When I was starting to look at colleges almost two years ago, I remember mentioning Villanova University, as well as other highly ranked Catholic schools, to my mother. Since I grew up in a Catholic household and went to church every weekend, my parents were obviously pleased that my faith meant enough to me that it could factor into a college decision.
But, at the same time, my mother didn’t hold back from telling me about the quirks of a Catholic education as she had experienced. My mother attended an all-girls Catholic school back in her hometown of suburban Chicago.
She talked about writing in cursive, dressing up in her uncomfortable skirt and knee-high socks and praying together to start the day. She reminisced about the strict principles, and principal, of the school, the rote memorization of the classes and her mandatory theology classes.
While I knew that my parents would love for me to have a Catholic education, I felt a sense of warning, as I had never experienced the entire Catholic School phenomenon.
I attended a private middle school and a private boarding high school in Massachusetts where faith was not impossible, but was also not encouraged by the school at large.
But it was safe to say that, after an incredible four years at a classic New England prep school, it was time to experience something else. It wasn’t to escape the Vineyard Vines apparel (or else I wouldn’t have come to Villanova), but it was to search for something different in my education, a connection between what I learned in the classroom and my purpose in the world and my place in the universe.
When I visited Villanova twice before deciding to attend the University, I saw that there were many crosses around campus. My mother had told me about the classic Catholic tradition of hanging crosses from the walls of the classroom, so I knew to expect the crosses. One of my best friends actually turned down attending Villanova because “there are just way too many crosses in this place.”
But, as I started to attend classes, I noticed that the crosses were inescapable. I would get an omelet from the Pit, go to get a fork and lo and behold, there was Jesus, his head drooped to the right, his bones showing through his skin.
I would walk into math class humming the tune to an explicit song and there was Jesus, nailed to the cross, nailed to the wall. I would walk over to the gym to play basketball, thinking about how much I wanted to destroy my opponents in pick up, when I would see the cross on top of Bartley.
The crosses on the wall that may repel some people are actually one of the most important elements of my experience so far with Catholic school. After I saw Jesus on the cross, do you think I ate my omelet the same way? Did I continue to hum my rap song? Did I walk on the court with destruction on my mind?
The crosses serve as a gentle reminder to all of us about God’s omnipotence. Well, perhaps the reminder isn’t so gentle. Jesus’ death is in our face. We are reminded of our sins. We are admonished every time we get so caught up in our own little worlds and lose sight of the God who made us, His son who died for us and the blessings He has given us.
Through these crosses, we gain perspective. It’s a different type of perspective than what I gained at private school. At private school, I sat in classes with people all over the world of various races, sexual identities and socio-economic backgrounds. I learned that there was a world outside of the North Shore of Boston and Merrimack Valley region of Massachusetts.
What the crosses taught me was even bigger than our worldly perspective. They remind us of a universal perspective, of a divine realm that is so much more special and holy than our own. Is there a better way to learn economics, English, mathematics, Spanish or philosophy than with the divine in mind?
We can begin to ask ourselves questions about the disciplines we learn. Why should I learn about economics? Is it so I can make more money to benefit myself? Or what would God want me to do with my knowledge of economics? What would God want me to do with knowledge of English, communication or engineering?
While we all may have our own answers to these questions, the general answer to all of the questions above have to do with giving to others. God wouldn’t want us to be selfish and think about making money for ourselves or just reading books for our own pleasures. God would want us to be like Jesus on the cross, to be giving of the blessings we have, to sacrifice for the many that need our help and love.
Believe it or not, Catholic school is no longer about neat handwriting and neat appearance. Catholic school is a lift-off to discovering God’s purpose for us in the world. The crosses on the wall helped me realize God’s mission for me. What will help you see God’s mission for you? As is said in the famous hymn, “Open [our] eyes Lord, help [us] to see.”