Oftentimes when I take a look back at my life, it makes absolutely no sense.
I don’t mean to say that life is some mysterious enigma we’re not meant to truly and fully discover on any universal level due to the individualistic experiences of blah blah blah -- no. I’m not that deep. Honestly, I’m not sure I even know what I just said. Let me know if it was cool.
What I mean is that for most of the crucial turning points in my life, the “why” is almost always lost to me in the moment, and very often for good (so far, at least). I often wonder how I’ve made it here because I’m rarely knowingly following any grand path. I’m more stumbling like an oblivious moron through a life of near misses with all the unintended agility of that guy in Ocean’s Twelve who avoided all the security lasers to get that thingy.
I’ll give you my best example.
In May of 2012, I graduated from Franciscan University of Steubenville after eight straight semesters. In case you don’t know, Franciscan University is CA-THO-LIC. I’m talkin’ Mass 21 times a week, confession five times a week, Eucharistic Adoration 168 hours a week (literally always), chapel-sized praise & worship every week, arena-sized praise & worship every month, all on-campus… Catholic.
When I arrived in August of 2008, I was Catholic, but not with even an eighth the intensity you’re likely to find in an FUS freshman. I had been to confession about twice in my entire life, I never went to Mass on any day but Sunday, I’m not sure I even knew what Eucharistic Adoration was, and praise & worship was flat-out awkward to me (honestly it kind of still is (don’t hurt me)).
To my credit, I feel I’ve always had a very solid grip on the spirit of my faith. Even so, it was pretty much running in the background at the time. Not only did I not practice or even believe several of the Church’s teachings, but I wasn’t even aware of what the majority of them were.
I had no idea that any person on earth was against abortion. I had no idea that anybody took issue with any kind of contraceptive. I had no idea that there even was a public debate about gay marriage. I didn’t know that some people thought masturbation or pornography were harmful, which you probably could’ve guessed had you been aware of the fact that I lost my virginity at 17. Basically, I had no grip on where the Church stood on any social issues; something that most Catholics, especially in this day and age, have a very solid grip on. What’s more is that most Catholics are obviously standing on the Catholic side of those issues and I wasn’t.
Learning about and growing in your faith is part of literally every Catholic’s journey, so really all I’m getting at is that my situation was uncommon for a Franciscan University freshman. When I set foot on that campus, I was standing firm against my peers on the most relevant Catholic issues and I wasn’t even aware of it.
So how on God’s green earth did I end up there?
The short answer is that God wanted me to. The long answer begins with the fact that I only knew about Franciscan because the Catholic summer camp I went to from 2002 to 2008 (Camp Guggenheim (“Guggy” for short (yes, really))) was run mostly by FUS students on their summer break, and they all seemed really happy about it. Actually, that’s the whole long answer. That’s it. Some teenagers I looked up to were having a nice time so I filled out one application, wrote one essay, got one acceptance letter, and I was Ohio-bound by August.
Imagine where my brain was by mid-Fall. Surrounded mostly by severely on-fire young adults, I suddenly felt that my weekly commitment to Sunday Mass was not nearly as impressive as it was back home. Don’t get me wrong; I wasn’t out to impress anybody, but the differences between me and my average peer were tangible from the get-go, and I wasn’t sure how to handle that.
In my first semester I got my lowest grade in any class of my entire collegiate career: a D- in Foundations of Catholicism. Yep. A Catholic priest tested my knowledge of the most basic aspects of the faith and I freaking failed. In fact, my overall GPA after my first semester was 1.82.
So how on God’s green earth did I stay there?
I ask because, to this day, I can’t think of one logical reason that I returned for the Spring semester given the fact that my parents had a strict “you’re coming home” policy for my brother and I should our GPAs dip too low (I think mine dipped more than twice as low as it was allowed to); a policy which they enforced with my brother when he slipped up a fraction as badly as I did, bringing him home from a university they actually liked without breaking a sweat.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention: before my grades even came back, my family already couldn’t stand that I was there.
Before I go any further, I’m sure my family would want you to know that as time went on, we as a family grew stronger together over the course of this whole situation. The journey was not without its snags and disagreements (some more severe than others), but our love and strength as a family more than overcame the many obstacles that this period of change presented.
Their main concern was that the many challenging teachings that the Catholic faith presents would have a negative effect upon my development as a young adult. Not to mention that I had completely squandered such open access to higher education, and that my new girlfriend, whom I could not even remotely separate myself from (another issue entirely), was the main influence for my newfound interest in and zeal for these teachings. I also allowed her to be one of the greatest distractions from my studies, second only to ultimate frisbee.
In short, my return to Franciscan in the Spring was not my doing. Believe me, my parents have spines only God Himself could bend. My time on that campus shaped me into the man I am today; a man that I and my family are proud of. I feel that my commitment to remain open-minded and level-headed proved to be a true source of calm for my family and me, and many (if not all) of these concerns and disagreements seemed to dissolve over time as I essentially showed that nobody would or was even trying to brainwash me
Looking back, I understand that I was carried to and through that campus. I did not journey there knowing what it would bring me any more than my brother journeyed back home knowing that it would benefit him. I believe that goes for all of us on some level many times throughout our lives. We are truly helpless without our God, and sometimes when I ask Him to take the wheel, I imagine Him looking at me like…
“Dude what do you think I’ve been doing?”
He truly is with us always.