By Kate Gilday
My conversion story isn’t glamorous. I’m a born, raised, youth-grouped, served-with-NET Ministries, shiny-record-Christian kind of gal, whose biggest regret was her lack of a resounding “why I became Catholic” testimony to pull out at dinner parties and youth rallies. That’s not the story I get to tell. What I do have, though, is the “why I’m still Catholic” story.
And for many of you teetering on the edge of adult life and agonizing through these last few weeks before you’re pronounced a high school graduate, that’s the story it’s going to be shockingly hard to tell over the next few years.
Here’s the scene: you’ve just spent (roughly) the last twelve years of your life in Catholic schools, hearing the Catholic things, praying the Catholic prayers, knowing the Catholic stuff. Chances are, if you’re reading this article, you may even have some kind of interest in or commitment to Catholicism at a personal level. You sang the Catholic songs at the Catholic conference where you did the whole ain’t-no-party-like-a-Catholic-party jumping-up-and-down-like-a-Catholic thing.
But that big wide world of adult upon whose brink you now teeter? Yeah, not so Catholic.
And as you finish year twelve - regardless of whether you’re heading into work or uni or travel or some other shenanigans; regardless of whether you’re living at home or moving out or planning on living in Timbuktu - there’s every chance that leaving high school’s going to mean leaving the Church.
I don’t want to beat around the bush: it’s a really hard world in which to have a Christian faith. Here’s a sample of what you’ll probably encounter over the next few years:
- “Science has clearly disproven religion. Why are you clinging to old superstitions?”
- “One more drink can’t hurt! Why are you always such a goody-good?”
- “Oh, you’re Catholic, are you? Why does the Church hate gay people?”
- “Give me one good reason why you’re Christian - and you can’t say because your parents are.”
- “I don’t know why you bother with the Mass thing. It’s so boring - just a bunch of old people reciting pointless prayers.”
- “Stop focusing on this Jesus thing and start thinking about your own ambitions. You need to succeed, not get sidetracked by all this prayer and service stuff.”
- “Don’t you ever get tired of working so hard to stay Catholic? It’d be so much easier just to sleeeeeeep….”
You know, if you became an atheist (well, more likely an agnostic) the day after graduation, I wouldn’t blame you. Some mornings I wake up an atheist. I don’t blame myself.
But I do pity myself. Because the moment that I decide staying Catholic is too dang hard is the moment I lose the deepest, richest joy in my life and the Love that sustains everything else I do.
You see, the thing that they don’t often tell you during those years of Catholic schooling is that faith is not R.E. class. If you feel like you’re emerging from high school effectively immunized against Christianity by years of rote-learning the books of the Bible and dull dribbles of dogma, ill-equipped to keep going with a faith that was never really yours to begin with, hear this:
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
Life to the full. Sit with those words a moment. Sit with them especially on the days you feel like giving up on faith. Because no matter where else we search, those four most beautiful words- life to the full - are always going to be found in God.
Here at Vocation Brisbane, our motto is Quo Vadis: where are you going? For many people asking that question at the end of year twelve, the answers seem pretty mysterious.
“Quo Vadis?” I ask myself, “Where are you going, Kate?”
Every day, I have moments where I don’t know. Every day there’s moments where I fall flat on my face with the whole faith thing. But in standing back up and keeping walking as a Catholic in this world, I remember where I’m going: towards the God who is Love itself.
So how do you do that? Here’s five tips:
1. Discover the Person, not just the paperwork
At the heart of Christianity is Christ. If you haven’t discovered a method of prayer that allows you to have a deep and personal encounter with Jesus every single day, now is the moment to find one.
Nothing you learned in R.E. class is going to truly sustain a personal faith. No moral convictions or well-memorized saints stories are going to transform you and help you thrive unless they go hand-in-hand with a close connection to the Holy Spirit.
So pick up a Bible and read it like it’s your story (fun fact: it is). Go to Adoration and let Jesus’ gaze of love breathe life back into your tired heart. Write down in a journal everything you’ve ever wanted to say to God and give Him the chance to respond. Start noticing the ways He is reaching out to you every day.
2. Seek to be equipped, not just entertained
Man, youth groups can be fun. Ignite Conference is phenomenal. Give me a good youth mass with some well-played acoustic guitar and I’ll be a happy lady.
But exciting and enjoyable as great ministry is, the daily Christian grind is about more that just good experiences. It’s about building satisfying and sustainable habits of faith that empower you to journey deeper with God and to make this world a better place.
There may come a moment where you think, “Oh. Is that all there is? Have I exhausted everything the Church has to offer me?” Don’t believe it for a moment. Don’t become stagnant. Dig deeper - and find people to help you.
I’m of the mind that every young adult should have a spiritual director (or at least a mentor), as well as a couple strong friends who can keep us accountable to habits of prayer, sacraments and service.
If what you receive in faith never goes deeper than waterslides and worship songs, it will be really susceptible to being uprooted. A faith that endures is one that is constantly being challenged to go deeper, be further transformed, and give more generously than before.
3. Equip your head, not just your heart
One of the biggest challenges of being a young adult is knowing the answers to painful secular questions. People are going to say challenging things - perhaps even hurtful things - and if you feel helpless in attempting to respond, it’s going to be hard to keep going.
Over the past few years, I’ve had so many moments where I almost gave up on God because someone asked a question I couldn’t answer. But I’ve realised that just because I don’t know an answer doesn’t mean there isn’t an answer.
‘Apologetics’ comes from the Greek ‘speaking in defense’. As Catholics, we are all called to “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks for a reason for [our] hope” (1 Peter 3:15) and many, many thinkers and theologians throughout the centuries have paved a way for us to understand with our heads the truths that have already captivated our hearts.
Now, I’m not saying that rational arguments can ever take the place of a living relationship with God. But they certainly help on the mornings you wake up an atheist, and on the days when you want to be able to share “the reason for your hope” with those seeking answers themselves.
C.S. Lewis says, “The heart cannot rejoice in what the mind rejects as false.” In living and sharing faith in a secular world, the biggest challenge can be feeling like your beliefs make sense. So search for answers when questions come up. Ask a priest why the Church teaches what it does. Read books about science and faith, and know that you are not believing something irrational.
4. Know that you were made for gift, not for gain
The temptation is always towards selfishness. I want to travel; I want to earn a good salary; I want to fit in and be beloved; I want, I want, I want.
Dreams aren’t bad - God uses them to inspire us to lead big and meaningful lives! - but remember something: you’re not the only one with dreams.
Each one of us has a vocation to make a complete gift of ourselves, to God and to other people. No matter where we go, we’re invited to open our eyes to the needs around us and act with love and compassion to those who might be forgotten otherwise.
Let the things about this world that make you angry - your “Holy Discontent” - be the source of your momentum. Not selfishness.
Life truly does grow by being given away. As you navigate the strange waters of young adult life, keep in mind that every day is a chance to be wholehearted in generosity, courageous in fighting for those who suffer, and discerning of the way God will call you to give your life as a beautiful gift to those who need it most.
I’m staying Catholic. Not because it’s easy, but because I’m in love.
At the end of the day, that will be the thing that decides whether you stay or go: Love. His love is always going to be there, ready to embrace you again, even if you fall flat on your face a few times (a day).
Leave Year 12 then - but don’t leave behind the Love that promises you life to the full. Staying Catholic is so, so worth it.