| By Father Dwight Ezop

Stay Close to God!

As the old saying goes, hindsight is twenty-twenty. Or, put another way, if only I had known then what I know now. Like so many young people going off to college, I was so sure of myself and what I thought I knew at the ripe old age of 18.

I was convinced that I could do just fine in a large campus setting. I was convinced that I knew the path that I was meant to follow and where that path would lead me. I was also convinced that I could do all of this on my own and that I didn’t need to rely on God to get me to where I thought I was going at the time. I look back now and know just how wrong I was. I also look back now and see how I had allowed my priorities to be reordered, and not for the better.

When reality finally set in, I knew I had to do something different. I found myself cut off from a community of faith and all the support, encouragement and honesty that are a part of such a place. Certainly I went to church when I was home with my parents, but for several years I was lacking a support system on campus that would help me to remember the priorities that I had tried to take to heart as a child and as a high school student. I had lost sight of just how rich and happy life was when I was part of a community of faith.

Thank God I came to that realization sooner, rather than later, because it changed my life and it changed the direction of my life forever. At the very core of all of this, I had forgotten the advice that I had been given by Moe and Ann Clevering, the youth ministers who served the parish that I grew up in. They had been very clear at our parish baccalaureate celebration: even though you may be moving away from here, don’t move away from God. Their advice was true then, and it remains true today.

It’s the same advice that I try to give to graduating high school seniors today. When you get to wherever you are going, find your local parish. This advice holds for anyone and everyone. At a time when everything may feel unfamiliar—a new address, a new schedule, a new group of teachers, a new way of doing things, a new pattern to everyday life—having a parish community to call home is one thing can bring a level of familiarity and comfort. Yes, a new community of faith will be different in some ways, but the overall experience and goal will be the same: stay close to God!

So, for those of you who are starting a new phase of life at college, a technical school or a place of employment, make the local parish community one of your first stops. There, you will find people who share similar values, who have a love for God, who will welcome you and encourage you to become involved in the life of the community, and who will walk with you and help you to stay close to God.

Moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas, I give you permission to cut this column out and copy it as many times as you need in order to share it with the young people you love. God’s grace brought me to these realizations nearly 40 years ago. I am thankful that it happened and a little ashamed that it took some time to figure it out. As I think back, I’m also thankful for the not-so-subtle ways by which God got my attention and brought me back to a community of faith. I’ll save that for another time and another column. For now, here’s some of the best advice I’ve ever been given, regardless of one’s state or stage in life: stay close to God! And so, our journey in FAITH continues.

Father Dwight Ezop is the editor-in-chief of FAITH Magazine and pastor of St. Mary Parish, Charlotte and St. Ann Church, Bellevue.