So despite my very intense involvement in my home parish, I was lost when I went to college. I didn't go to Mass. I wanted to be cool and sleep in. And when I DID go to Mass, it followed a weird "Youth Mass" format that involved the priest inviting the students to circle around the altar during the consecration. I watched from a balcony with some friends, astonished, and yet, thinking the way my classmates in the front row leapt to their feet and circled the alter looked incredibly stupid, blocked the view for even we in the balcony, and that the entire thing seemed....wrong.
I was so put off that I went only one more time to a Sunday evening Mass in that particular place on campus, and the ONLY memory I have of it is from the balcony, watching the exact same characters leaping to circle the altar, while most of the students remained, kneeling silently.
My other memories of college Mass involved those from the chapel, where they always seemed to play the piped-in popular music of the day, the theme song of which was the secular song, "Hero" from some movie I never saw because it was both popular AND cheesy. To this day, I haven't seen the movie attached to that song and can't even remember what it is.
All I learned about Mass in college was that it was about us, that it was about popular culture, and I couldn't identify with it because it didn't come CLOSE to touching the very real issues I was dealing with in my life: divorce, death, suffering, the mental illness of a parent, the occult...etc. All I got was affirmation of false choices; I wasn't EVER shown WHY we go to Mass, WHO Jesus was and remains, or WHY it was necessary to go to Mass. Because it was all about us as teens and college students, I never learned anything objective about theology or Christ.
As it was, Mass was no different than any other part of my life. So I didn't go. There was no point.
That said, I went forward to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion, even though I was in a state of mortal sin, and I could not understand my tears, my repentance, my inability to remain aloof. Because He was there, and in spite of all that was wrong, all I did wrong...He saw and He knew...and He called.
I graduated college, and reconnected with college friends when I moved to the Cities. A friend, an even more marginal a Catholic than I, wanted to go to the Basilica Youth Group in St. Paul, and I think she did go, but it never worked out for me. In fact, I've completely lost touch with her. But I remember a sense of disconnection we both shared. We were on the fringes, as we'd always been, not knowing how to really become involved.
At the time, I didn't have a parish. I was seeking God, calling myself "Catholic" but really wandering around going to Mass at different places, giving my heart to the things of this world. New Age, Occult...it was all the same to me.
I kind of felt like the Church didn't want me. When I DID go to Mass, I felt like a fraud, a stranger, someone Jesus would never want to know.
And I have to admit..I've never totally shaken that "feeling".
For years, I went online, searching out different parishes, seeking a connection, a group I could join. But all of them seemed so much like the cookie-cutter "good kids" I knew in college who lived so "perfectly", did great things, were so intelligent and connected. They were the ones with perfect lives, scholarships, and the ones present at the Masses that didn't seem right, somehow.
And there was something "false" there that I couldn't put my finger on, and to this day, I STILL can't.
After my conversion, after I bought my townhome and joined my current parish, I became involved in my own local Young Adult group, and I didn't fit in even there. It was the same kind of "cookie cutter" person; young women and men with whom I could not identify. I'd seen so much, through both my personal and professional life, and through my own cynacism, all I needed was someone to understand me, even as I tried to understand Christ. It wasn't that the young adults I met pushed me aside; it was that I couldn't understand them or what I saw as their perfect lives.
It's the plague of good youth and young adult groups all around: those who have seen and lived some very serious things have a hard time when they come up against the innocence of lived holiness and...dare I say it? An absence of suffering.
That is not to say that those in those groups have not suffered, but rather, I find that in many of those groups are those whose parents are still married, whose parents have supported them when they HAVE gone wrong, and whose catechesis was actually not bad overall (even if in the case of college campuses the liturgy has gone wild). There are different variations of goodness and sin, but no matter where I have gone, I've always felt like the scruffy outcast.
It's not in anything they've done; there has simply always been a sense of not fitting in properly. A square peg in a round hole. Choose your cliche'.
It's been years now, and things ARE getting better. There are WONDERFUL Young Adult Apostolates such as the Frassati Society and other groups. And although I've been involved in Frassati, this June I end my "tenure" even though my connection to them has been marginal. As they've sat around discussing faith, I've been teaching it, in all my incompetence. I look at their perceived holiness, wish I could be there, because, in reality, in knowing these people...they're living better than I am. And yet...I can't spend any time with them because I'm WORKING for the Church.