Are your children heading back to college soon, or perhaps about to enter freshman year? Are you worried about how they will be able to buck the tide and remain faithful Catholics (or revert after being lured away) in the ultra-secularized environment of a non-Catholic college?
It may already seem too late to reverse wrong turns, but this is not necessarily so. The Enemy knows that tempting us to despair and to accept the inevitable is half the battle. In reality, hope springs eternal because God's faithfulness – accompanied by his bountiful graces – is without end. So don't despair! Ever.
Here are some ideas that, taken to heart, might help both you and your students prepare for their return to campus.
1. The best advice – make it non-negotiable, if possible – is that they seek a dorm or rooming situation that is segregated by sex.
Alas, the deck is already stacked against Catholic college students who live in co-ed dorms, where the culture's amoral and largely anti-religious current is likely to be at its strongest. May St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother be their protection!
2. Here's a truly radical thought: The purpose of dating is to find the person you wish to marry, the one who will become the father or mother of your children. Catholic parents should already have conveyed this perspective to their children; if not, don't hesitate to open a thought-provoking, countercultural conversation that may plant the seeds of proper dating choices and behavior. That means your children should be ready to terminate a dating relationship if, and as soon as, they realize this is not the person with whom to share a lifetime and a family.
3. As long as you and your children are talking about dating behavior, pass on the time-honored practices that can help clear sex-fogged adolescent minds and psyches enough for young people to judge how worthy and compatible the person they are dating may be.
These dating rules include never allowing yourself to be alone in a closed room or parked car with your date. Plan activities that will provide opportunities for growth in knowledge of God, each other, and self. Make a regular practice of worshiping and praying together. Dress modestly. Regardless of who "pays" for the date, no one "owes" anybody anything. Avoid actions that cause sexual arousal – including forms of dancing and extended exchanges of affection that are designed to cause it. In short, help each other to say "no," and give each other the chance to discover – and possibly fall in love with – a person you may one day decide to give yourself to for the rest of your life.
4. Ask your collegians if they have ever read the entire Catechism of the Church. Encourage them to do so (ideally, in those pre-college years that make it easier to impose required reading and pop quizzes). One cannot practice a faith that one does know.
5. Along the same lines, encourage them to frequent the Catholic campus ministry, both to receive the sacraments and to grow in the faith. Newman Centers, for instance, are now generally sound in their teaching – Deo gratias, after decades of confusion! And students will also find there others who are more or less serious about keeping and deepening their faith. Even nowadays, many college students meet their future spouses at college: What better place to begin a lifetime of faithful love than a sound Catholic center.
6. Explain that they are not at college primarily to "get a good job" (and mean it – the job-related pressure many young people understandably feel is reinforced by spoken and unspoken messages from their parents).
Although someday soon they will have to begin earning their own way (ideally, shortly after graduation!), they should realize that their college years may be their only opportunity to dig seriously into areas like history, literature, music, art history, and culture. Even if they are budding engineers or pre-med students, they should not neglect the humanities, which, rightly taught, offer a perspective that will enrich their lives in ways that business study never will.
7. Depending upon their gifts and abilities, encourage your children to consider professions that can directly influence souls, such as teaching, politics, or the media (and I hope you are also encouraging them to be open to exploring a vocation to the priesthood or religious life – it is all too easy for the "still, small" voice of God to be drowned out in today's culture).
I should reveal that I am on the advisory board of the Cardinal Newman Society, which has a wonderful Guide to Authentic Catholic Colleges. No, these are not Ivies or "elite" names, BUT your college student will get a much better education in living his or her faith than at a more prestigious but morally and philosophically bankrupt Ivy – or selective tech college. And after four years spent building a solid educational, moral, and religious foundation, your son or daughter can always move on to one of those elite universities for post-graduate work.
From there we can hope they will prosper as strong Catholic professionals, and become able and willing themselves to evangelize for our faith in the workplace and among their family and friends.
Rev. C. John McCloskey is a syndicated columnist and a Catholic priest. He is also the co-author of Good News, Bad News: Evangelization, Conversion, and the Crisis of Faith, which is available at Ignatius. This article first appeared on The Catholic Thing.