I was raised as a Catholic. I know my Our Father and Hail Mary like the back of my hand, I’ve received Communion every weekend since second grade, and I’ve sat in a room asking for forgiveness a few times a year since first grade. Attending mass is a normal part of my Sunday routine, and it has shaped the person I am today. However, I recently went through a period where I struggled with my faith.
When I came to college, I was exposed to a variety of opinions that I had not necessarily heard in my small hometown. It took me until then to recognize that many people do not like Catholicism. I heard people criticize the religion, saying that it taught hatred. There is much more controversy surrounding the religion than I ever knew, and there seems to be countless arguments against Catholicism. For a long time, I had trouble sorting fact from fiction. Hearing all of these horrible things about my religion was not exactly the easiest thing.
After a while, I began to recognize how much of the criticism is unfair or untrue. For instance, one of the most prominent arguments I’ve heard is that Catholics hate gay people. I want to explain something to everyone right now. Some Catholics may hate gay people. However, that is not a teaching of the Catholic religion, and I am truly sorry for them; it must be horrible for anyone to hold that much hatred in their heart. I can promise that Catholicism is not the cause of such contempt. Examine the words of Pope Francis, a Catholic leader: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” That does not exactly sound like someone who is preaching hatred. I am not writing this article to go argument by argument and debate every single one. Still, I want to make something clear: my religion has never taught me hatred. In fact, the two main things I have learned from being Catholic are love and forgiveness.
My religion has taught me to love with all my heart. John 4:7 says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love comes from God.” Essentially, this verse is saying that God wants us to love. Simple enough, right? Continuing with this, John 4:8 explains, “The one who does not know love does not know God, for God is love.” Not only does God want us to love, but we must love in order to know God, for everything about Him is love. These Bible verses demonstrate the basics of what I have been taught as a Catholic. I’ve also been taught that Jesus said to “Love Your Neighbor as Yourself.” The message of love is overwhelmingly clear, but I don’t want to simply quote Bible verses to explain what I have learned -- I want to share in my own words all that Catholicism has taught me.
I have learned that love is the most important thing you can give. Under God, everyone is equal, so everyone deserves to be treated equally. This is love. Loving other people means helping those in need of your help. Loving other people means not judging other people. Loving other people means accepting and embracing their differences. It means treating other people how you want to be treated. It means being honest with others, it means smiling at strangers, it means standing up for people, and it means telling people how wonderful they are. We love others by finding the little ways to brighten someone’s day, lending a shoulder to cry on, looking for the best in people and discouraging negativity towards others. My religion has taught me this. My religion has never taught me to discriminate or to hate others; it has taught me to look at everyone and recognize that they are a human being who deserves love.
Being Catholic has also taught me to forgive. As Jesus was nailed onto the cross, He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” Jesus was asking for forgiveness for the people who were crucifying Him, exemplifying the mercy that I have been taught by this religion. I have been taught that God will forgive for my sins, and similarly, I should forgive others for their mistakes or for the times they have hurt me. I’ve learned to release my anger and my frustration towards others and forgive them no matter how challenging it may be.
I am not saying that other religions do not teach these same lessons; on the contrary, I think most religions do preach these same beliefs. I am saying that I believe Catholicism is often inaccurately portrayed, and the core values of love and forgiveness are frequently lost in the criticism of the religion. Today, I am proud to say that I have overcome the struggle I had with my faith. I am proud to say that my religion has taught me to love with all my heart, and I am proud to say that Catholicism has taught me how essential forgiveness is. Most all, I am proud to say that I am Catholic.