is wonderful because I need all the time I can get! God certainly rewards you for the time you give to Him!
- Turn worthless-activity-time into prayer time. Recently, I was like, “I should start praying the Rosary every day.” (Not sure I’ll do that during the school year, but summer for sure.) So I’ve started praying it while I wash up at night. The Rosary takes about 15 minutes, and that’s about how long it takes me to wash up. So it’s perfect! And the great thing is, I wash up every night, so it becomes very natural to pray the Rosary every night. It could also be convenient to pray the Rosary on the bus ride to school. Additionally, last year at college, I realized that once I was done with my homework, I would waste a lot time messing around doing absolutely nothing, really, on my iPad. So I decided that time would be better spent praying or reading the Bible. (There was still some messing around on the iPad, but I devoted a reasonable amount of that time to prayer and religious reading.)
- Go on retreats. Retreats can be really helpful for re-focusing your life on what’s important. And sometimes public school makes it hard to see what’s important because you get caught up in the day-to-day toil.
- Try to see God in your school work. Know that your current place in life is as a student, and that it’s your duty to God to live out this calling he has bestowed you with at this time.
- Go to Confession and/or Eucharistic Adoration. Confession just helps with everything, whether you’re a public school student, or anyone really. It just pours out all this grace you you. Ditto Eucharistic Adoration. Although, I must say that Eucharistic Adoration is the hardest thing to do when you’re busy because it feels (at face value) like you are doing nothing. (In reality, a whole lot is happening.) I will admit that I wasn’t good at getting to Eucharistic Adoration last year in college; that is something I will work on in the coming year.
There are a ton of suggestions here. As far as the prayer-type stuff goes, don’t feel like you have to do all of it. Take on something reasonable. Otherwise you might crash and burn after a couple of days. You’re better off doing a little bit every day rather than having the prayer life of the Pope for two days. (I know I’m exaggerating there, but you get the idea.) I guess it all depends on where you are in your prayer life right now. For me at that stage of life (I didn’t take ownership of my faith till I was 16), it was enough to pray every night, go to Mass every weekend, and casually Google things about Catholicism and watch videos about the faith online when I needed a study break.
Challenge yourself where you are. If your prayer life feels like a burden, you won’t want to pray…so pick something reasonable for you and your school workload.
Doing the types of things outlined above is hard when you’re a public school student because it seems like no one else is doing them. That’s probably the overarching issue for Catholics in public school. You start to wonder if you’re weird or something because you’re…well, different. Indeed, you are different, but it’s a good kind of different.
In conclusion, be a hipster like Pope Francis:
(Image credit: http://www.elmiracatholicym.org/home/media/meme-of-the-day/hipsterpopefrancis)
[Shout out to Katie who gave me the idea for this post!]