It is 8:00 a.m. Sunday in St. John Vianney church. My sister is on one side of me squirming around and tapping her feet on the kneelers. My brother, on the other side, is making silly faces at me. I try to abstain from uncontrollably giggling during mass. As an eight year old, sitting motionless in a church pew for hours is not exactly my idea of a pleasurable activity.
I peek through my peripherals and attempt to slip a piece of Bubble Yum in my mouth without anyone noticing. To my astonishment nobody reacts, and I begin to follow the queue to receive communion. As Father Daly places the “body of Christ” in my open palm, my routine falls into action. I slide it above my tongue with my thumb and index finger while my other fingers grip the chewing gum simultaneously. Immediately after swallowing, I slip the gum back in my mouth to disguise the unpleasant taste. The flavor of communion wafers always makes me want to gag, but since it is a ritual I am expected to partake in, I have developed a sneaky routine to cover it.
Growing up, this was how I spent every Sunday: wake up, dress in the appropriate attire, attend mass, and then devote the next few hours to sitting in a classroom for CCD. I knew that this was expected of me, so I never questioned it. Regrettably, I never truly understood it either. As a child, I thought that if I made an appearance in church, received communion, and said “Our Father,” and “Hail Mary,” every night that God was going to love me and accept my soul into Heaven. I did not have any kind of relationship with God; I just precisely followed the rules displayed in front of me.
At night I contemplated the meaning of God, religion, faith, and the Catholic Church. I could never make any sense of it and I was fearful to ask anyone for guidance. I knew that I was expected to understand, so I would say my prayers and fall asleep wonderstruck.
I am 15 years old and it is the evening before Christmas day. As we head down the driveway, I am forced to bolt back inside to make some outfit adjustments. A run in my tights is simply distasteful for the Catholic Church. At this point my attitude is particularly bitter. I feel unaccepted by the church and restrained from my personal independence.
I tap my foot violently on the ground as I impatiently wait for mass to end. Pretending to listen has become an art form. My wide, passionate eyes always make it very believable that I am engrossed. Instead, I am admiring the architecture of the church, the stained glass, the candles, and the variety of faces I can see from where I am sitting – many that are familiar. When I accidently make eye-contact with them I abruptly turn my head so they don’t realize my estrangement from the atmosphere. I know that these walls surrounding me are holy, but instead I feel empty.
After entering high school my Sunday routine gradually shifted from sitting through hours of Catholic mass and CCD to attending dance practice or occasionally sleeping in until early afternoon. I was still obligated to be present at church on holidays and special occasions, which caused my alienation from my so-called faith to escalate. I felt like an intruder, wasting a seat in a place I did not belong.
By the time I was mid-way through high school my beliefs had intensified into a whirlwind of spiritual perplexity. Many of my friends were amused that I still had any faith in God left. Rather than harmoniously discussing our ideas with each other, they would unite and enforce their doubts and nihilism upon me. The more insistent they became, the more I succumbed to their stance on what was truth and what was fiction. I mustered the courage and told my mom that I did not wish to attend church any longer because it seemed meaningless. The worry in her eyes reflected her bewilderment and disappointment. I was uncertain of how else to explain to her that I still felt God was out there for me somewhere, I just couldn’t seem to uncover the definite path.
I am exploring the infinite playground of social network sites before I embark on my day. As my eyes scan the vast array of negative posts from those in my circle, I sigh despondently. I inescapably find myself surrounded by cynical, miserable, and doubtful individuals – particularly via interweb. Conforming to their malevolent philosophy appears safe and effortless; however, I am not interested. My chest tightens in an acute effort to catch my breath, but I allow my mind to escape the pessimistic abyss and I proceed with my day.
I am 22 years old and a concept once so foreign to me is unveiled through a cloudless, incandescent sky. This concept is faith. Unequivocal, invigorating, all-encompassing faith. I observe the faithless spirits of those I care for and feel a paralyzing sense of pity and heartache. The infinite, daunting forest I am staggering my way through finally exposes a glimpse of luminescence. My soul recognizes life beyond the body it presently inhabits and I inhale a deep abiding serenity within.
Doubt is mysteriously the foundation of faith. I find that unwavering faith in God in sight of anguish is the greatest way to defeat the ambiguity. Belief is a peculiar thing; I am incessantly discovering what I genuinely believe in through a challenging and pressuring journey of what I do not. It is my faith in God that holds me during heartbreaks and allows me to admire and appreciate the immeasurable blessings surrounding me. I embrace an all-encompassing, nonjudgmental, 24/7 therapist, teacher, and friend who listens to my heart, soul, and spirit and never rejects me. With God, I am always able to embrace my authentic self.
To my discovery, distance from the love and compassion of God results in a cynical and bitter lifestyle that I have no interest in. God represents freedom and enlightenment as opposed to the repression and restraint I felt throughout my childhood. My faith in religious institutions continues to reside in a tornado of puzzlement. However, I do not believe that organized religion is the only way to build a relationship with God. I am abandoning my acquiescence and blind devotion to the Catholic Church, along with the pressures and opinions of my secular friends. After years of vigorously seeking a lucid meaning, I am carving my own spiritual trail to reach the zealous love and comforting support offered through enduring faith. The person I was a few years ago only hazily resembles the person who currently inhabits me. Reaching this spiritual frontier was not, is not, and will not be a simple endeavor. Allowing myself to acknowledge and appreciate the love, strength, and wisdom that God provides is a choice I must continue to make each and every day. The core of who I am meant to be reflects this decision, and I choose faith.