Perspectives on the Church from College Students
by Ryan Multer
Today’s U.S. college students are a unique mix of individuals. Not only are they diverse in terms of background, race, socio-economics, creed, etc., but they come from various parts of the country, and in some cases the world. They have friends, roommates, and classmates who have a wide array of interests. In addition to the varied demographics, most are at a major point of transition in their lives.
During the past four years as a college student at a Catholic institution, I have found that Catholic college students, just like their demographics, are across the board in their perspectives of the church. I have encountered many students who are strong in their conviction that the Church needs to return to practices of the past, while others hope that the church will continue on a path of reform and renewal. Then, of course, are those who lie somewhere in the middle.
On one end of the spectrum, there are individuals who seek to overturn liturgical reforms of the past forty years and would like the mass to be in Latin again. They claim they find comfort in a tradition marked by clear consistency. To them, the Church needs to focus on maintaining its orthodoxy. Some of them find movements, such as the increasing role of lay leadership, as a detriment to the Church. Many of these Catholic college students think that society needs to conform itself to the Church.
At the other end, I found those who believe that the Church is moving too slowly and should be more forward-looking. They don’t think that the Church should be so rigid in some aspects. They support and encourage the lay movement and would even like to see it taken further with the ordination of women and with marriage permitted for priests. Many students will say that the Church is “out-of-date” and needs to catch up with the times. One student told me that she finds it “scary that the Church is so strict.”
Even though there are severe differences in opinions, there are ironically a few issues where most college students seem to be in agreement. On both sides, for example, tolerance and even acceptance mark college students’ attitudes towards homosexuality.
Moreover, college is a popular time for many Catholic students to become inactive in their practice of the faith, as we traditionally think about it. For some students it is the first time they are away from their parents and they realize that no one is there to force them to go to mass. They may have somewhat of a rebellious attitude toward the church. Others perceive that the Church does not coincide with the changes that are occurring in their lives; they do not see a purpose for the Church in their lives. Then there are the students who disconnect over very practical considerations: they cannot find time for “church” or do not want to get up early on a Sunday morning because they were out late the night before. Additionally, there are some cases where students simply do not feel welcomed or comfortable worshiping with the university community.
In my four years, I have experienced a broad range of perspectives on the Church from fellow college students. This wide scale of viewpoints leaves us with a great challenge to reach out to college students wherever they may be on their journey.
Mr. Ryan Multer is a recent graduate of The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, and serves as PNCEA’s Executive Coordinator.