I’m Catholic, or at least my parents are Catholic. I’m floating somewhere in the I don’t know section.
I have all the prerequisites of being a great Catholic. I received my First Communion in second grade, then my terrifying First Penance. Then a few years later I went through confirmation. I picked out a Saint’s name that sounded pretty, wrote a paper about her, and was confirmed.
I’ve remembered: The Beatitudes, The Fruits of the Holy Spirit, and The Gifts of the Holy Spirit. I’ve learned the proverbs and memorized the prayers. I’ve given up something for Lent every year and try to refrain from eating meat on Fridays.
But along the way I never formed an actual connection with God himself, and it wasn’t until I went away to college that I realized that. For the first time in my life I could choose if I wanted to go to church. I could chose if I wanted to eat meat or not that day. I began to realize that my connection to the Catholic church wasn’t as deep as I thought it was. When coming to college, I realized my faith was numb.
I feel like an athlete with expert training, but still sucks at the sport. Prayers aren’t praises of devotion, but rather regurgitated words that were pounded in my head since my first CCD class. I have them all memorized, I should feel something right? The act of confession doesn’t feel like a cleansing experience to me. Rather, it’s a terrifying interview with a priest where I try to admit my sins, purposely omitting the ones I’m not especially proud of. (Nor feel like admitting to the man that baptized me when I was 2.) And the Catholic mass is becoming just a 45 minute to an hour process of sitting down/standing/ and kneeling.
I’ll always consider myself a Catholic. When I finally settle down and find someone to spend the rest of my life with, we’ll be married in the Catholic Church. My kids will be baptized, and I’ll send them to CCD every Sunday morning. I just wish that my faith was more loving, more gracious. Instead of God being an all-loving omniscient being, God’s someone that’s slowly crossing my name off the list of people getting into Heaven. My religious education very specific about what would happen if I didn’t follow the Ten Commandments, but never very descriptive of the eternal love God had for me. I wish I had that connection, that drive that some people have. The people who’s eyes light up with the mention of Christ and seem to know something the rest of us don’t. I want a connection that, instead of being scared of God, I’ll be trusting.
My expert training in the sport of Catholicism, lead me to believe that my faith was stable, but in reality it was very shaky, and becoming more unstable with each year of college. My religious education failed to prepare me for the opposing views I would learn, the differing cultures I would see, and the differing relationships with God I would encounter. While I was learning the Fruits of the Holy Spirit, I should have been told to recognize God in the little things in life, the things that make life truly beautiful. I should have been told that God isn’t a being that takes tally from how many prayers you say but rather who you are as a human being.
If you can’t tell from this, I’m an enormous fan of Pope Francis, because he’s the first religious figure I’ve seen that seems connected to the love that God presents. He seems to genuinely care for every other human being. There was a cut out of him on campus one day, and I begged a complete stranger to take a picture of me with him because, “He was my biggest idol.” And it’s true. Pope Francis fills that void that the growing up in the Catholic Church left in me. Sorry for the terrible metaphor, but he’s the sunshine and rainbows I was missing. The person on the other side of the confessional I would trust with my sins, even the worst ones.
They don’t tell you that your faith is going to be tested in college. And similar to my seventh grade emo period, I know this is just a phase. A phase that slowly getting pushed back thanks to Pope Francis. So thank you, Pope Francis, for showing me that the Catholic faith is more than prayer reciting and marathons of kneeling, standing and sitting. You’ve shown me that love, generosity, and selflessness makes a person faithful. You've shown me that the Catholic Church isn't as un-accepting as most think it is. You've brought the Church into the 21st century. Thank you for validating my expert training.