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Thoughts for high school grads going to college Print
Guest column
Journey with Faith
Deacon Lawrence Oparaji

Hello, dear graduate, Congratulations on achieving such an important milestone! You have reached it because of your faith that God, who started this good work in you, will bring it to fulfillment.

In addition, your hard work, your dedication, and some very vital relationships -- family and friends who have supported you and loved you and journeyed with you -- have all helped you come to this moment in your life. Please know of my best wishes going forward.

These past years have been very important in forming you into the person that you are, and the coming years will be central in preparing you to reach new and blessed heights in your faith, career, and relationships.

Making the right choices

Before you, dear graduate, is a world of opportunities, and for these opportunities to come to fruition, you will need to make the right choices -- life choices as to what kinds of relationships you want to keep, your faith, and your family.

Life is challenging and full of many obstacles and hills to climb. Life can also be confusing, and for this reason, many people leave their faith and stay away from healthy relationships, because they do not want to deal with any of these things.

However, as human beings we are called to communion, and we are made for one another. We are made in love, and we are made for love. So, relationships with God, family, and good friends are essential to our well-being.

You have probably heard it said, "No person is an island." This is true, especially in our modern world when there is a huge rush to be "free," "independent," and "isolated." Independence does not mean having no relationships to depend on during challenging times. It actually means the opposite: knowing ourselves well enough to know when to lean on the shoulders of others, talk to them, and invite them into our struggles, so they can carry us through our challenges.

Explore life

So, dear graduate, I invite you to explore life! Do not just breeze through it, but really explore it and experience it with Jesus Christ, your family, and good friends as your compass.

Your college years will present you with new challenges. You will meet people with different perspectives, and they will challenge you. New questions about everything you believe will arise -- these are all good -- do not run away from them.

We have the answers; you just need to ask the right people. As my canon law teacher in seminary always said, "I do not expect you to know the entire code of canon law, but I expect you to know where to look for answers."

So, questions are important, and it is okay to not have an immediate answer, but it is invaluable to know where to look and to surround yourself with people who can help answer those questions.

Do not run away from those questions, but engage them. I assure you that if you cling tight to Christ and His Church, to your family, and friends, you will find these new challenges exciting, because you have people to share them with and to fall back on for support, for answers, and for clarifications.

Remember to pray

When you are away at college, remember to pray often. Sometimes we think prayer means spending days in a church or something we arrive at instantly. Prayer is actually a gradual

rocess, and you can start as easily and simply as saying, "Jesus I love you," or "Thank you Jesus for today," and grow from there.

The more you pray, the easier it will feel. On those days when you might feel overwhelmed by life situations and do not feel like praying, you can even say to God, "I am tired," or "I am overwhelmed."

God knows that even before you say it, so it'll make sense to Him, but you need to love God enough to tell Him how you feel. It's important to love God enough, to want to share those pains and joys with Him.

Newman Centers

On a lot of college campuses there are places called "Newman Centers" where students can find faith, friendship, and fun. They exist to help students form happy, holy, and healthy relationships.

During your first days on campus, try to locate a Newman Center or the nearest Catholic church. Check it out and give it a try. Get to know some new folks and begin college with Christ.

Form your relationships, not based on what is cool (I like being cool, too, lol), but based on what you believe to be true, good, and beautiful, based on your goals and aspirations and on our common call as children of a heavenly Father, who loves us and gave His only begotten Son up for us.

Get a journal

One last thought, if you can, please get a journal. I have found it helpful to just jot down certain thoughts, mistakes, challenges, and goals. That way, you have a written agreement for yourself, and you can see mistakes you have made and avoid them next time, or you can write down thoughts that strike you throughout your day.

That way you are not just living life by chance but more intentionally. We learn as we go, and with a journal, we can see the patterns in our lives more clearly. We get to see the hand of God working in our lives, what He is doing, and where He is calling us to grow.

Okay, I am going to stop now! I know we all love short homilies! But please know of my prayers for you, dear graduate, and if there is ever a way I can be of help or service as you embark on this journey, please do not hesitate to reach out.

Once again, congratulations to you, dear graduate, and God bless you today and always!

Deacon Lawrence Oparaji is a transitional deacon of the Diocese of Madison serving at Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Parish in Sun Prairie.