It wasn’t until I went home for spring break that I was able to fully recognize the importance of these lessons and experiences. Once again, it was my high school religion teacher who helped me realize the shift occurring in my faith.
I went to visit my high school hoping to have a conversation with my old religion teacher about how my faith had changed in the past year. I felt I still needed some answer, some guidance, some seed of wisdom that would make all of these things fit together. I wasn’t really able to articulate clearly the confusion I was feeling. I was happy that I felt better about Catholicism, but I knew that my long standing issues with Jesus were a part of my uneasiness. Since that car ride in sixth-grade, I had deep questions about His role in my religion, and I couldn’t get out of my habit of being uncomfortable with Him (despite the fact that I had basically resolved my issues.)
So I asked my teacher, “How were you able to reconcile the idea of Jesus as being the only Way?” He didn’t give me his answer; he knew I already knew it–from hisexplanation and from my own recent experiences. Jesus proved through His life and death that self-sacrifice for the benefit of others is the only way to experience and have a relationship with God. Rather than rehashing his old answer, my teacher let me turn to my own study and experiences to reach the same conclusion that he had. This time, because I had come to it through my conversations with my friend and my study of the Bible, I felt that sense of awe and emotion about it that I hadn’t felt when I’d just been told the answer.
My teacher did point out very clearly however, that I was now traveling on the second part of my religious journey. According to Joseph Campbell’s theory, after a person has spent time away from her “home,” has had her old thinking challenged, and has been educated about new things, she will return back to her home to see it in a new way, to come back with a greater appreciation and a desire to improve that place. The best illustration of this journey as a whole (and particularly the “return”) is in The Alchemist, a must read by Paulo Coehlo. (If you don’t want to have the ending spoiled, skip to the next paragraph.) The protagonist, a young man, goes on a journey to find riches, which he has been told are far, far away from his home. After an arduous but enlightening journey, he returns home, only to find the treasure there, where he began. Because of his experiences along the journey, he is able to recognize that the treasure was there all along.
Though I had realized that changes were occurring in my spiritual life, I hadn’t grasped their gravity until my conversation with my teacher: I was making my return journey to Catholicism.
The fact that I knew I was on the way back to Catholicism made it ok that I didn’t have all the answers about Jesus or any other part of Catholicism. A sense of calm clarity that I have rarely felt in life stayed with me for several hours after that conversation, and the memory of it drives my now-conscious return to Catholicism. I will always be grateful to my teacher, who not only helped initiate my outward journey, but who also helped me recognize my return.
Question for reflection: Who has been a spiritual mentor for you? What have you learned from him or her?
Part 8, the final installment, will hopefully be posted tomorrow.
(I should also note that last night I went to my first 9:30pm Mass of the year at Dahlgren Chapel at Georgetown. My parents were able to come with me and experience the Mass that has helped tremendously in my religious growth. There was no music tonight, but the homily was great.)