|Sometimes a catalyst is needed to bring about a change.|
Losing my Zio to cancer was mine.
Tuesdays have quickly become my favorite night of the week because of RCIA, or the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. After this week's class which was incredibly refreshing, I thought this would be as good a time as any to write about the other side of my life -- the spiritual one -- and to talk about why I've decided to become a Catholic. I've had a few people ask me to write about my decision to get confirmed, so here it goes.
Why at age 25 would someone decide to adopt a religion that they haven't otherwise really practiced? Most women my age that get confirmed probably do so for a Catholic fiancé that wants to get married in the Church. That's certainly the case for most of my class. There are probably 50 or more candidates for confirmation in class with me, and I think I am maybe one of two people who are there of their own accord, and not because their significant other is Catholic and making them go. And here I thought I'd meet a nice Catholic boy in class -- no dice.
But in all seriousness, I just felt it was time. For a very long while I've tried to shut out the existence of God. Not to say I was an atheist, because I've always believed in a higher power. But I had plenty of reasons for rejecting religion.
One reason I stayed away was because I felt it just wasn't convenient for me to be "religious." When I do things, I do them big. Half-assing anything is not my style. And since I had every intention of continuing to sin, I didn't want to go to church and be a hypocrite. Like Jack Johnson sang, "He thinks that singing on Sunday's gonna save his soul, now that Saturday's gone." I didn't want to be that person and thought it'd be better to put off having a relationship with God until I settled down. But let's get serious -- that's probably not happening. And if God made me, he'll accept me -- flaws and all.
The other reason it's taken me this long to accept religion is because many of the "good" Christians I'd known growing up gave me a horrible view of religious people. They were largely judgmental, exclusive, and close-minded. None of those are qualities I want to be associated with or adopt.
I can actually remember the exact moment when I decided I wanted no part of religion and church any longer. I was at a friend's house in 8th grade and inquired about what a political sign in their front yard was about. My friend's mom told me it was a sign opposing a proposition for gay marriage. I innocently asked, "Well, who cares if they get married? They're people, too."
What followed was my first lesson in why it's sometimes best to keep political views to yourself.
I was angrily lectured by my friend and her evangelical mother about what vile sinners gays are, how they live an unholy and abominable life, how marriage is sacred and they would defile the institution, etc. And they told me that anyone who felt otherwise was a heathen.
It made no sense to me to be judged and lectured because I intuitively felt that a minority group should have access to equal rights. All I knew was that I had no interest in being a part of anything that would blindly condemn an entire group, let alone in the name of God. That was also the end of that friendship, because even as a naive middle-schooler, I knew I wanted nothing to do with a bigot.
In my teenage years, I continued to develop a critical view of religion. Turmoil in the Middle East, the 9/11 attacks, and the violence and upheaval throughout history due to differing religious beliefs turned me off even further. I was certain that religion was the cause of all the world's problems and wars, and wanted nothing to do with such a seemingly divisive force.
Then there's my inability to believe and accept that only Christians can gain entry to Heaven and escape Hell. What about devout Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, etc.? I know they don't necessarily believe in Heaven per se, but how could good people of other faiths be condemned to eternal damnation, just because they followed another path of worship? There are so many differences across the peoples of the world -- in appearance, language, cuisine, customs, etc. -- how could religion and matters of faith be one size fits all?
I have a great respect for all the world's religions, and think it's arrogant to believe one and only one is "correct." Do I think Catholicism is best? Yes, it's the best for me personally, otherwise I wouldn't bother to become a member. Do I think it's the only means of living a faithful, spiritual, and good life? Hell, no.
Facing the Faith
In February, I flew home to be with my family at the end of my Zio Adriano's battle with cancer. The last time I'd seen Zio, he looked good. He looked like himself. But by February, he had withered away. He was a shell of the man I knew and loved. But despite his pain and rapidly deteriorating health, he remained extremely faithful. My cousin, Isabella, took the picture at the top of this post, and it makes me emotional every time I see it. Her hand intertwined with her daddy's, as he clung to a rosary and to his faith in God.
He died a few days later while we were all at his bedside. It was in that moment, as we all held each other sobbing and repeating the "Our Father" that I knew God was very real and something not to be ignored or denied any longer. And as my uncle left this realm for the next, I could literally feel God in the room, bringing us comfort and letting us know that Zio was with Him and in a better place.
Becoming Catholic and accepting God as a part of my life was something I'd contemplated for a long time. I'd always felt a void because of it, but just put it off and put it off. It was something I would tend to later, when the time was good for me. But watching Zio pass away in front of my eyes put a lot of things in perspective. What was I waiting for? Seize the day, because who knows how many more lay ahead.
So why Catholicism and not another Christian faith? I was baptized Catholic in my dad's childhood parish in Sicily, so I felt a connection because of that. And attending a Catholic university did a lot to further my appreciation of the faith. I loved the open-mindedness of USD -- that while you had to take religion courses to graduate, you could take them about any religion. Christianity wasn't being shoved down my throat, which had been my previous experience with Christians.
USD's diverse course offerings allowed me to study abroad in India -- to learn how Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism coexist in the same complex nation. I ended up learning less about the religions and more about roughing it, but to see the birthplace of unfamiliar faiths and witness people worship in different ways was nevertheless incredibly eye-opening. That trip whetted my appetite to seek my own spiritual identity.
The Journey Continues
Without the right parish, I probably would have kept religion on the back-burner even longer. I'm grateful to have found the perfect church in Old St. Pat's, where the people are genuine, non-judgmental, and incredibly welcoming. Not to mention they're just cool. That was evidenced by Father Tom at this week's class as he taught us about the rituals of mass. While talking about recent changes to words in the mass, he said something about people "making a lot of money off all those damn [new] books," or something like that. A priest who is relatable and curses?! No wonder I like the place.
And for the first time in my life, I feel welcomed at church. I don't feel like a fish out of water or a heathen amongst the holy. Not to mention that I appreciate Old St. Pat's more contemporary views and the fact that they accept gay members. And I love that after class tonight, I was able to have a conversation with Father Tom about my concerns over Christian exclusivity, only to have him reassure me that it was not his belief by any means that people of other faiths go to Hell.
Every week I learn something new. I'm realizing that maybe religion is a lot more unifying and welcoming than I'd thought.
As evident by my partying ways and my stance on certain social issues, I might have some kinks to work out before I fully take the plunge and officially become a Catholic on Easter. For instance, I'm pro-choice (with certain exceptions), which might be a deal breaker. Not because I'm for abortions, I just think it's a slippery slope once we begin legislating people's ability to make decisions about their body and reproductive choices. And while I don't support gay "marriage" because of marriage's place as a religious sacrament, I unequivocally champion gay couples being able to wed in civil unions and have equal rights across the board.
Regardless of my views and habits that may be at odds with the Church, I'm very much enjoying this spiritual journey and the questions it's making me answer. I know I'll only delve deeper in the coming months -- and I can't wait to see what I find.