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Harvard Catholic

New book by recent grad gives tips for keeping the faith on campus

When parents send their child off to college, they hope for safety and success. Catholic parents have the added concern that their child will not remain in the faith amid campus pressures. Thus, a new book by Harvard graduate Aurora Griffin on how to stay Catholic is most welcome. How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard: 40 Tips for Faithful Catholic Students carries an introduction by Catholic apologist Peter Kreeft, who points out that most books of this type are written by parents, whereas this one gives practical advice from the front lines by a recent graduate.

Griffin, 25, earned a bachelor degree in Classics, magna cum laude, and was president of the Harvard Catholic Student Association. She then studied at Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship, receiving a graduate degree in Theology. She now lives in Los Angeles, where she is preparing to begin a career with a global consulting firm. Fathers for Good corresponded with her by e-mail.

Fathers for Good: What was the biggest challenge to your Catholic faith at Harvard?

Aurora Griffin: For me personally, the biggest challenge was integrating my faith with everything else I was doing with academics and extracurricular activities. With such a busy schedule, it could feel like going to Mass was just another item on a never-ending “to-do” list. Eventually, I learned that all of my life should be prayer, or as St. Paul encourages us, whatever we do should be “for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). I still struggle with this, but the grace of the Mass is the most effective tool I’ve found to help. During the Offertory, I try to put all of my daily commitments and activities on the altar with Christ and ask him to make them fruitful.

FFG: Do you wish you had a book like yours when you started college?

Aurora Griffin: Yes! In fact, I had a secular version: How To Win at College by Cal Newport. It was full of practical, down-to-earth advice about how to be a successful student. I read it before I started at Harvard, and then kept it on my shelf and re-read it before the start of each semester, each time picking up new habits to work on. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to have this for Catholics?” I hope that students will use this book like I used Cal’s; that they will keep it on their shelf and look at it from time to time for inspiration and new ideas for living out their faith.

FFG: Were you raised Catholic?

Aurora Griffin: My dad taught me out of the Baltimore Catechism and the Bible every night as a child. We went to Mass as a family every week, no matter what else was going on. As for education, I have never actually attended a Catholic school, but thanks to my dad’s instruction, I was always ready to recite the tenets of our faith for any challengers. I went to a Protestant junior high and high school. My parents preferred me to have a good Christian moral education than a misguided Catholic one. (The Catholic schools in our area at the time were nominal about their faith.) In the end, I feel I got the best of all worlds: an evangelical passion for the message of the Gospel and a Catholic intellectual framework through which to interpret it.

FFG: You write “Date Only Christians and Stay Chaste.” Why are those things important?

Aurora Griffin: Of course there had to be a chapter on chastity. It’s perhaps the biggest way in which Christians are called to behave counter-culturally in our porn-saturated, sex-obsessed world. I recommend dating only Christians because it’s rare to find a non-Christian who gets it and who is truly willing to live chastely for secular reasons. The number one reason I saw people lose their faith in college was because they started dating non-Christians, hooking up and then feeling guilty. The disconnect between their romantic relationships and their faith drove them away from church and from their Christian friends. By contrast, several of my friends who dated other Catholics and stayed committed to chastity are now happily married.

FFG: What do you tell parents who want their children to stay Catholic?

Aurora Griffin: If you have young children, teach them about the faith yourself. Unfortunately, the catechetical programs available at parishes and schools are often not effective ways to ensure that your children really learn about the tenets of the faith. My faith now is largely based on what I learned from my dad out of the Baltimore Catechism as a child.

Even more importantly, all parents must strive to be good examples of the faith they want for their children. I think the most common reason young people leave the Church is the inauthenticity or hypocrisy they see in the Christians they know. On the other hand, there is nothing more compelling than the witness of a saint – if you try to be one, that will do so much more than any words. Of course, it’s not sufficient. I know some very saintly people whose children are not practicing Catholics (at least for now). Christ allows us the freedom to choose him or to walk away from him — we must respect that everyone has to make the choice to love Christ for himself and pray for all our loved ones who are lost!

Visit the Ignatius website for more information on How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard.