I think that religion is a really hard subject to write about and I want to be really careful with my wording in this. This is NOT by any means an attempt at evangelization, conversion, or to say that my view is “the right one.” Instead I would like to invite you to see the journey I have taken. The ups and downs. The trials and tribulations. The personal struggles. All of it – not sugar-coated. I want to do this because I feel like there are so many out there that have gone thru similar experiences. I hope that some can relate, and I hope some can just be aware – believers and non-believers, alike.
I grew up in a small town in upstate New York. The town is predominantly Catholic. There are a few other religions here and there but the vast majority of citizens went to one of the many Catholic churches. Soon after I was born, I was baptized in the church. My family and I went to church every Sunday. It was just a regular part of the week and I knew nothing different. I went to CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) every week which was basically a children’s religious education program. I remember really enjoying it. My parents prayed with my sister and I every night. I went to Catholic school starting in first grade – religion became a true part of my everyday life. Around second or third grade I had my First Communion. This was almost like a “right of passage” to me. I always wanted to be able to partake in that part of mass and finally I could!
At the end of 5th grade, my family was relocated to Atlanta. The transition was really tough on me at first (although it didn’t last long). When we moved, it was the first time for me experiencing the South. I remember crying to my parents when we first got here because “people did not speak English.” It turns out they actually did (and I now sound like “them”) – but to me they might as well have been speaking Cantonese. But I digress… The other thing I remember when we moved was the realization that not everyone was Catholic. I obviously knew that not everyone was at this point – I was 10 – but I was now the minority.
I was a Catholic girl in the Baptist bible belt.
It was a completely different different culture to me. I had never met a Baptist, maybe just a Methodist or Presbyterian at best. People spoke about being “saved.” Most did not take communion. No one prayed to Mary or knew what a Rosary was. It was almost a miracle that we found a Catholic church “relatively” close. Although we continued going to church every Sunday and I stayed involved in CCD & later on Teen Life, I no longer went to Catholic school. Religion had suddenly become a “once a week” activity instead of an everyday thing.
When I was 15 or so, I was Confirmed in the church. This is basically a “rebaptism” that you choose to do (since you cannot choose it for yourself as a baby). I also had my First Reconciliation (where you confess your sins to a Priest). Shortly after this I feel like everything started to slip. Not only did I feel like my religion was the minority, I started to feel like going to church was a chore. I began feeling like Mass was something I “had to” do instead of something sincere. I fought my parents on Sundays on going to Mass. Eventually, I won the battle and I stopped going.
I want to point out that even though I stopped going to Mass, I still prayed (almost daily), read the Bible, and in general tried to be a good person. Maybe this was more of an independence thing than anything else. I believed that I didn’t have to go to church to be a good Christian (contrary to the beliefs of most growing up around me).
I saw many people around me going to Christian groups in middle school and high school – FCA in particular – that further turned me off to organized religion (***By no means am I trying to say that FCA is a bad thing. I think it has great messages and can be truly genuine. I am speaking from my experience). I went a hand-full of times to see what it was and because my friends were going. I distinctly also remember faking getting “saved.” I didn’t even know what that was but I though it was something I was supposed to do. I thought my faith could possibly be wrong. I would go to this fellowship and then see the same people making fun of kids in school or doing things I knew was wrong. I began to think organized religion was hypocritical because of all this. Because of those around me and because I myself was a hypocrite in many ways.
I wasn’t sure if I would ever go back to church again.
In 2005, I set off for college at the University of Georgia. They had a pretty large Catholic presence and a lot of things to get involved in. I even met some fellow Catholics at school (DAVE). I thought about getting involved several times, but I wasn’t ready. I didn’t want to.
During this time as well the Catholic church was in the middle of the sexual abuse scandal. The church was crumbling. Not only this but they vehemently opposed many of my social views: homosexuality, pro-choice, and a handful of other things. I would once again be a hypocrite if I was going to church and then hanging out with any of my homosexual friends. How could I belong to an organization that was not supportive of those around me. Weren’t we supposed to “love thy neighbor” and not “cast the first stone.” Or are we now just picking and choosing…
I decided that if/when I ever went back or found any religion it would have to come from my heart and I would go because I wanted to. This should not ever be something you should feel obliged or pressured to do. I found myself at Mass a few times in college – usually on Ash Wednesday, but it never stuck.
I moved back home after college and still had no interest in any of it. NONE of it to be precise.
It was not until I bought my condo in 2012 and moved to Buckhead that I started to feel like something was missing. I did not know at the time what it was. I still said my prayers and hoped that at some point I would figure out what it was that I was missing in my life. I had a good job, great family and friends, I was living on my own in the city, I had my health. What could it possibly be?
On Wednesday, February 13, 2013 I decided to go to Mass for Ash Wednesday – the start of Lent at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Buckhead.
The Cathedral was breathtakingly beautiful. Inside and out. It reminded me of Mass in New York.
The Mass started off with everyone introducing themselves to the people around them. I actually felt welcomed, I felt at home. I knew immediately what it was that I was missing – probably what I least expected. It was surprisingly organized religion. I had missed the tradition of the Catholic church, I missed the smell of the incense, the Communion (OK, wine *kidding), the Homily. I really missed it all. When I left I was looking in the bulletin and found there was a small group about to start…”Rediscover Catholicism.” Well that was weird. The timing was too coincidental. I signed up and decided I would try it and if I hated it I just would not go.
It was in this group I learned that I did not have to feel like a hypocrite and I did not have to believe every single thing the church did 100%. This was a true revelation to me. Many in there had struggled with the same social issues with the church that I did. They were still Catholic. Not all of them even made it to Mass every single Sunday (also something I “thought” you had to do).
I realized that (probably) no one will ever truly believe 100% of what their church teaches. There is more than likely at least one thing you think differently about – it could be big or small. Even the new Pope has come out socially and condemned many of the old teachings. He teaches acceptance and love – I could not think of a better message he could have. Finding a religion (if that is what you choose or desire) should come from your heart. You should feel loved, and happy if you decide to go to church.
I’ve been involved more and more since this time last year, have met some wonderful people and feel truly blessed. I’ve done several small groups and always can find something to take away from them each time I go. I will not say that I go every Sunday. I am on my slow and steady journey. I’m going at my pace, and I very far from perfect.
I will stay true to myself and what I believe.