Andrew Pazdon: Being Catholic in college

Growing up in the woods of New Hampshire, the thought never crossed my adolescent mind that fasting, constructing advent wreathes from moss and pine trees in my backyard, spending hours in Church, and various other Catholic customs (with a hearty dose of Polish folk customs) were not normal.

That didn’t mean I didn’t dread sitting through Mass every week. But now that dread is gone and, in the midst of my 20-something partying years, it’s very likely you will find me every Sunday at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle.

My faith and relationship with the Catholic Church have evolved, been tested and, in the end, been strengthened. Today, I am just as likely to tell people I am Catholic as I am a Polish-American from New Hampshire. I am proud of both my heritage and my faith.

I didn’t grow up in the Roman Catholic Church, but rather in a sect of the Old Catholic Church called the Polish National Catholic Church. Despite this, and now in a time during which Roman Catholic Church pews are being deserted, I have found a reawakening of my relationship with God.

Through much of high school I was, religiously, a lamb that had wandered astray from the herd. I challenged my childhood religion. I considered my options, including agnosticism, Islam and other Christian denominations. But I knew something was ultimately missing from my religious and spiritual life. It wasn’t until I actually left home and came to D.C. that my faith really felt reaffirmed.

I didn’t think my faith would be strengthened in college. When I thought of college, I thought Sunday morning was for nursing headaches, not for Mass. I do not know for certain what changed inside of me. But perhaps it was the everyday freedom that allows for sleeping in and drinking that allowed me to feel on my own, in a no-pressure venue, the comfort of faith. Yeah, I’d like to sleep in sometimes, but I feel better when I act on my faith instead.

I’ve even found I’m not the only GW student who gets up early on the weekend to spend some time with Jesus Christ. There are a number of fellow Catholics I have come across who are also deeply religious, yet manage to lead normal college lives filled with partying, college hook-ups and hours spent Facebook-stalking instead of deep in prayer.

I found that faith of any kind does not have to be forsaken in college, even in a bastion of liberalism and free thinking that is GW. If anything, being at GW and college in general has taught me that my faith doesn’t have to be all or nothing. I can be a Democrat and a Catholic. And I can party as hearty as anyone else and still be Catholic. I can lead a normal life, enjoying the pleasures the world has to offer, while simultaneously fulfilling a spiritual and religious yearning.

It’s not an easy time to be a Catholic. The strength of the church has been tested at the same time the strength of my faith has. Back home, the clergy abuse scandal is local and hard-hitting. Many of the early allegations, settlements and incarcerations happened in New England towns not far or different from mine. These unimaginably horrible actions caused many of my hometown friends and their families to vacate the church. I certainly don’t blame them. But as an original outsider who came back into the flock, I have looked past these heinous acts and missteps by the church to find comfort and joy.

This disease of abuse by clergy and the subsequent cover-ups has now spread to infect the church’s communicants all over the world. But this situation does not spell out the fall of the church. Rather, the church is now forced to seriously, unequivocally and firmly address structural problems. The current tenuous situation can become an opportunity for the church and its leaders to refocus on tending to the herd, so that everyone who wants to can find same comfort that I have found.

Life is full of ups and downs, but that is an integral part of the journey. My questioning of my own faith before and during college has helped to cement my commitment to it. I have faith too that my church will heal and many will once again heed the trumpet call.

The writer, a junior majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet columnist.

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