Dear Catholic Students,
The colleges and the universities across Pennsylvania have been
preparing to welcome you to a new academic year. You have, we hope, been
refreshed and renewed during the summer days; you have been finishing
the tasks of registering for classes, moving into your residences, and
obtaining your books. You have been making new friends and renewing
friendships already begun. We, your bishops, want to greet you warmly in
this joyful time and give you a special message of encouragement and
challenge. Perhaps you are wondering: "What is it that the bishops
can tell me that I have not already heard from parents, teachers,
pastors, alumni, resident advisors, coaches, classmates, and
friends?" We do understand that you have already been given plenty
of sound advice from many important people in your life and that you
will have more than your share of "required reading" in the
days ahead. As the chief shepherds of the dioceses of Pennsylvania, we
want, however, to express to you, dear students, the fundamental
importance of linking your studies, your work, your leisure, and all the
advice you have already received to the special demand of the Gospel to
be a follower of Christ. It is Jesus who calls you to be faithful and
joyful as you grow in "wisdom, age, and grace."
"Be transformed by the renewing of your mind."
- Romans 12:2
Your college years are a time of both transformation and renewal.
They will hold both joy and challenge. The opportunity to grow in
knowledge, to learn new skills, and to explore new ideas will open
exciting horizons for your future. You will develop wonderful new
friendships in an atmosphere of greater independence and freedom of
life. At the same time, this freedom will call forth on your part even
more personal responsibility. Use this opportunity not simply for
specialized professional training and broader social experience, but
also for the development of yourself as a person of faith, virtue, and
culture. Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, encourages you to continue
in the search for truth and meaning throughout your lives when he says:
"the human spirit must be cultivated in such a way that there
results a growth in its ability to wonder, to understand, to
contemplate, to make personal judgements, and to develop a religious,
moral, and social sense" (Ex Corde Ecclesiae #23).
"Do not conform yourselves to this age."
- Romans 12:2
Your effort to develop your potential to its fullness will not be an
easy task, nor unfold automatically; it will involve the hard work of
integrating different kinds of life experience. To come to genuine
fullness requires integrating your growing awareness of God's place in
your life. This is not always appreciated in today's world. We live in a
culture that often pushes aside faith and the spiritual life. Too often,
greater emphasis is given to the pursuit of material things, to
interpretations based on worldly perspectives, and to values which are
contrary to the Gospel. You no doubt will experience all of these
temptations in your life, and you will be no stranger to them during
these years of higher education as you interact with persons and ideas
from diverse backgrounds. Remember that Christians look at the world
differently because Christ has revealed to us God's intention for human
life in the world.
In your college experience you will have the chance to respond to the
basic human question that persons of every generation have faced:
"How shall I live my life?" As you respond to this essential
question, our hope is that you will recognize how important it is for
you to remain close to Jesus Christ and his Church. As a person of
faith, baptized in God's Spirit, you have been blessed with the life and
grace of God. It is this life of faith that will enable you to do the
will of God and to achieve with great success all that God has planned
"We, though many, are one body in Christ."
- Romans 12:5
As your bishops, we care deeply for you. One way in which we attempt
to express our solidarity with you is through your Campus Newman Center
or Campus Ministry Office. These provide many occasions for you to
worship God and to meet other Catholics who share your love for God and
your journey of faith. We hope one of the first things you will do is
find out the schedule for Sunday and weekday Mass, Confession, and
special devotions. Please get acquainted with the community service
opportunities and pro-life activities that the Campus Ministry Office
can provide. Be active participants in Campus Ministry activities. The
Newman Center/Campus Ministry Office is a place to meet other Catholic
students for fun and relaxation or for a quiet place to study and pray.
It will be, we hope, "a home away from home."
"Judge what is God's will,
what is good, pleasing, and perfect."
- Romans 12:2
Your college years should be a time for you to deepen your
relationship with Jesus. The gift of human friendship is a wonderful
blessing. However, we should be ever mindful of
St. Augustine's insight that our hearts will always be restless until
they rest in the Lord. College is a time when your relationship with
Christ will be tested by novel ideas, convincing arguments, and
well-intentioned skeptics. Remember that Christ's loving embrace of
humanity has stood the test of time and that his love for you is
steadfast and abiding.
When deciding what path you will follow in life, when exposed to
ideas that are contrary to your faith, when faced with challenges that
will test your values, your decision-making ability, your faith and
maturity, there is no greater wisdom than that which comes from a
growing relationship with Jesus. There is no friendship you will have in
life that will give you more confidence, more self-assurance, or mean
more to you than your friendship with him. Imagine what students could
achieve if they had the experience of the all powerful and loving Jesus
strengthening them throughout the day.
Many college students have discovered this already. We encourage you
to grow in this relationship through personal prayer, the sacraments,
especially going to Confession regularly, and, above all else,
participating at Mass and receiving Holy Eucharist often. Take advantage
of all your Church has to offer to help you live life in Christ. To
enjoy a close relationship with God, be attentive to the wisdom of our
Church about the spiritual life. To build close relationships with
fellow students in greater personal integrity, be responsive to the
wisdom of our Church about the moral life. The Church has been called an
"expert in humanity," and she offers her wisdom to help you
grow in your love of God and neighbor.
"Cling to what is good."
- Romans 12:9
During the college years, students often struggle with questions
about their faith. Some questions are the result of deliberate attacks
on the Catholic faith by those who do not understand or respect it.
Other questions arise from personal difficulties which prompt the
students to address new and serious life issues. Still other questions
are prompted by the poor example of fellow Christians. The Church
encourages you to persevere in searching for the Truth. Know that many
Catholics before you have struggled with these same questions and found
the Church to be the "pillar and bulwark of truth" (1 Timothy
3:15). We encourage you to be patient, honest, and courageous in your
search. Trust that the Lord has provided you with a faith that is rock
solid and a Church that is true.
"Be fervent in spirit;
he whom you serve is the Lord."
- Romans 12:11
Each of us - at whatever stage of life we find ourselves - has the
responsibility to live the great commandment: "You shall love the
Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, and with all
your mind … [and] you shall love your neighbor as yourself"
(Matthew 22:37-38). For many in the college community, you will be an
example of what it means to be a Catholic and a follower of Jesus.
Consequently, you should never underestimate the power of your words and
actions to influence and deeply touch the minds and hearts of those who
come to know you. Jesus calls you to be a living witness of God's
unchanging love and to bring others to know Jesus Christ. By living your
faith daily, not only will you be following Our Lord's command to
"let your light shine before all," but you will also be
affording yourself the unparalleled opportunity to embrace for yourself
in a new and vibrant way the religious heritage that you have received.
In doing so, you will come to experience personally the power, strength,
and peace that comes from living the values of the Gospel.
Throughout these years of study, we commit ourselves to pray for you
so that the riches of our Catholic faith will be ever more rooted and
experienced in your lives and in your hearts. May our gracious God bless
and bring to successful completion all your endeavors.
"May the grace of our
Lord Jesus Christ be with you!"
- Romans 16:20
The Catholic Bishops of Pennsylvania
Used with permission of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference