As the second semester of my senior year approached, I noticed a desire to return to my Catholic roots. I wanted to feel a connection to the Scriptures I grew up with, not just ones from a faith that was new and fairly foreign to me. I had a desire to reclaim something that was familiar and comfortable at a time when I was about to head off to college, which would no doubt be quite unfamiliar.
Because of this, I was excited to find out that for my Eastern Religious Thought religion class I would have the same teacher from my freshman year. I remembered from three years earlier that he was Catholic, but that he had only returned to and embraced his Catholicism after his study of different faiths, especially Hinduism and Buddhism.
One of the first days of class, my teacher brought up his transformation, and how he had come to accept the one aspect in Christianity that had troubled us both: the emphasis on and necessity of Jesus. Particularly this claim the He makes in the book of John, “No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6). That passage always distressed me because it seemed to encourage the opposite view of the conclusion I had made in the car that morning in middle school–that Christianity is the only way. It seemed to me to be a statement of exclusion, but the fact that my teacher was able to accept it without condemning other faiths made me desperate to understand his thinking. Despite the begging of some of my classmates and I, my teacher waited until later in the semester to reveal his understanding of the phrase and his return to Catholicism.
Finally, a few months later, my teacher told us his secret. In that passage from John, my teacher said, Jesus is not saying that people can only reach God through a belief in a physical Jesus. Jesus is saying that we can only reach God through believing in and living the message He embodied: only through sacrificing ourselves for others can we truly find love and achieve oneness with God. Our lives are filled with self-sacrifice, as was Jesus’, and it is through those experiences of struggle that we find meaning and love. Without the hardships of life, we would not be the strong, wise, and loving people that we are, just as Jesus would have never been the loving Savior He was without serving others and dying. That’s why the symbol for Christianity is the cross, my teacher said, because only through our pain can we rise to new life with God.
My teacher’s assessment seemed right, it made sense, and it reconciled the issues that I had with the verse. And it brought up that symbolic view of Christianity that I had initially found helpful in Mass. However, hearing him say this was not the revelatory experience I expected; I was not as moved as I had wanted to be. I know now that it didn’t resonate emotionally with me because I hadn’t yet made the journey to that realization myself.
Over the next year, I would slowly find that revelation, but I still had a few necessary detours to encounter before arriving there.
Questions for reflection: What phrases or beliefs from your religion trouble you now or have troubled you in the past?
Part 4 will be posted tomorrow.