‘Tis the season for college students to purchase books, buy flights, and flip their dorm-room setup around. It’s back-to-school time, which means schedules, clubs, part-time jobs, and early morning athletics. With busy schedules, it can be difficult to find time for one’s faith.
Here, college students share how they keep Jesus at the center of their hearts.
Every day I do morning devotion and prayers. I pray the angelus at noon, pray before meals, and say night prayers. I try to get to adoration every day, even if it’s just for five minutes. I also have a weekly rosary with my faith household.
I try to surround myself with devoted Catholic friends who challenge me to do better. I also use my love language (quality time) with God – the adoration chapel is my go-to. Finding ways to rekindle your fire helps too, like a retreat or pilgrimage.
Start small. If you try to start at your goal prayer routine you may get discouraged and drop it. Start with five minutes, make it a habit, and slowly add more time or prayers. Getting a prayer buddy, joining a club that prays together, and setting alarms throughout the day as reminders to pray also help.
I once heard I wise abbot say “Prayer is like a healthy diet. The more varied, the better.” My daily prayer is a fairly balanced diet: five decades of the Rosary, 20 minutes of spiritual reading, and anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes of mental prayer. I also do a short litany at the end of my rosary as well as some prayers before bed and after bed. I really love the Jesus prayer. I’ve been recently looking more into the Eastern tradition of prayer and I’ve fallen in love with it so I do borrow from that as well.
The most helpful habit is probably getting to confession at least once a week. If I feel as if I’m about to head into mortal sin I will actually go to confession beforehand to prevent me from doing so. Of course, adoration is also a huge help – I don’t have to tell any Catholic worth their salt that one.
Besides what I’ve suggested above, I would say first to make your dorm a domestic church. Set up an icon corner or something similar so you always have a place to pray. (Note: be careful to avoid buying icons and holy art compulsively. Trust me, it’s a very real phenomenon once you start.)
Finally, start small. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was if you’re really trying to get a hold of your life, start by making your bed every morning. Slowly over time that little victory spreads like wildfire and you end up doing things you didn’t know you could do. The same principle works for the spiritual life, I would say. Don’t know where to start? Start first thing in the morning. Get on your knees as soon as you wake up and say three Hail Marys. If you can manage that, Our Lord will take care of the rest, you’ll see.
My daily prayer life varies a little bit, but I like to wake up early to spend time in quiet prayer, reading, and journaling. (I am not the person to say that, night owl all the way over here, but at school, with so many clubs and extracurriculars in the evenings, mornings are necessary.) Being blessed enough to go to a Catholic school, I try to attend daily Mass as much as my class schedule allows, typically two to three times a week.
Journaling always has been my go-to prayer practice. I also make time for spiritual readings from the saints. Make time for Eucharistic adoration and go to confession REGULARLY! The more you go the more abundant the grace!
Pray through what you’re doing. I’m a theology major, so my homework can sometimes feel like a prayer life. I read saints for homework – that’s so cool and such a blessing. I used to not let it be part of my prayer life because it was homework, but why can’t it be both? Even more than that, as I do my laundry I offer up that task for a friend struggling with X, Y, or Z. Walking across campus I’ll squeeze in a decade of the rosary (Spotify ftw). Prayer doesn’t have to be this big event. It’s a constant communication with God. It should be intertwined throughout your day and your daily tasks can be offered up in prayer.
It is important to pray daily, and I always try to get to daily Mass. At Ave Maria there are so many daily Mass options I don’t let myself not go unless it’s physically impossible. I try also to do a daily holy hour, or consistent time in front of the Eucharist – 20 minutes to a half-hour of mental prayer, meditating on the daily Gospel, readings, or the psalms. I like to do this before Mass. It helps me focus when I hear the readings twice.
I sometimes try to get to Mass early to pray. I make a morning offering using the little memorized prayers from childhood. I also sometimes use the Liturgy of the Hours to fall back on. It’s a good way to automatically immerse yourself in the Word when it’s hard to read your Bible. At night I always pray an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and a Glory Be, and I want to be more intentional about doing an examination of conscience.
My advice to college students? Make SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. Make realistic expectations for yourself and make a plan at the beginning of the week or at the beginning of each day. If I didn’t plan ahead then I wouldn’t get my daily prayer in. As much as you would make working out a priority, carve out time to get your prayer in. Be perseverent when it’s inconvenient. Are you willing to be inconvenienced for the sake of the Gospel? It brings so much fruit when you are.
Something that has helped my prayer life is going to daily Mass and Vespers at night. It’s a great way to start and end the day in prayer and it’s not in the middle of the day so there’s no class conflict. To someone who is having a hard time with daily prayer, I would just say to keep trying and have other people go with you or pray with you. It’s nice to have someone to go with and pray with you when you’re not feeling like it.
My weekly prayer life consists of Sunday Liturgy as well as singing in a traditional choir for a daily Mass. I enjoy reading the daily Gospel in Arabic and English as well!
One of my go-to prayer methods is reading the daily readings, either on the Maronite or the Roman calendar. The rosary (especially led in different languages on Hallow) is always a helpful prayer to center my day on God. I love listening to Arabic praise music during adoration or while praying in the chapel. Listening to Catholic hymns is always a great way to incorporate prayer more into your day.
My advice for those struggling with their prayer life is to find prayer groups, make time for daily Mass, or explore a spiritual practice of a different Catholic tradition. When you pray with people in groups, there is an accountability aspect to it that allows you to continue as well as have the ability to get different inputs from many people who have the same goals. Making time for daily Mass, even if you can only make one daily Mass a week, allows you the opportunity to be with Christ in the Eucharist during the week. And the Mass will remind you of where your focus should be!
Surrounding yourself with good people, Catholic or Protestant, I think is important for your daily prayer life. Honestly, college is busy and sometimes the end of the day comes and you have forgotten to pray. Having good friends that share your belief in Christ allows you to encounter God through people. It is those conversations with friends on theology that invite us to contemplate and know God, even throughout our busy days. Another way friendship helps in prayer is being able to pray with your friends before meals. Building prayer into your mealtime is a guaranteed way to save time to thank the Lord during a busy day. The hard truth is sometimes we forget to spiritually nourish ourselves while we always remember to physically nourish ourselves. Praying before meals is a great way to ensure we at least talk to Our Lord throughout the day, because we never forget to eat.
For weekly prayer, keeping holy the Sabbath Day is a must – a must. Though we might not prioritize our spiritual nourishment throughout the week, our souls NEED Mass on Sunday. The spiritual life is a roller coaster, sometimes we pray more than other times, but Sunday Mass is the cart that keeps us on the ride. Without it, our spiritual life will become nothing. In addition to Holy Mass on Sunday, we must remember the Lord calls us to keep holy the Sabbath DAY, not hour. We all-too-often forget that Sunday is a whole day of rest. We aren’t machines, and when we are working all the time our quality of life begins to decrease. The Lord gave us a day of rest not only to honor Him, but because we need it. When we slow down we can begin to appreciate the world around us and fulfill our calling of bringing all of creation back to God by giving Him our praise for it.
My biggest advice to college students struggling with prayer life is this: cut out the excuses. You’re busy, true – but everything we do tells us what we value more. It’s opportunity cost. If we are busy fulfilling our vocations as students that is great. But if we have time for parties and late-night drives (which can be good) we also have time for prayer. It’s just like the gym. The only person that is going to get you to go is you. Sure, sometimes you might need someone to drag you out of bed and get you there. If you don’t have that person to drag you to the chapel once in a blue moon it’s time to start looking for someone.
For me, a daily prayer schedule looks like saying a morning offering, reading the Bible, and saying a rosary. Ideally, I’d pray the rosary and read scripture in the morning before I head off to class, but usually, it ends up happening in the middle of the day in between classes or at night. I’m blessed to go to a Catholic college where daily Mass is always available, so I try to make it to 5:30 Mass every afternoon to wrap up my school day.
I’m also super lucky to live in a dorm that’s literally right next to the church, which has perpetual adoration except for during Mass times. That means that it’s easy for me to go over and spend time with Jesus, which is my favorite prayer method when I’m confused or having a rough day. I’d say that my “go-to’s” would be adoration and the rosary. Both force me to be quiet and get my thoughts and life in order, and keep building a relationship with Jesus and His mother.
My advice would be to keep persevering. I’ve gone through so many struggles with prayer while at school. The reality is that we all have so many classes, insane amounts of homework, some of us have jobs at the same time, and numerous distractions in the form of friends and social life (which can be good!). It’s important to remember when things get crazy that God still loves you. There have been many times when I’m going to bed late at night after an insane day and remember that I haven’t officially sat down to pray yet. At times like that, I say a decade of the rosary and go to sleep, knowing that every day is different and Jesus will lovingly accept what you give Him.
But the other thing is to hold yourself accountable. Yes, times get crazy, but other times, maybe you spent a few hours watching a show. That’s time that you could have spent in prayer. I know I’ve done that and then realized at the end of the day that I didn’t pray. To counteract that, if I’m about to sit down and do something like watch a movie, I usually make myself at least read my Bible and sit for a minute in silence beforehand. That way, I’m still prioritizing Jesus over other things and I’ve found that I’m more likely to say my rosary or pray again later if I make myself pray earlier in the day.
So I guess what I’m saying is to strike a balance. Some days you’re going to be able to give Jesus more than you can other days. He’ll take it all and love you for it. But always remember to give Him at least something every day to show that you love Him too!