By Melvin Arrington
Dear incoming Freshmen,
A popular 1960s TV series told viewers, “You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to the outer limits.” These words could well apply to you as you head off to college in a few weeks. Get ready; your horizons are about to expand exponentially and you’ll soon discover that the world is much bigger than you think.
A large number of your class will be leaving home and parental supervision for the first time. From now on, you’ll make your own decisions. Unfortunately, many choose to stop attending religious services during their college years. The latest surveys show that almost one in four Americans claims no religious affiliation; these are the so-called “nones.” College freshmen, don’t become one of these statistics.
The rise of the nones can be blamed, at least partially, on relativism, which now holds sway in our modern secular, materialistic culture. Truth has come to mean whatever you want it to mean, and the determination of right and wrong is largely a matter of personal opinion. When there’s “your truth” and “my truth,” then we have no truth. But you’ve been taught the difference between right and wrong. Remember what our Lord proclaimed in John’s Gospel: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”
No matter what some of your professors and fellow students may tell you, faith and science are not enemies. The notion that there is a war going on between science and religion is nothing more than a modern myth. God is truth, and the Catholic Church encourages the pursuit of truth, wherever it may be found.
After all, it was the Catholic Church that fostered and developed the scientific method and founded the university system. Consider these important figures from the history of science: the 13th century English philosopher and Franciscan friar, Roger Bacon, one of the earliest proponents of empiricism and experimental science; the 16th century astronomer and Catholic cleric, Nicolaus Copernicus, famous for overthrowing the age-old geocentric theory of Ptolemy by proving that the earth orbits the sun; and the 19th century Augustinian friar, Gregor Mendel, known as the father of modern genetics. And let’s not forget Father Georges Lemaitre, the twentieth-century mathematician and astronomer who formulated the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe! Bam! Don’t let them tell you the Church is anti-science. Remember, the Catholic Church formed the basis for Western civilization and was, in large measure, responsible for its development over the centuries.
College campuses used to be citadels of learning, somewhat isolated from the problems of the outside world. However, in recent decades the “real world” has invaded our campuses resulting in drug abuse epidemics, sexual assaults, hate speech and racially motivated violence and a host of other evils. For a variety of socio-political, cultural and economic reasons college campuses are no longer safe zones. Choose wisely when making new friends. You’re going to need a strong support group. Here’s my recommendation: check out some of the Catholic Campus Ministry activities at your school.
You will hear a lot of talk of political correctness and left/right politics, but don’t let yourself be distracted by these discussions. Left and right are false categories when it comes to questions of faith. If we truly love those in need, we’ll figure out the best methods for serving them and not worry about whether others label us liberal or conservative.
You already know the importance of acquiring knowledge, but the real goal is to attain wisdom. As you think through the tough issue of the day, you will develop what the academic world calls critical thinking skills, but don’t forget about the role of faith in your life. If your mind is going to soar upward, it’s going to need both wings – reason and faith – in order to arrive at the truth. A bird can’t fly with just one wing.
Ecclesiastes tells us there’s nothing new under the sun. It’s all been thought, said and done before, but it may be new to you. If you haven’t already begun to explore the big questions, now that you are in college you should begin to do so in earnest. I’m referring to questions such as: Who am I? Where do I come from and where am I going? Does human life have a meaning and purpose? Why am I here? How am I supposed to live? What happens when I die? What ultimately matters? And the big one that always comes up as a challenge to Christians – Why does an omnipotent and benevolent God allow bad things to happen to good people?
Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen once acknowledged that it’s not easy for Catholics to explain why God permits evil and suffering, but at the same time he boldly asserted that it’s impossible for an atheist to explain the existence of goodness and love in our world. You simply can’t have love without God, because God is love.
Your college experience should turn out to be some of the best years of your lives. It’s a time to discover things you didn’t know about yourself and the world we live in today. It’s an opportunity to transition to independent living and meet people from different backgrounds. You will form life-long friendships over the next four years or so, and you may even meet your future spouse. Establish a proper balance between studies and social activities, be safe, and stay focused on what’s really important in life. Always remember your family loves you and, more importantly, God loves you.
P.S. And be sure to go to Mass.
(Melvin Arrington is a Professor Emeritus of Modern Languages for the University of Mississippi and a member of Oxford St. John Parish.)