Choosing to be Catholic, Part 1

This essay has been my major summer project.  I am grateful that I finished it before the school year begins next week, when I will no doubt have less time for reflection and writing.  This essay will be published in parts over the next week here on my blog.  After some posts, I will pose reflection questions, suggestions for further reading on the topic, or related video or music clips.  Feel free to share anything too.

Choosing to be Catholic

Over the past year, I was asked multiple times–half-jokingly and half-seriously–if I was converting to Islam.  It is really not a surprise that people asked me this, given that I was (and still am) involved in Georgetown’s Muslim Students Association and will be living in the Muslim Interest Living Community at school this fall.  However these questions became a little frustrating, because by the end of my freshman year of college, I felt more Catholic than I ever had before.

But, prior to talking about recent events, let me start at the beginning of my religious experience.

My family: Tom, Maggie, Nick and I.

I grew up in a Roman Catholic family and community.  One of my most vivid memories from childhood is sitting on a pew in St. Pius X Church in Indianapolis, coloring pictures of a skinny-limbed Jesus on a cross while nibbling at Cheerios.  When it was time to sing a song, I would climb up on the kneeler, open the green Gather book, place it on the back of the next pew, and sing along to words that I couldn’t read but knew from memory.  My finger would pass over unreadable words and occasionally pass a “the” or “a” that I recognized. During the Eucharistic prayer, even at the age of three, I would recite the words in my head as the priest did aloud.

Outside of church, my mom would pray with my brother Nick and I before bed, and when I got older we’d have long conversations about what heaven was like or other seemingly unfathomable religious topics.

As I grew older and attended elementary and middle school, my community was made up almost entirely of Catholics.  I went to St. Matthew School, where we attended church, and all of my friends were from the parish.  Despite its moderate racial and socioeconomic diversity, it was a pretty conservative community (I remember being one of four people in the 50-person fourth grade mock election to vote for Al Gore in 2000.)  The parish’s worldview was fairly small, too; only when I got into middle school did my social studies teacher expose the other students and I to current events and injustices, like the genocide in Darfur.  I got a decent education at St. Matthew, and learned a lot about Catholicism, but I was hardly encouraged to ask questions about my religion.

At home was where the deep discussions took place.  Actually, a lot of them happened in the car on the way to school.  I remember one in particular–I was probably in middle school and Nick was in third or fourth grade.  I was concerned about the fact that as Christians, we believed that we were the only ones who were right in our worship and knowledge of God, and therefore were the only ones who would go to heaven.  I knew that other religions believed in the superiority of their faith, too.  So then who would go to heaven?  What if Christians were wrong in thinking that we had it right?  If Christians were right, than would everyone else be doomed, even if they were kind people?

My baptism. My great uncle, Fr. John, performed the rite.

Not wanting to push her own views onto me, my mom just responded by asking me more questions.  I don’t think we came to a conclusion by the end of the car ride, but after a few days or maybe weeks of thinking, I came to the thought that maybe all religions were right.  People worshiped the same God, I believed, but because of their cultural differences, they worshiped in different ways and had different names for God.  This conclusion felt right because it included all faiths, but it left me with a lot of unresolved questions, like “‘Is my religion still special? Why should I be Catholic then?  Is Jesus even important?’

I didn’t dwell on these questions though–I was still very young–and I pushed them away until a few years later.  During middle school, I was never really confronted by other religions, so I had no reason to think much about these issues.

Part 2 will be posted tomorrow, Monday, August 24th.

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3 thoughts on “Choosing to be Catholic, Part 1

  1. Jordan, I can’t wait for the rest of this! Coming from a pretty Catholic background (at least at home), I totally relate. I started struggling with the pluralism questions when I hit high school. Not sure that I’ve come to a conclusion yet.

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