As a first-year psychology student, the young Anthony Fisher once sat “stubbornly” through a lecture that opened with an announcement that as the subject was a respected science anyone believing in the superstitious concept of a soul should “get out”.
That made the now archbishop of Sydney “even more determined” to stick it out until he eventually found a better fit in law, and later, religious life. The archbishop recalled the anecdote to a group of students from Tangara School for Girls in Sydney’s north preparing to sit for their HSC next month.
For one morning, they pressed ‘pause’ on their busy study schedules and school formal preparations for a mini-pilgrimage to pray at the Cathedral and visit Cathedral House. There the archbishop advised them to lose no time preparing themselves for a life of faith beyond the school gates.
“There will be forces such as the media, law, politics and many aspects of the culture, particularly at university, that tend to weaken and undermine faith,” he told them at the meeting on 13 September.
“Young people tell me that to even admit going to Mass is regarded as social death. You are soon to leave a very supportive environment and in some ways it is good to be challenged because it means that your faith and ideals will have to be much more intentional. They will have to be decided by you.
“If you want faith to be part of your destiny going forward that will have to something you choose.”
The archbishop outlined four pieces of advice he wanted the students to keep in mind: to foster a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as well as friendships with other people who will not undermine it; establish their own personal “rhythm” to ensure they have a healthy balance of work, leisure, prayer, sacraments, service plus “time to think”; and to cultivate their character.
“Think through ‘Who am I going to be? How will I ensure I will be true to myself and my true to my God amidst all the pressures to fit in and go with the flow?” he said.
“You have to work these choices out now to start to actively set up your structures of support for your happiness now and for your eternal happiness.
“Happiness isn’t going to come by some randomness to you.”
The archbishop told them not to fear other young people they will meet who are very different or appeared hostile, but to treat them with respect and even affection. The students then asked him questions about faith, prayer and his own vocation.
“I thought it was very insightful and practical to hear ways he thought we could live out our faith in the midst of uni life and deepen our personal faith in God,” said Tangara’s faith and mission captain Stephanie Chee.
School captain Chantal Kos said she was grateful for the archbishop’s encouragement to build structure into their lives to support growth in faith and relationship with Jesus.
“We all have varying amounts of faith but it’s going to be a challenge for all of us to take that really seriously and taking it for ourselves.”
School vice captain Katie Lang, said she was grateful for the “boost” of inspiration from the archbishop as she prepares not only for the HSC next month but for her baptism in December.