Hypnotized by the idea of getting presents from a jolly old man who ate the red and green sugar cookies I decorated for him, the true Catholic spirit of the Advent and Christmas was lost on me as a child.
My parents tried their best to involve me in the more traditional activities: lighting the candles on our Advent wreath, counting down the days until Christ’s birth with an Advent calendar, setting up the nativity scene at our Church. This proved futile. As a young child I could not grasp the significance of the Christmas season any better than I could grasp the meaning of what it meant to be a Catholic.
I have heard time after time that your religion is dictated by your upbringing, that your parents’ faith will become your faith. For a time, I think that is true. Growing up, I went to mass with my family every Sunday. Being Catholic was just something that I was, it didn’t mean anything more than that. I was Catholic only because my parents were, but I wanted something more. Being raised Catholic led me to question my faith, and eventually grow a more deeply rooted Catholic faith.
When I was eight I received the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Communion. In receiving Reconciliation one confesses their sins to a priest, who, acting as Jesus, grants forgiveness and gives one a penance to do. Communion, which is consuming the body and blood of Jesus and which is based on the Last Supper, represents the sacrifice that Jesus made for us by dying and rising again. Receiving these sacraments was the first time that I felt the power of faith. Consuming the body and blood of Jesus made me feel like what Christ gave up for me was real. I felt then that I was who I am today because Christ was willing to give up his life for me.
Before I was confirmed into the Church this spring, I seriously questioned my faith. So much of the scripture seemed implausible, so many of the regulations of the Church unreasonable.
I found that a lot of scripture seemed illogical. I spoke with my priest about this. He explained to me that the Bible represents a consistent moral teaching and should not be read as a history book or a science book. Rather than focusing on the minute details of these stories, one should focus on the lessons taught and displayed through them. That was an important point of clarity for me to come to terms with my faith.
However, I found that I could not agree with the Catholic Church’s stance on contraception. That is, that no artificial means of birth control is to be used. That is the only regulation I feel opposition toward. While I still do not agree with the Catholic teachings on birth control, by thinking through the message of their stance I came to an understanding of why that is taught and why it is important.
Through the years my perspective, experience, and opinion has lead me to find agreement with Catholic teaching on other social issues like gay marriage, abstinence, and abortion. That I feel my concurrence with the Catholic teachings on these issues happened through my own process of contemplation, rather than simply because I was told to believe these things, and that makes my faith stronger.
Previously, I had no real understanding of why I believed, only that I believed. Then I wasn’t so sure that I even believed anymore. I never really lost my faith but reevaluated it.
I certainly can’t say that I try to follow every rule dictated by the Catholic Church. I’m still cynical about religion, and I still question its validity each and every day. I find that to be the beauty of Catholicism. Religion is not meant to be fully understood, or followed blindly.
Strength in religion and faith is gained through questioning it. I feel passionately about my Catholic faith; but I have found its power and splendor come from the fact that I can question that faith and still come to believe in it.
This Advent and Christmas season I will still be excited to get presents and walk through a mall filled with luminously decorated pine trees. I will also take the time question and share my faith, hoping it will grow into a stronger, more powerful connection with God.