Losing faith: Twists and turns of spirituality lead to plenty of questions

I grew up in the green-floored hallways of a Catholic school where my mother taught K through 5 Spanish, and still teaches today.

We were, as Catholic schools go, relatively liberal. We let girls be altar servers. We didn’t care what everyone believed specifically, as long as they were good people.

While my family prayed before dinner most nights, we weren’t particularly religious. My dad was an atheist, having grown up in a strict Catholic household, and my mom was Catholic, having grown up in Idaho where her Catholic family was the minority among Mormons.

As I’ve gone to a Catholic school for the past 11 years, I’ve taken religion class daily. Most of my teachers have been fervently Catholic and uninspiring, which can prove challenging if you’re trying to think critically about faith.

At least for me, that’s been a pattern with church authority figures. In eighth grade, the class asked my teacher why Catholicism didn’t accept gay people. She told us that the church accepted them as children of God, but that they shouldn’t act on their sinful urges, and we remained unsatisfied. She took it in stride, though. With a hazy smile, she told us that eighth graders often asked questions and explored spirituality.

Freshman year, we had a chaplain who would often loiter around the lunch line and try to strike up conversations with the students. He also prayed publicly against abortion, causing a stir in the liberal, diverse community that is the mixing pot of DeLaSalle. One day in religion class last year, he gave a presentation about becoming a priest and told us he wouldn’t mind if “(we) all became priests and nuns.” Even inside a Catholic school, we weren’t expecting such a pointed comment—or at least, I hadn’t.

Last year was a bright spot, however. I liked my religion teacher, a kind woman who seemed more aware of what teenagers actually wanted to hear when trying to learn about God. I had grown tired of hearing how Jesus saved my soul and how the Bible was basically the best thing ever. She made it seem like it was OK to try to discern what you truly believe. When she shared some of her own personal struggles with faith, it made me feel empowered, too.

AFFIRMING MY FAITH

Though I personally drifted in and out of faith, I had an “experience” eighteen months ago that shaped me. I was in the chapel at my cousin’s college. The air was hushed, with most of the congregation bowing in prayer. I felt God’s presence around me, the belief that He does exist. It was like an undeniable knowing in my heart—instantly—that a God of some sort was real.

To put it simpler, I had a God moment. As ridiculous as that sounds, it felt true. I began praying, thanking God and asking for His guidance several times a day.

I decided to call myself a Catholic. My family had been going to a small, accepting Catholic church for several years in downtown St. Paul, the Church of the Assumption. The priests were understanding and kind, good attributes for someone who’s trying to preach the word of God. I didn’t particularly agree with many of the church’s stances on controversial issues, but I liked its focus on social justice. For awhile, I called myself a liberal Catholic.

QUESTIONING MY FAITH

Questions about my faith still lingered, though. As much as I wanted to give myself to Catholicism, I felt I couldn’t air my diverging opinions. I’d also been the feminist muckraker enough—the girl always standing up for her opinions. As the years went on, it made me weary.

My twin sister and I were enrolled in a Confirmation class five months ago at our old school with one of the least charismatic priests in the diocese. I grew frustrated as I tried to understand the legalistic rules of Catholicism while surrounded by devout Catholic school kids. Why does it matter that I need to believe that Jesus was born of a virgin teenager? Why does it matter that I give up meat on Fridays to remember Jesus’ sacrifice by dying on the cross? Of course, these were wholly rooted in tradition, but as I grew older, I felt I didn’t need those “rules” to feel secure about my community.

Finally, I was at a Confirmation Mass two months ago, looking around at the people I’d known since I was five. As the Mass went on, I thought about the faded relationships we had, remnants of the memories we shared.

I followed along with the closing hymn, another song I’d liked once upon a time. I couldn’t bring myself to sing, to pretend that I was still the same person cloaking myself in Catholicism for the convenience. I did enjoy being Catholic once. I’d felt God’s presence in that college chapel months ago, but that seemed so far away. I wasn’t sure that being a resolute Catholic was in His will for me, at least right now.

At last, the Mass was over. Everyone swarmed toward the back, where the much-anticipated doughnuts were being held. I felt so uncertain of myself and my choices, and the religion that I no longer shared. That day, I knew I didn’t want to commit to being Catholic, at least not right then.

EXPLORING MY FAITH

Recently, my family hasn’t gone to church much. We used to go almost every Saturday evening and then go out for pizza after. My dad has always said that, while he doesn’t particularly care about Catholic traditions, he thinks church values and a belief in a higher power are good attributes—and often morally beneficial. He’s even told me in the past that he wished he had faith in some sort of God. My mom, I believe, also respects church tradition and similar moral codes.

I’ve been looking into other faiths. A few weeks ago, I found Quakerism. They basically believe that it’s possible to have contact with God and that they should try to be a good example for others. To me, it seemed to focus on the parts of Catholicism—community, prayer and spiritual understanding of the Bible—that I connected with.

I haven’t gone to a service though, and for now I’m undecided. I believe I’d agree with some form of Protestantism—I’m still a Christian, though more liberal than most, and I do believe in God.

However it works out in the weeks, months and years ahead, I know it’ll be OK.

“Then spake Jesus again unto them saying, I am the light of the world. He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12).

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