As the end of the semester approaches, college life gets busier and busier. Papers, exams, and presentations pile up along with the pressure of moving and preparing for a summer internship, job, or classes. This year, it just happens to align with me for the busiest time of the Liturgical year – Holy Week and Pascha. When I first looked at the two calendars and realized finals and Holy Week would share the same dates, I was filled with horror and despair.
I was standing in church this past Sunday thinking about the two papers I have due this week, the bibliography I had yet to write for a paper I didn’t even know the topic of, the choir music I had to memorize, and the various meetings I had planned for the week.
While my brain was creating a mental to do list, my lips were moving along to the Cherubic Hymn. As I sang the words and melody by heart, I was suddenly jarred from my school stress and brought forcibly into the now. The hymnography hit me hard. “Let us lay aside all earthly cares.” I realized I was standing in the presence of God and the miracle of Holy Eucharist, yet my mind was stuck in the blackhole of school stress.
The Church, in its never-ending brilliance, gives us everything we need. Our minds naturally wander, but the church is constantly pulling us back. That’s why the priest or deacon says “Let us attend!” so many times! The Cherubic Hymn warns us of what is to come – the Holy Mystery of Communion – and gives us explicit instructions on how to prepare.
During this busy time of the semester, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and often the last thing we want to do is get up on a Sunday morning to go to Liturgy. It’s so tempting and simple to get that extra hour of sleep or studying. We cannot forget the Church, even more so as we approach Holy Week and the Lord’s triumphant Resurrection. I know for myself, attending services in the middle of a crazy week help break up the monotonous studying and refreshes me. It reminds me of what is truly important and of the eternal love of Christ for his people.
As we’ve mentioned before, the first forty days of your freshmen year of college are going to be foundational for the rest of your college experience. We’ve spent a lot of time encouraging your parents, your priest, your catechetical school teachers, and your camp counselors to help us connect you to an OCF chapter in the first forty days of school this fall. But what will you be doing in those first forty days to stay connected to Christ and His Church? After all, you are the one who will decide if all the efforts of those who love you will come to fruition. You will choose your friends, and you will choose how to spend your time. You alone will decide where your path will take you. Will you listen to Christ calling you to repentance and transformation? Will you continue to dedicate your life to Christ as your parents and godparents have done for you?
A lot will be decided–whether you are conscious of it or not–in the first forty days of classes this fall. The habits you build then will likely stick with you throughout your college career. So here’s my advice for those first forty days:
Go to Liturgy. Sounds simple enough, right? But after an intense first week of getting oriented to your classes coupled with no sleep as you make new friends, when Sunday rolls around, it will be so easy to tell yourself, “I’ll go next week.” But next week often rolls around and hears the same song. And trust me, the longer you are away, the harder it will be to take the leap to go back for the first time. Being in Liturgy, in the presence of God and surrounded by the Christian community, and receiving Christ’s very Body and Blood are absolutely essential to the life of a Christian. You can’t go long without them without starting to lose a sense of who you are. Don’t know where the nearest church is? Here ya go.
Go to Class. There’s a reason that freshmen year courses are often considered “weed out” classes: they can be really overwhelming. Actually making sure you make it to that 8 AM bio class will be worth it in the long run. So will doing your homework. You do, after all, want to get that degree at the end of this whole thing.
Pray on Your Own. Take five minutes in the morning and five minutes at night to be silent, be thankful, and offer up a prayer to God. Like going to Liturgy, having a prayer life will keep you centered on who you really are and will give you a chance to reflect on the challenges and choices that you are facing as a young person.
Read Scripture. If reading Scripture isn’t already a part of your daily routine, now is the time to add it in. The words of Scripture stabilize, sustain, and strengthen us. As you meet challenges to your faith and your morals, having the words of Scripture to turn to, especially the words of our Lord in the Gospels, will help you make sense of the world around you and will help you navigate difficult times. Not sure where to start? Download the OCF Connect App to get the daily readings right on your phone (along with lots of other pretty cool stuff).
Just remember, a little bit goes a long way. Forty days is not a long period of time, but it’s long enough to build a strong foundation for what you lies ahead. Do what you can without making excuses, and keep the work of salvation at the forefront of your mind.