Monday, November 14, 2011

To Be or Not To Be...a Holy Roller

I was raised Catholic.  I attended CCD classes every Wednesday evening from the time I was in 1st grade until I "received the Holy Spirit" through the sacrament of Confirmation in 8th Grade.  OK, technically, at some point I think all CCD classes were changed to be held on Sundays instead of Wednesdays, but still, I had 8 solid years of weekly religious education classes that were supposed to make me understand all the practices and principals of Catholicism, which were required for me to be eligible to become an indoctrinated Catholic through receipt of several of the seven sacraments that "bind" my soul to the church.

If you're not Catholic or if you're just out of practice, the seven sacraments of Catholicism are:  Baptism, Reconciliation, Eucharist, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders, and Anointing of the Sick.

I was baptised as a baby, because, being Catholic, my parents believed that having me baptised would save me from original sin.  That way, if I died before I reached an age when I understood right from wrong, I would be saved by God, and my soul would be sent to heaven as opposed to hell.

I can't remember if it was in first or second grade, but, for argument's sake, I'll say it was in second grade that I received both Reconciliation and Eucharist.  I was 7 years old in second grade.  At that time, I was taught how to confess my sins to a priest for forgiveness from God, and that God will forgive all of my sins, no matter how horrible they are, as long as I confess them and perform penance as dictated by the priest during confession.  As a 7 year old, I remember thinking this was the greatest thing ever.  Finally, I could fight with my sisters, talk back to my parents, and steal cookies from the snack drawer without repercussion, as long as I was able to confess those sins.  I'm pretty sure I put that confession rule to the test.  Every time I went to confession, I would have a list of sins a bit longer than the one I had during my last confession, and, usually, my penance didn't get much greater than saying a few Hail Mary's or a couple of Our Father's.  No matter how many sins I tacked on, my penance remained pretty constant. 

That same year, while I was still 7, I received my first holy communion (a.k.a. Eucharist).  Eucharist is a ritual where you witness bread and wine turned into the spiritual embodiment of Jesus Christ's body and blood, then eat and drink the same to bring yourself closer to our Savior.  The rule was that you couldn't receive the Eucharist until you had confessed all of your sins.  Since Eucharist is administered at least once per week at mass, for a while I was confessing my sins at least that often.  I remember witnessing some of my family members opting not to receive the Eucharist during mass.  At age 7, witnessing people, who I had always looked up to and admired, opting out of communion, was how I understood that some of my family members must have had some hefty sins to overcome.

From 2nd to 8th grade, religious education focused on having a healthy relationship with God, and with teachings about God being present as the holy trinity - God the Father, God the Son, and The Holy Spirit.  We talked about Mary and her role as the virgin Mother of God and about the miracles Jesus performed while he was a man on Earth.  We also talked about Joseph, who was, for all intents and purposes, Jesus' stepfather, who was called to be a true symbol of faith when he made the decision to wed Mary even after he discovered she was with child.  This type of information is very hard to understand as an adult, so you can imagine how my adolescent brain processed everything.  I questioned everything there was to question about all of the beliefs that I, as a Catholic, was supposed to have without doubt.  I fought with my parents, especially my Mom, about what we were being taught, because, when you get down to the nitty gritty of Catholicism, nothing is logical.  A lot of answers to my constant questions were simply about having faith and believing that the stories, miracles, and acts were true as stated.  I didn't buy those explanations.

By the time 8th grade rolled around, I was pretty sure that being a Catholic was not something I wanted.  However, to avoid massive fights at home, and because my parents still had control over my actions and choices, I went through with my Confirmation, and received my last sacrament as a Catholic thus far in life.  As soon as I went to college, I stopped going to church every weekend.  I still went on holidays because I would spend them at home with my family, and it wasn't worth the fight with my mom to not sit through one hour of church.  I always assumed that, at some point, I would go back to being a Catholic.  That I would have some miracle awakening about faith and decide that what they're dishing out doesn't taste so bad going down anymore. 

When Greg and I got engaged and started planning our wedding, I didn't even consider having our ceremony in a church.  First of all, Greg is Jewish, and wasn't planning to convert, so I was pretty sure our wedding wouldn't be recognized by the Catholic church at all.  Second of all, I had been on my own for almost 8 years by the time we were engaged, and at no point in those 8 years had I felt a need to return to my roots and take up practicing Catholicism again.  So, we were married on a beach with a ceremony that was put together by us and had very little religious attributes.

Now, here I am, a 30 year old adult, with a great family, a wonderful husband, a good job, a place I'm proud to call home, and regular day-to-day responsibilities.  However, somewhere in that mix of wonderfulness, I fear that I'm missing spirituality.  And I'm finding myself at a loss for what to do about that missing piece.  I think one of the problems is that Catholicism is all I know - and I know that it's not for me.  I often think about my other spiritual options - and usually I find myself thinking of other religions - because, I fear that without rules, it will be too easy for me to end up where I am right now - unsure of what I believe and fearful that I'm missing out on something bigger.  The problem for me is that understanding the premise of other religions takes time.  I don't want to spend the time it would take to properly understand the beliefs, customs, and general outlooks of other faiths.  But without that knowledge, how am I ever supposed to find a religion that works for me - one that makes sense - one that I can believe in?

One of my sisters, who had the same Catholic upbringing as me, started going to a different church a few years ago.  It's a Christian church, and that's about all I understand of what the church is about.  But, she's found a spiritual place where she can be on the same page as the teachings, and, in that, I believe she's found spiritual contentment.  I attended a mass at her church once, and was hoping that I'd like it enough to want to become part of it, or at least maybe attend additional masses to learn more about what they were teaching.  I was sadly disappointed.  The message I got from that mass was unclear, garbled, and seemed to be a mish-mosh of information with Christ's name thrown in a few times for good measure.  Whereas the Catholic church, to me, was so organized, detailed, and one-sided in their messages (to a fault), this church seemed to want to try to please everyone by talking about their beliefs on all different levels, so much so, that, to me, the message, if there was one, was totally lost.

I'm not sure what my next steps should be on my quest for spiritual awakening.  I guess that since I'm thinking about it at all, I'm in a good position to start learning.  I just wish it wasn't so overwhelming.  There seem to be a million types of religions out there, and figuring out which one is right for me feels more cumbersome that finding a bathing suit (which I avoid like the plague - yet I still own a few of them).  Maybe religion is like exercise - you just have to start going to get into the groove of what can become something normal.

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