"Journeying is precisely the art of looking toward the horizon, thinking where I want to go but also enduring the fatigue of the journey, which is sometimes difficult. … There are dark days, even days when we fail, even days when we fall … but always think of this: Don't be afraid of failures. Don't be afraid of falling . . . This is working every day, this is journeying as humans. But also, it's bad walking alone: It's bad and boring. Walking in community, with friends, with those who love us, that helps us. It helps us to arrive precisely at that goal, that 'there where' we're supposed to arrive.”--Pope Francis
College years are some of the most formative times in a young person’s life. One not only learns the skills they need to succeed in their future career, they also learn professionalism, time management, and make friends that can last a lifetime. One’s faith can also dramatically shift and change in college. As a cradle Catholic, it is hard for me to point to one moment of surrender, acceptance, or conversion to Christ Jesus as my Lord and Savior. Instead, I characterize my faith journey as a slow metanoia, a more methodical reorienting of my heart and mind to Christ through formation and acceptance over time. It was through gradual engagement in The Catholic University of America’s Campus Ministry and communal life that my personal faith began to be transformed and deepened as I grew in relationship with Christ. As I reflect upon my undergraduate faith journey, what stands out to me as transformative experiences that led me closer to Christ have been moments where I have been accompanied by peer and ordained ministers and when I was trusted to accompany others along their faith journeys.
In my experience at CUA, I had countless individuals willing to journey with me as I learned and grew in the Faith. Specifically, I had peer ministers who were fellow students that grabbed coffee with me, answered my questions about college and the Church, and even commiserated with me over bad professors or annoying classes. My minister was only a year above me, and being able to ask someone who was so relatable about living one’s Catholic faith in college helped me see how to practically follow Christ’s teachings in my four years at CUA. This accompaniment made me realize that Christ calls the members of the Church to care for each other genuinely and authentically, instead of from a place of authority or condescension. Similarly, I was also introduced to spiritual direction early in my sophomore year, and experiences with my spiritual director allowed me to more fully enter into a relationship with Christ that is comfortable with the highs and lows of the Christian life. My spiritual director wanted to understand my faith journey in all of its facets. He helped me chart a course of discipleship that facilitated an encounter with Jesus Christ both sacramentally and in those around me. This relationship also kept me grounded when I had questions and when hard decisions of life rocked the boat that is my personal faith. The relationships with my Student Minister and spiritual director brought me into the Church’s relational mission that was somewhat absent in my faith life before I arrived at college, and the accompaniment I experienced from these individuals led me to get involved in college ministry. Eventually, I became the proverbial accompanier for first-year students at CUA.
Just as being accompanied helped me become more mindful of Christ’s presence in those around me, being the one who accompanies helped me grow closer to Christ as well. I was privileged to be a retreat leader as well as a Student Minister in my time at CUA, and it is from walking with first-year students in these capacities that I have been exposed to new ways of prayer, thinking about God, and living the Christian life as best we can. What has been most impactful from my experience as a Student Minister was walking with my residents as we all made our way back to “in-person” faith throughout 2020 and 2021. Having been isolated from March to April of 2020, my residents and I walked together, helping each other unpack Scripture, become comfortable in Mass again, and encounter Christ differently throughout the pandemic. Even meeting for our weekly Bible study was incredibly transformative after our months of isolation, and our weekly group allowed us to relearn how to worship and reflect as a community again. Journeying with my peers as a lay ecclesial minister allowed me to more deeply encounter Christ in my peers and form a deeper relationship with Him as I was constantly leading or participating in Faith Formation.
Throughout my experiences at college, accompaniment and community have been cornerstones of my faith development. I have come to realize that I am accompanied, I accompany others, and through it all, Jesus journeys with me. Jesus’s presence in the Eucharist and in others has helped me remain firmly rooted in His redemptive love that overcomes all human hardship. College years—especially during a pandemic—can be very isolating, but students can grow greatly in their personal faith with faithful accompaniment.