Faith Alive, No. 20: We shall rise: A note to graduating college seniors

Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Conn., speaks Nov. 13, 2018, at Theology on Tap with Sarah Yaklic, former director of Grotto Network out of the University of Notre Dame, and Jonathan Lewis, assistant secretary for pastoral ministry and social concerns in the Archdiocese of Washington. CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard

College students have been forced to leave campuses and isolate for at least the past month amid a global pandemic — adding to the fears and disappointments many had already been experiencing. I wrote the following note for those scheduled to graduate this year. I hope it brings some consolation.

“Be not afraid! Open wide the doors for Christ!” These famous words of St. John Paul II called out to me in my youth. Plastered over posters, videos and referenced often by priests, the command was unavoidable. So, open wide I did.

At a young age, I asked Jesus to enter my life and use me for his glory. And while of course my life was not perfect, I found courage in these words to push through my fears. The idea was that as long as the doors of my heart were open for Christ, he would open the doors of opportunity for me. For a while this seemed to work.

However, this conditional assurance I had placed in God came to light when I graduated college. Up to that point I felt I had done all the right things as an undergraduate: I chose studying over parties, served on the student senate and retreat teams, ministered on mission trips and frequented the sacraments.

Yet, as I prepared to walk the stage, my pride and excitement began to be outweighed by my doubts and fears. There seemed to be no doors open for me after graduation. After all the years of hard work and faithfulness, it seemed I had failed.

I had to move back home, and after months of job rejections, I fell into a deep depression, endured a painful break-up, and learned my mother was diagnosed with a life-changing illness.

What had I done wrong? Was this really God’s will for me? Within months, my hopeful future turned into a debt-ridden dead end.

I tell you this story not because I want you to focus on the negatives, and not simply because I want you to know that you’re not alone — though I hope that helps. I tell you this story because I want you to see that I survived that darkness and today live a happy and fulfilling life. Although you may not see it yet, you one day will too.

Because the truth is that opening our hearts to Christ doesn’t mean suffering and disappointments won’t occur; it means having someone there to walk through them with you when they do. This is a lesson we often learn in retrospect.

The end of every academic year is preceded by the seasons of Lent and Easter. Lent in a way is all about retrospect, looking back on the suffering that Christ endured for our salvation. We have the benefit of knowing how the story ends, of course, but the apostles were not so fortunate.

To them, the death of Christ was incomprehensible. Like us, the apostles probably questioned what they had done wrong and felt they had failed. It was not until after Pentecost that the truth of Christ’s suffering became clearer to the apostles, who, looking back, were able to see God’s hand in the darkness.

The glory of the Resurrection is so much more powerful in light of the cross. I am immeasurably more grateful for my current success in life because of the pains and loss I had to endure. Today my life has turned out more beautiful than I ever thought possible in those days after graduation.

This doesn’t mean that disappointment and suffering are necessary steps to success and happiness. But if we allow Christ into our sufferings and disappointments, he can transform them into something greater. This glimpse of the Easter miracle is promised to all of us, though our time in the tomb may last more than a few days.

Christ’s promise remains the same; we shall rise nonetheless.