Following is my May column that appears in this issue of the print edition of The Catholic Post.
It’s graduation season, and time to consider gifts for students in your life. A new book, How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard: 40 Tips for Faithful College Students is a standout among potential gift book ideas.
But despite its title, the book is not just for students going to Harvard, or students going to college, or students. It’s for everyone.
How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard is a genuinely helpful and charmingly written guide for anyone from high school on up, wanting to living a faithful, balanced, joyful Catholic life in the midst of our busy, diverse culture and world. As I look through all the quotes that I pulled from this book, each one is applicable and practical not just to students or grads, but to every Catholic.
How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard is written by Aurora Griffin, a recent Harvard graduate and Rhodes scholar. I would be inclined to buy this book just for the following quote, in which Griffin talks about distraction in prayer:
“A friend of mine once said that when we focus on the mystery in a decade of the Rosary, we give Mary a flower. When we get distracted, we give her a frog. That may be, but we are lucky that moms love us so much that they still like getting frogs.”
As you may be able to tell, the book is not written in a super-scholarly way, but informal and friendly, like a conversation with your bookish, agreeable friend who’s serious about her Catholic faith and wants to encourage you in yours.
How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard is full of great little nuggets of advice. For instance, in a brief discussion about fasting, Griffin makes the case that refraining from good things we like is not just a virtue and character building practice, but can also help open us to God’s grace:
“The important thing is that if you wish to grow in your spiritual life, you have to get used to saying no to yourself in small ways so that you can be open to God’s grace in big ways.”
After a basic introduction about Catholic life, the book is divided into four major sections: Community, Prayer, Academics, and Living it Out. Each of the 40 “tips” is in one of these four sections.
Griffin puts “Community” first because she considers it the most vital aspect of living out a Catholic faith. But that can be true in life in general—so many studies have shown that people do better in physical and emotional health with social support. She also encourages Catholics to recognize and embrace the diversity of how people live out their faith:
“If you find yourself in a leadership position in a Catholic organization on campus, you’ll need to accept that there are other ways of looking at the Faith apart from your own. If you try to force your views on everyone else, you will waste time and damage the community. Instead, try to appreciate the incredible diversity that comes from being part of the universal Church.”
What I love best about the book is that Griffin is intensely practical about so many things, and yet also calls readers to go deeper in their faith. Even for those who aren’t in college, being intentional about practicing faith is a big part of progress in the spiritual life. Griffin especially recommends a daily “routine of life” for prayer and spiritual practice.
In the tip, “Read Catholic Literature,” Griffin writes that “reading good stories makes us better people: it’s humanizing.”
While it is applicable to everyone, there is a lot of Catholic college-specific advice that is sound and important to consider. For instance, in the “Living it Out” section, Griffin writes about how living one’s faith can be a countercultural act:
“The secular world tells us that college is about getting all our wild days done with before we enter the real world and have responsibilities. It’s absurd, but I’ve even seen parents buy into this myth. The truth is that you never get to put real life on hold—not even in college. Your actions have as many, if not more consequences in college as they do later in life.”
I would consider How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard a great book not just for high school graduates, but those in college, as well as those earlier in high school, so they can begin to consider and integrate some of these ideas into their own developing faith life.
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I also highly recommend another book for college-bound students. It’s Your College Faith: Own It! by husband-and-wife team Matt & Colleen Swaim. You can read my reviews of this book here and here, among others. Turns out I’ve mentioned this book (and gifted it) a lot.