(The following is a rough outline to the talk I gave to a group of recent high school graduates who attended St. John parish in Davison. I was asked to talk about the importance of continuing to grow in the faith after high school.)
If you heard that I was going to be giving a talk today on how to keep the faith after high school, what would you expect me to talk about? You’d probably expect me to say something like keep going to Mass. Keep going to Confession. Read the Bible. Pray. Find some sort of group of Christ-centered people to help support you along your journey.
I know you’re all smart people, I’ll give you more credit than that. Those are all things your parents have been telling you since you were little kids. I know you know “how” to keep your faith growing after high school, if you really want to. The problem is that some of us here, if you haven’t already, are going to lose the “why” aspect, the motivation to keep exploring.
As a side-note, have you ever noticed how philosophical little kids can be? I know I was when I was growing up. “Kevin, eat your vegetables.” “Why?” “Kevin, time for bed.” “Why?” “Kevin, we’ve got company coming over. Put your pants back on.” “Why?”
But then what happens? Somewhere along the way we stop asking. We stop searching. We settle for good enough, whatever requires the least amount of work. Before long we find ourselves rolling-through-the-motions and we come to a point where we begin to ask ourselves “How did I get here?” “What is it that I’m even doing here?”
That’s why today I’m going to offer you two “why’s”, two reasons why I think you should continue to grow in your faith after high school. I know some of you are moving out and going to college, some of you are already going into a job lined up for you, and some of you are probably sticking around home for another few years. No matter what road you take after high school, these next few years are so important for you to build a foundation for the rest of your life. Here are two reasons to continue exploring.
Reason number one can be beautifully summarized in the following quote by St. Augustine: “You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Those of us who move on to college right away will experience a new sense of freedom and independence that we may not have had when we were in high school. Unfortunately some of us may choose to abuse that freedom as we search to fill certain longings in our hearts. All of these new experiences will become more easily available to us and we’ll think they’ll satisfy our restless hearts. But our hearts can only find rest in the one who created them, God.
One of the first questions to humanity that Jesus asked, according to John’s Gospel, was “What are you looking for?” He asks us the same thing throughout our entire lives. “What are you looking for?” Those times when we’re at our lowest points, trying to satisfy our restless hearts, “What are you looking for?” Take him up on his invitation to “Come and see” and let him lead you to what your heart and soul long for the most. “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
Reason number two: Most of you will be called to the sacrament of marriage someday. Perhaps some of you will be called to a religious vocation like I might be (if that’s the case, take courage, do not be afraid. Talk to a vocation director if you begin to feel that call.) But many of you will someday be married and have kids. Which means somewhere out there right now is your future spouse. Now God wants that beautiful person to have the best possible spouse. You become that best-version-of-yourself for God and for your future spouse through the Church, nourishing your soul and satisfying your heart’s deepest longings. You’ll be able to bring a love for God into your relationship and be able to hand that faith down to any kids that you’re blessed with. But how are you going to have that faith if you do not continue to work on it after high school? I hear a lot of people say “Oh I’ll just go to church and read the Bible and all that stuff once I become a parent and I have more time to do those kinds of things.” I’m not a parent, but if I were to take a survey of all the parents in here and ask them if they had more time or less time to do the things they wanted to do once they started popping out kids, I’m guessing they’d say you have a little less time. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. If you’re being called to marriage someday, your future spouse will thank you for the time you spent now working on becoming the best-version-of-yourself.
I just have one last short story to share about what happens if you continue to explore your faith after high school. One day this past school year I came home to my apartment in Saginaw after work and there was a party going on. Music blaring, people drinking. This one girl met me at the door, looked down at the cross necklace I was wearing, and tucked it into my shirt saying “Put that away! We don’t need that here tonight!”
The more you begin to discover truth and beauty, the more your light will start to shine before others. We are called to be the light of the world, but you’ll find that a lot of people don’t like the light. As kids we’re afraid of the dark, but as we get older we become afraid to step into the light. A window at night can look just fine, but as soon as the light starts shining on it in the morning it reveals streak marks and chips and bird poop. People who don’t like the light you begin to shine are going to try to do one of two things. 1. They’ll try to hide from the light. That’s why you may get discouraged and feel lonely at times, like you’re the only Christian at your college or place of employment. 2. They’ll try to turn off the light. They’ll tell you to keep your beliefs to yourself and away from others. They’ll try to get you to change your beliefs to something less than the fullness of truth. But you are called to be the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden, neither do people light a lamp and then put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on it’s stand and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way continue to grow in your faith, discovering truth and beauty, and let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.