Conversion, Reconciliation, and Transformation

“And I absolve you of your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

This is an excerpt from the Prayer of Absolution that the priest says at the end of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. At this point, you’ve confessed your sins to the priest in persona Christi (ie, in the person of Christ; read: you’re really confessing your sins to Jesus). This prayer washes you clean of your sins, lets you start anew, lets you move on, makes you know and feel the mercy of Christ.

When I’m at college, I spend most of my social time around other Catholics, so I’m basically immersed in Catholic thought. It’s always striking when I get home and notice the stark contrasts between secular and Catholic thought. (No one else in my immediate family (or even extended family, really) is a practicing Catholic–read about my conversion story here.)

Secular and Catholic thought really diverge on the subject of reconciliation. Most notably, Catholic thought asserts that people can change. I’ve observed that many (though not all, of course) in the secular realm seem to think that someone with a troubled past could not possibly have changed. These people continue to be labeled by the sins of their past. This is entirely unfair, as people can change, especially with the grace of the Holy Spirit.

So many of the Church’s saints were extreme sinners at one time, and then drastically changed when their hearts were converted to Christ. Take St. Augustine, for example. Pre-conversion Augustine was, in today’s terminology, a playboy. Then, when he converted to Christ, he changed drastically and eventually became a saint. St. Augustine understood how people could change because he experienced it himself. He said,

“There is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future.”

Today’s world seems not to know what St. Augustine knew. I think that anyone who has experienced first-hand the transformative power of the Holy Spirit knows that people change. I think that the secular world copes with this misunderstanding in two ways (of course, generalizations are never entirely accurate; not everyone with a secular mindset has this ideology):

  1. When people recognize others as sinners, they label them as such (because radical change seems impossible).
  2. When people sin, they try to convince themselves that they actually haven’t sinned (because there’s no mode of redemption).

I think the mainstream culture would be shocked to know that Catholicism advocates moving on from the sins of our past. Everyone always talks about “Catholic guilt” which, tbh, I don’t understand. Yes, we’re all sinners, but we are redeemed in Christ, which we experience first hand through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Sure, we should be horrified by our sins, but by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we should also know that we are made new and that we can change with God’s help.

Being Catholic…in Public School

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:

Hipster 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!]

Why Catholicism is So Great for Teens

One of the great things about Catholicism is that it’s for everyone. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are. It’s appealed to all generations for the past 2000 years!

Here are some of the particular reasons Catholicism works so well for teens:

  • It’s a smart religion. What do I mean by this? I mean that Catholic theology (2000 years in the making) is well thought out.  We teens like substance, and Catholicism has substance. We don’t want things to be dumbed down. Just because we’re young doesn’t mean we aren’t smart enough to understand complexities of the truth.
  • It’s above politics. We teens are young and independent. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like feeling tied down by any one particular political wing. And neither does Catholicism; the Catholic Church gives opinions on issues, not parties. The Church thinks for herself.
  • It has Confession. Just like all people, we teens sometimes do stupid things. Through the Catholic sacrament of Reconciliation, we can repent and be forgiven.
  • It’s universal. We young people move around a lot. Maybe our family moves. Maybe we go to college. Maybe we land a job somewhere away from home. With all this moving, how ever can we find new churches similar enough to the old one? Well, have no fear, Catholicism is here! Catholic is Catholic is Catholic everywhere you go. Mass is the same. The beliefs are the same. You’re at home in any Catholic church, whether it be in the U.S. or France or the Philippines or China or anywhere!
  • It has Saturday Vigil Mass. Getting up early isn’t my forte, so Sunday morning would be painful. But hey, you can get the exact same Mass as Sunday on Saturday evening.
  • It has a sense of belonging. We all are looking for an identity, teens especially. In the Catholic Church, you’re part of something big: 2000 years, 1.2 billion followers today worldwide. I guess you could call it a community.