Advent is a season of reflection and revelation. It’s a time for us to pause and separate the noise that clutters our lives with anxiety, temptation and material distraction from our visceral yearning for deliverance from the evils that surround us.
This year’s Advent Season is my last one in college, and in the spirit of the season, I’m prompted to reflect on my relationship with Christ and how it’s developed throughout my college career.
Four years isn’t long in the grand scheme of life, but the brief years we spend in college have a profound impact on our character development. My time at the University of Pittsburgh was marked by my burgeoning faith after witnessing many of my peers’ aimless and vain searches for purpose and identity in godforsaken dead ends.
According to the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, frequent attendance of religious services drops by 23 percent among students who attend three years of college, and 36 percent of third-year students rated their spirituality to be lower than it had been before college.
Our grandparents and conservative talking heads can sound overzealous in their accusations. We’re mocked for resenting the “old school.” We want liberation. We want to become enlightened and awoken to the truth that religious dogma hides under a shroud of guilt and remorse for uncontrollable human passions, so we reject tradition and established institutions.
But many students have indeed abandoned God in favor of their often fruitless attempts at finding internal peace in another source: Libertinism, which is permissible and encouraged at the radically secular temple of the college campus.
Girls stumbling down streets in frigid temperatures at an ungodly hour, dressed scantily and drunk out of their wits—it’s a pathetic spectacle that I’ve seen time and time again. But it’s a spectacle that also prompted my own soul-searching.
I was never fulfilled after nights like these—ones spent shoulder-to-shoulder in a cramped basement of a dilapidated building that students inhabit off-campus, trudging over beer-soaked floors in search of some cheap thrill. The thrill is very, very cheap—it’s fleeting, and it left me feeling empty.
As I progressed through college, I slowly began to realize that the American collegiate culture was a phantom many students were desperately chasing. It’s spontaneous, careless, and seeks to convince you that the virtues of modesty and sincerity aren’t necessary. Sex is mechanical, and can be purposeless and devoid of consequence. It’s acceptable to joke about binge drinking to suppress emotions and concerns about the future.
The rejection of Judeo-Christian values leaves a vacuum that college students attempt to fill or ignore with emotional numbness and nihilism. There is no God that validates or dignifies them. Instead, social affirmation provides a sense of worth.
I saw myself become increasingly dependent on the approval of my peers via “likes” on Facebook or Instagram. I became anxious and malleable. This lifestyle that thousands of Millennials live isn’t only inadequate—it’s toxic and soul-sucking.
I was a regular churchgoer throughout college, skipping Mass occasionally to study for an exam. But the reasons I went to Mass changed as I became older. I didn’t just want to go to church. I needed to go to church.
I needed God to fill my horizon, and I needed my anxieties to dissipate and my thoughts to elevate to become grander than our earthly, fallen experience. I needed to find purpose in transcendence rather than in materialistic temptations.
My focus shifted from pleasing others to loving them as God commands me to, and fearing nothing. 1 John 4:18 guided me: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”
Becoming perfected in love, both knowing how to love one another and that we will never understand the depths of God’s love for us, is freeing. My worldview changed—there was a perfect Being that loved me and made me secure in His love.
I valued my relationships with others more. I prayed for those who spited me. I learned that malice is poisonous to our souls, and makes us bitter—I made praying for those who abuse me a habit.
I became self-regulatory, and thus conducted myself in a fashion that wouldn’t later haunt me. I became staunchly pro-life and took every opportunity to fight for the rights of the unborn because Catechism tells us of the integrity of every creation, which it is our duty to safeguard.
I, of course, still experienced common anxieties for college students. Currently, I’m agonizing over which city I’ll be moving to next May, if I should stay on my parent’s healthcare plan or move onto my employer’s, and whether all my necessary paperwork is submitted in preparation for my graduation.
I have a terrible habit of getting ahead of myself, and becoming wrapped in the possibilities of the future, and all of the tragedy and excitement that awaits me in uncharted territory.
But then I remember that God anchors me. I am protected when experiencing setbacks. I know my efforts in this life have a transcendent, divine trajectory, and I will never be burdened with more than what I’m capable of handling and learning from.
Our sojourn in life is brief. No matter how much my peers will try to “immanentize the eschaton,” in the words of Eric Voegelin, embracing that the eschaton is reserved for the beyond is what compels us to act as Christ commands us in this life.
This Advent, I pray that students and Catholics alike try to find the truth amongst the noise that is Christmas’s cacophony of consumerism—reflect thoughtfully, and observe the holiness of this season.