Ever since I first moved into my industrial-carpeted dorm room almost seven years ago as a college student, I’ve lived with roommates. In college, there were the randomly-assigned university suitemates, then the friends-first, housemates-second theatre girls I lived with as an upperclassman in a ramshackle apartment fondly dubbed “the Castle.”
Post-graduation, life took me from St. Louis to Chicago, where I moved into a rented-unseen apartment with a college acquaintance, who moved out this spring. Although finding a roommate under regular circumstances, least of all a pandemic, can be challenging, God was on my side — not only in the roommate-seeking process, but in the fruits that have grown in my life since Priyanka, my current roommate, signed the lease.
Despite having lived with at least 10 different people since moving out of my parents’ house, this is the first time I’ve ever lived with anyone who identifies as a practicing Catholic. A relatively recent convert, Priyanka is filled with fervor for the Faith in a way that I, a “cradle Catholic,” feel I often fall short. Living with another woman who practices and lives the Faith, I’ve quickly learned, is nothing but beneficial for my relationship with God.
Although I’ve always felt confident in my faith, there were parts I secreted away when living with non-religious roommates. A cross on the wall? I’d hang it in my bedroom next to canvases of some of my favorite Bible passages. Headed to Mass on the weekend? My roommates would wave from their reality-TV watching on the sofa and say, “Have fun!” While I didn’t experience any major faith lapses before my present living situation, being the only Catholic in my household could be lonely.
Since Priyanka moved in three months ago, I’ve seen changes reflected in my home that ultimately have affected my prayer and spiritual life for the better. I’m no longer hiding my Catholic artwork, quotes and statues inside my room; instead, we decorate our house with our “Jesus” staples first — a large “Jesus, I trust in You” poster above the sofa, Bible quotes on the chalkboard and the Catechism within view — and then arrange the seasonal and personal décor around them. Our home feels warmer, and the daily reminders of the Lord when I’m working from home, watching TV or eating dinner keep me in the right headspace throughout the week.
Not only do the physical surroundings build up that “spiritual muscle,” but having someone to attend the various events at our church builds community outside our apartment walls. My roommate is the social chair for our parish’s young adult group, and when she’s not running socially distanced Theology on Tap events, she’s attending Wednesday night adoration or volunteering after Mass on Sundays to keep the church sanitized and ready for the next Mass. We’re able to attend the same women’s group, where we dive into Henri Nouwen’s writing or the latest Abiding Together podcast. Living with a Catholic woman who not only practices her faith but is actively involved in her community leads me to deepen my own engagement with not only the sacraments but the other parishioners.
Community engagement is a huge boon, especially in an active Catholic community, and the other blessing that comes with that is accountability. For the first time, I have someone asking me,“When are we going to church?”, “Do you want to go to confession this weekend?” or “Hey, I’m headed to adoration — do you want to come with me?” The two of us are planning to start the 33 Days to Morning Glory Marian consecration, and I recently purchased pocket Rosary guides for each of us to keep in our purse.
Catholic identity is woven into our household, our schedules and our daily lives. My home finally feels like just that — a home. A place where I can lay down the stress of the day and take it to Jesus openly, rather than behind my closed door.
Having lived with all kinds of roommates with various religious backgrounds, ethnicity, interests and closeness of friendship, I’m not saying that living with non-Catholics is a bad thing. I’ve learned innumerable lessons about how to treat others and discuss difficult issues with many friends who hold different beliefs. But in only a few short months, I’ve already enjoyed so many benefits that come with living with someone actively engaged in her faith. Priyanka and I go to each other (often late into the evening and sometimes over a glass of wine) with questions about the Faith, life and how we can live as Christ to others. If the goal of life on earth is to strive for our heavenly home, I think my recent roommate change is expediting that process. While my third-floor Chicago apartment may not look like heaven, it’s certainly a step in the right direction.