The Happy and Successful Student: Sober and Chaste
Every high school student wonders what God has in store for your life: What are my specific gifts and talents? What exactly is my vocation, my calling in life? Will I be happy with my future? I want to be loved; is there anyone out there for me?
If you are going to college, you naturally also wonder what God has in store for the next few years. Hopefully it will be a joyful, fulfilling adventure!
Sadly it’s not unusual for college students to develop unhealthy relationships and engage in unhealthy behaviors. It will be up to you, with God’s help, to stay on the good path—the path of chastity, sobriety, and excellence.
At the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), we call these the “Big Three.” By no means are these the only things necessary for being a good Christian. First, we must have a relationship with God and communication through prayer. But we stress chastity, sobriety, and excellence because they are tough virtues to acquire on a typical college campus.
God, in His great love for you, has made you for a reason. He has made you to love and to give love, and the only way you will know how to do this is by learning from the One who created you. Now is a good time to be learning, because if you are called to marriage, it’s not unusual to find your future spouse among the many friends that you will meet in college.
Since God is love, and we are made in God’s image and likeness, we are created to both receive love and to give love like God—like the Trinity, in a total gift of self. And because we are in God’s image and likeness, we have dignity. All of us are given this gift, and that is why each one of us has a God-given beauty and attractiveness.
Love is what completes us, what makes us human in God’s image. In order to love like God does within the Trinity, we must make a sincere gift of ourselves. Man and woman are created to give themselves entirely to each other in marriage.
In marriage, God unites the man and woman together in a sacrament—the two become one flesh. On the altar, the man and woman give their lives to each other; in marital union, they make that gift real and visible by giving their bodies to each other. Isn’t that beautiful and amazing? This is why fidelity in marriage—and chastity outside of marriage—is so important.
So why aren’t all relationships between men and women as perfect as the first marriage, if that’s what God had in mind from the start? The problem is sin. The love that should have existed between man and woman is still there, but often it’s mingled with a lot of selfishness and self–love. There is misunderstanding, tension, and the sad reality of men and women using each other selfishly.
Sometimes we’re afraid that the thing that we want most, real love, doesn’t exist. Sometimes, we settle for a little pleasure that seems like love, because we think that the life-long love we desire isn’t out there. The good news is that this love is available to us, and that we can have this true love by following God’s plan for our lives, specifically with the virtue of chastity.
Chastity is the power to love others in the right way. It is about so much more than not having sex before marriage. Chastity is about loving the way that God has called us to love, with a pure heart and mind, without selfishness or lust.
Even though we know the right thing to do in the area of chastity, it is still very difficult to love in the right way. That’s where the virtue of self-control comes in. A virtue is a good habit: the more that you practice it, the easier it is to do the right thing. Self-control is putting your physical desires under the control of reason. This is key in the practice of chastity.
And it’s as important to guard our hearts as it is to guard our bodies. Have you ever found yourself getting too serious too quickly in a relationship? Does it ever seem like you fall for a guy or a girl, but it turns out they just wanted to “hang out?”
Chastity is all about freedom. You are not free when your reason doesn’t control your desires. We have souls and intellect. Our desires are to be under the control of our minds—under the control of reason. Then, we will be free to follow our desires or not, based on what we know is best for us.
Make boundaries for yourself. Know exactly where your line is. Commit to being faithful to these boundaries. Also, talk to your boyfriend or girlfriend about them. Talk about how you can keep them together—you can’t do it alone! Get a friend to help you be accountable. Also, think about what you will do when your boundaries are being challenged.
We usually flirt because we are trying to get attention. We are trying to get love, and, attention sometimes feels like love. Heavy flirting is also selfish—it can lead someone on and hurt them. It also can get you into bad situations. We want attention—we try to get it by flirting. But, love is all about giving!
It is a reality that most college students drink, or, at least, they face enormous pressures to drink. There are many different opinions and beliefs about drinking: Is drinking at all permissible? Is it okay to get drunk? Is it okay to get drunk from time to time, if it helps relieve stress? Or, is it alright to get drunk every night if it makes you feel good?
People will give many different answers to each one of these questions. What do you think? Before heading to college, take some time to examine these questions under the light of the Scriptures and Church teaching.
Did you know that you could fill 3,500 Olympic–size swimming pools with the amount of beer, wine, and liquor consumed by American college students each year? Did you also know that 80 percent to 90 percent of campus violence is linked to alcohol abuse? And that 90 percent of all rapes on college campuses involve alcohol?
But there are plenty of Bible passages about drinking, and we know that Jesus Himself drank wine. If the Bible says that drinking is okay, then how are all of these bad things associated with alcohol? The key element is drunkenness. It’s fine to drink legally and in moderation (so that you still are in full possession of your mind and your senses, so that you can make good decisions), but getting drunk is a sin. It’s abusing our bodies, souls, and the gift of alcohol. Sobriety is enjoying the gift of alcohol in the way that God intended.
Our spirit directs our actions. You know what you want to do and your body obeys. The Holy Spirit will guide us to make good decisions if we allow Him. But when we get drunk, we allow the “spirits of alcohol” to make our decisions for us. It comes down to a simple choice: do you want to be led by “spirits” (alcohol) or by the Holy Spirit? If we choose the Holy Spirit, we will have a full and happy life. The Spirit brings a life of peace and joy. Can abusing alcohol promise this much?
When you drink too much, you don’t have the full use of your brain, and, therefore, your reason is impaired. You can’t make good decisions when drunk! Everyone, no matter how well they can “hold their liquor,” has a biological reaction to alcohol which affects their decision-making abilities.
It is tough to have moderation in drinking. How can you have the willpower to drink moderately? You need temperance to do this.
Temperance is the virtue that controls our appetites for basic sense things: food, drink, and sex. Another word for temperance is self–control. It isn’t about not doing things, it is about placing your desires in the right order. It means that you are not being controlled by your basic sense desires, but that you put them under the control of your mind. If you have this control, this self–mastery, then you are free to do the right thing.
For example, imagine a person who loves ice cream and craves it day and night. If that person gave into their desires whenever they craved ice cream, they would be very unhealthy. So, they don’t always give in. They have the self–control to say no when they need to. That’s what temperance is all about: putting our bodily desires under the control of our reason. This gives us the freedom to be fully human—we don’t have to follow our sense desires like the animals do!
How do you do this? Build good habits. First, try to build a habit of discipline and self–control in all areas of your life. The more that you act on what you know you should do, the easier it will be to say no to other things in your life that will not lead you to happiness, like drunkenness.
We are called as Christians to imitate Christ. That’s what it means to be His followers. While we will not be perfect in what we do, we are to try to follow Jesus’s example and to do well what God has given us to do.
That is what excellence is: a superiority of virtue and a preeminence in accomplishment. We actually are able to be excellent with the help of God’s grace!
It’s easy to become a “human do–ing” instead of “human be–ing”. In order to see how we can do our best in everything, we must first look at how we can be our best, how we can be whom God has called us to be!
First of all, prayer. The most important thing is to work on your relationship with God, and don’t forget this if you go away to college. Daily prayer is so important. It cannot be over-emphasized!
Sacraments are also key. They are gifts that Jesus has given to us so that we may be closer to Him. Receive the Eucharist often, go to confession regularly. If you add the sacraments to an openness to be changed by Christ and spend time in daily prayer, God will do so much in your life!
God has a plan for each of us. It is a good plan that is going to lead us to happiness if we have patience and allow God to reveal it to us… in His own time. Right now, God has placed you in certain circumstances. He has entrusted you to a specific family, given you certain friends, and put you in a certain school. So He may lead you to college. Whatever your circumstances, God wants you to do everything to the best of your ability.
In addition to what God has called you to do now, there is a calling which God has for you in which to best live out your Christian life. This is called your “state in life.” You could be called to be a religious sister, to be married, or to be single. God already knows what your calling is. He’s known since “the foundation of the world.” Your vocation is not something that you should worry about; it is God’s gift to you that He will reveal to you when the time is right.
Meanwhile, strive for excellence. At a faithful Catholic college, you’ll have plenty of help along the way.
FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, is a national outreach that meets college students where they are and invites them into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and the Catholic faith. Founded in 1998 at Newman Guide recommended Benedictine College, FOCUS has 361 missionaries on 74 college campuses.
Copyright © 2020 The Cardinal Newman Society. Permission to reprint without modification to text, with attribution to author and to The Cardinal Newman Society, and (if published online) hyperlinked to the article on the Newman Society’s website. The views expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Cardinal Newman Society.