Ever since I could remember, my family and I attended church together every weekend. We picked my grandparents up at approximately the same time every Saturday and would park in the spot closest to the church. Every time, we assembled into the pew in the same exact order.
Everyone in the parish was familiar with us and we had bonded with a large number of other families. The priests knew us each by name since we had all been dedicated members of that church for years. Attending mass on the weekends was a huge part of our weekly routine and I imagined I'd continue this tradition with my own children when the time came.
To this day, my family still attends mass every week and I continue to join them on my weekends home from college. A weekend with my family wouldn't be complete without going to mass and performing our normal church rituals. For many teenagers, though, this isn't the case.
After receiving the sacrament of Confirmation, my class was thrilled, but not because they had just been inducted as an adult member of the church. They were excited about the party that would be held for them later that day and the checks their family members would give them, but they were most delighted with the idea that they'd no longer need to go to religious education class weekly and for a large portion of the class, they'd never have to return to church.
It was a huge surprise to discover that more than half of my religious education class participated simply to receive their sacraments and please the older members of their families. Since that goal was now achieved, their parents would no longer continue bringing them to mass every week and the only time they'd return to church would be for a wedding or the occasional holiday mass.
I was aware that my parents didn't view the situation the same way, so I'd need to continue going to mass every week. At the time, I didn't understand why this was the case and I even viewed it as some sort of punishment. I had grown up with the idea that missing church was a sin and part of our faith meant going to church weekly. It didn't seem worth mentioning to my family, so I kept going simply because I knew it would please them.
It wasn't until I began college that I realized it had actually been years since I made my own decision to continue attending church and it was no longer because my family wanted me to. At any point in my teenage years I could've expressed to my mother that I wanted to stop going, but I truly never wanted to.
I know that she would've been disappointed, but would've accepted my decision because I was at the age where I could make my own choices. From the time I was allowed to remain home by myself, I probably could've ditched going to church, but I didn't feel the urge to.
Beginning college, I had figured that not "having" to go to church anymore would be liberating because that's how my peers had made it seem, but I very soon realized that I actually enjoyed attending church every weekend. For me, church is an hour of the day where I can reflect on all that I'm grateful for and I didn't like the idea of not having that anymore. Starting college allowed me to realize the blessing and privilege that going to church is and I had taken it for granted for far too long.
When I decline plans with my friends during church time or my friends and I share our religious habits, almost everyone is shocked to discover that I still take part in mass every week. It was almost as if it was "uncool" to continue going to church once we'd passed a certain age.
At first, I played along and would agree that it was "so annoying" that I had to go to church instead of hanging out with my friends even though that wasn't actually the way I felt. Now, I simply tell them "Sorry, I can't" and continue on with my day because I know they have their own way of practicing their religion and I shouldn't be ashamed of mine.
Attending mass only takes up a mere hour of my whole week, so it's really not a burden at all. In fact, it's one of the highlights of my week. It's an extremely tranquil period of time devoted towards something I'm very passionate about, my religion. Life becomes extremely hectic and I often forget to pray once a day like I intend to, so this hour really allows me to thank God for all I have and connect with my loved ones that have passed away. I love being able to openly sing all of the hymns and hear the homilies each week which are often filled with jokes or inspirational advice.
I understand that everyone practices their faith in different manners, and I really like the way my family and I choose to practice ours. Even though I have the opportunity not to attend church with my family anymore, I still do because I've learned to really appreciate that hour of my week whether other people view it the way I do or not.