I may no longer be in Norman and at OU, but STM has been and always will be an important place for me. I attended STM for the last 3.5 years, up until December, while I was a graduate student. During most of that time I viewed mass as something that I needed to attend every week out of obligation, and it just happened that singing with the choir was an additional bonus for me. My prayer life outside of attending mass was almost non-existent and I never attended any church activities. Back around the beginning of August 2016, I came to the decision to leave graduate school at the end of the semester. I did not take this decision well at all and it caused me so much suffering, it felt like my life was over. Over the months following my decision, I became more and more involved with STM which helped me put my life back on track. The last months that I spent in Norman, at OU, and more importantly as a member of the STM community have been the most important and influential in defining how I am choosing to live my life post-graduation and will be the focus of the remainder of this post.
I mentioned earlier that in the past my prayer life was almost non-existent and it really was true; I would only pray while I was at mass. Honestly, I felt like I had no idea how to pray. When I was in my darkest hours, I feel that God really pushed me to start praying the Rosary, and whenever I did, it would ease my anxiety and depression. I truly believe that it was God speaking to me in those moments because before last fall I could only remember praying the Rosary once, and that was when Pope John Paul II died. There is almost never a day now that I don’t carry my rosary beads with me in my pocket. During the semester I also fell in love with Eucharistic Adoration. I still remember the first time that I attended adoration, it felt so awkward to sit in silence, I felt like I was doing it wrong. As the semester progressed I found myself looking forward to being able to pray during adoration, I was able to find peace in my soul during those hours in prayer. Now, I like to take time out of my week and spend some time praying in front of the blessed sacrament where I am always able to find a moment of peace within my soul.
Another thing that I carried on with me from my time at STM was my new-found passion to grow closer to God by studying the Bible. Up until last September I almost never opened the Bible, but during my last few months at STM I joined Bible studies where I was able develop a better understanding of scripture with some great men. During the months that I was in the Bible Studies I was able to fall in love with studying scripture and since moving back to Chicago, I try to do a study of my own everyday with a little bit of written reflection on everything that I study. I never realized how much I could learn from the Gospels until I started working my way through them.
Back in October I attended the first Oasis retreat, I learned so much about my prayer life that I incorporate into my life post-grad school. The most important of those things was what I learned about confession. In the past I would only go to confession twice a year (once during Lent and Advent) but during the retreat I learned how beautiful the sacrament is and I always feel so free and uplifted afterwards. Now I try to go to confession at least once every two weeks when possible.
In the last few months I have also joined two groups in my local parish that I used to be involved with at STM: choir and the Knights of Columbus. For those of you who will be graduating in the near future, depending on where you go afterwards you may no longer be at a parish that has quite as many people that are near your age anymore, but don’t worry because that should not deter you from being involved. Shortly after I moved back home I realized that the average age of the parishioners in my area is above 40 and when I joined the Lake Zurich Knights of Columbus (KoC) I became the youngest active member by probably 15 years (around 60 years younger than the oldest); even the choir has a high average age. I know that some of you may experience similar situations when you graduate but although it may feel a bit intimidating due to the age difference, I am sure you will be welcomed as warmly as I was into both the choir and the KoC. These groups have become like family to me and I have been able to share wonderful stories with these people and gain some wisdom from their experiences.
The past couple of months have been a whirlwind of changes with graduation, visiting family in Poland, starting my career and now moving out and into a new house. I know that I am still working on developing in my faith, learning to give up control of my life to God, and discerning what God is calling me to do in my life. I’ve realized that change is difficult to deal with and can lead you to struggle emotionally and spiritually, but through prayer and trusting in God’s will, we can get through it while becoming stronger and wiser. I know that eventually all of you will graduate (if you have not already), you will face challenges in “the real world” and things will be much different than they are at OU or even at STM. I hope that once you all reach that point, you will continue to grow in your faith, and I want you all to know that I will be praying for you and I hope that you will pray for me as well.
Blog post written by Krzysztof Bielak