The Maroon

Opinion: Looking back at college

The+statue+of+Jesus+Christ+that+stands+outside+of+Marquette+Hall+on+St.+Charles+Ave.+The+statue+is+a+symbol+of+Loyola%27s+Catholic+identity.+Photo+credit%3A+Jacob+Meyer
The statue of Jesus Christ that stands outside of Marquette Hall on St. Charles Ave. The statue is a symbol of Loyola's Catholic identity. Photo credit: Jacob Meyer

The statue of Jesus Christ that stands outside of Marquette Hall on St. Charles Ave. The statue is a symbol of Loyola's Catholic identity. Photo credit: Jacob Meyer

The statue of Jesus Christ that stands outside of Marquette Hall on St. Charles Ave. The statue is a symbol of Loyola's Catholic identity. Photo credit: Jacob Meyer

Thomas Neal

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When I set sail for Florida State University as a Freshman back in the 1986, I left behind any interest in continuing to practice my childhood Catholic faith. I was happy to run toward the bliss of adult independence and jump into freedom from the imposition of childish rules, like having to go to church on Sunday.

That lasted for a time, until I met a young man named Chris Wade. Chris and I met at a football game and became fast friends. We were also equally passionate about weightlifting. Over the next several months, we would walk to Gold’s Gym from the dorm five days a week, work out till we passed out, then grab a drink at Hardees on the way back and talk about anything.

Chris was a political science major and I was a meteorology major, but we shared lots of common interests. But here’s the plot twist. He was super passionate about philosophy, was an able debater and a devout Evangelical, all of which fascinated me and drew me into some of the most engaging and challenging conversations of my life up to that point. He especially made me think about my own family faith, relentlessly pressing me to own it or disown it.

One day, as part of a lengthy conversation in my dorm room, he lodged a challenge at me: “I dare you to pray as if it’s all true and ask God to come into your life and forgive all your sins.” I was not buying that verbiage, and made sport of his sincerity. But I simply couldn’t resist a dare. So I joined him in a “sinner’s prayer.” Though I began it with a sense of disdain for its simplemindedness, by the time we finished the prayer I knew something in me had radically changed. My world was different.

My point here is not to sell my personal evangelical witness story of conversion to Christ, though it was that. Rather, I would like to generalize and describe some of the quelle différence, the beneficial differences faith offered me as a sophomore trying to find his way.

If I had to describe in a word the great gift my rediscovered faith brought me, “spirituality” seems like a good start. By spiritual, I mean something like openness to “transcendent meaning,” to matters of ultimate concern. While it was a distinctly Catholic faith that I had reengaged, I would argue the concerns of a “universal” faith bear universal value.

Spirituality set me on a quest for meaning in my life, beyond the obvious, shallow or immediate concerns that had previously held most of my attention. My world got a lot bigger, fast. I developed a new hunger for learning beyond what was “required” for graduation and a career, as faith’s “better angels” energize the mind in pursuit of truth wherever it is found.

I also discovered a new appreciation for beauty in the world and in art, as well as a new awareness of my personal responsibility for the welfare of others – especially the vulnerable – and the world around me. In a word, spirituality began to open my incurved ego outward to the primacy of love, the demands of justice, the imperatives of mercy.

Questions like, “What is my purpose and mission in life? Why do I have the gifts and passions I have?” occurred to me for the first time, allowing me to see my life was not just about my own goals and ambitions, pleasures and needs. My life was a vocation, meant to be about others.

Don’t get me wrong, I did not become anything like a saint, was not especially pious and was not a fanatic who compulsively talked about religion. I preferred talking about the weather! But my world had been blown wide open by my encounter with God, and its attendant resolve to be better, do better. My problems and struggles remained, but they were now buoyed with prayer by joy and hope; and by a diverse community of people who shared similar aspirations.

All of which, I believe, made me less selfish, more human. And isn’t that the point of Catholic higher education? – to contribute to the cultivation of a more humane world where love, revealed in Jesus, becomes the measure of success.

I hope the same for all of you as you begin a new college year.

 

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1 Comment

One Response to “Opinion: Looking back at college”

  1. Andres Fuentes on August 19th, 2018 3:27 pm

    Opinion piece is by Dr. Thomas Neal of Notre Dame Seminary

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Opinion: Looking back at college