Campus ministry must connect students’ faith journey from head to heart

February 28, 2017

The University of St. Thomas (UST) enjoys the singular status of being the only Catholic university within the Archdiocese. Because of this distinction for the past 70 years, the faculty, staff and administration at UST have remained committed to providing an authentic Catholic liberal arts education, in the tradition of the Basilian Fathers. Core requirements in theology and philosophy, the architecturally stunning Chapel of St. Basil, daily offerings of the Sacraments, a number of Catholic student groups, and the theology faculty’s reception of the mandatum are just a few of the things that attest to the university’s commitment to its Catholic identity.

And yet, even with the Catholic faith woven into the fabric of the university, it is still possible that a young Catholic can attend UST and not truly grow in their personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

When you attend a Catholic university it can become difficult to distinguish the deepening of one’s faith from simply being surrounded by elements of it. Taking personal time to pray and reflect on the presence of God in one’s life feels less urgent when you are regularly assigned Scripture or other theological passages as homework, even when done hastily. It can be easy to pass by the chapel during the school day and never go in because the nearness of a sacred space can give a false sense of familiarity.

And it can be easy to pass by all the opportunities for spiritual enrichment through the Sacraments, student retreats and other events because one knows that, if they miss it, they will be offered again. And then just like that, four years have come and gone and they never fully took advantage of all the formation that a Catholic university offers them.

Now, I want to be clear that both in my time as a student and as staff I have witnessed a great number of students who have grown tremendously in their faith during their undergraduate career, taking advantage of all the offered opportunities. But, because of the experiences of students described above I take my job in campus ministry very seriously.

Although it is a tremendous blessing to offer courses in Catholic theology and philosophy and to be able to provide a Catholic ethos in which to study, I am convinced of the importance of encounter in leading our students on a journey from the head to the heart. Our faith is not a faith of ideas. Our faith is a faith in a person: Jesus Christ. 

And just as God became man so as to personally invite us into an intimate relationship with Him, so too is it the job of a campus ministry to reach out to the students on campus and invite them into a relationship with Jesus Christ. It is our job to let them know that the God whom they study in class is the real God who desires to be in relationship with them, and to show them how to enter into, deepen, and maintain that relationship. It is with this idea of invitation and encounter that we plan our retreats, programs and events for the students at UST and cherish every opportunity to reach out to them.

As we enter into the season of Lent, please join me in offering up prayers, fasting and almsgiving for all college students in Houston and abroad, that they may be able to receive this invitation to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. 

Austin Cruz is the program coordinator for Campus Ministry at the University of St. Thomas.