My name is Joe and I’m Catholic.
Growing up, my faith was a pretty significant part of my life. My mom’s family is Catholic and she’s been involved with the church as long as I can remember. She worked as a receptionist in the rectory, she reads at mass and she even ran my youth group for a year or two. Dad was actually raised … Anglican, I think, but he converted to Catholicism when I was quite young and he too has been involved, both reading at mass and – along with Mom – running marriage prep courses.
My experience of religion as a child / youth was very positive as it was largely manifest in community and fellowship. I knew the tenents of the faith, of course, and I did the sacraments with relative enthusiasm, but Catholicism was more about friendship and community than it was a strict interpretation of scripture or anything. We moved a few times in my life and the church was a constant amidst upheaval and a convenient source of friendships, much like the hockey rink. Many of my friends came from the church. Family friends did too. And there’s comfort in knowing you can walk into a church anywhere in the English speaking world and know the mass word for word.
As I got older, though, there were things about the church that really challenged my faith. There wasn’t a eureka moment or anything, just a growing unease with what the Catholic church as an institution does and says on issues that mean a lot to me. It forced me to re-examine what I believe and where that fits in as part of the greater conversation about organized religion and – ultimately – I’m left with more questions than answers.
I fundamentally believe in what Catholics would call the Holy Spirit – the notion of an unseen force or karmic balance, if you allow yourself to express it in a non-Christian way. I am pretty sure I believe in God, or at the very least a higher power of some sort. I believe in an afterlife though I’m not sure what form that takes. And perhaps most importantly, I believe in the Judeo-Christian values that I was raised with. I try to live a good life and I’m trying to raise my daughter with the same values and morals that defined my upbringing.
The problem for me comes in the black-and-white modern-day interpretations (by humans) of scripture that was written centuries ago (by humans), often to serve a political purpose. This right vs. wrong, us vs. them version of Catholicism can be so exclusive, judgmental and it has led to so much needless pain and suffering.
And yet Catholicism has been too positive in my life to totally disregard it. I look at the strength that my parents draw from their faith and it inspires me. I’m glad that they can find such support and strength and I’m incredibly proud that they can do so while still maintaining open minds and a progressive mindset. They’ve found a comfortable place in their faith and even though it’s a place shaded by greys within the black and white world I don’t believe it makes them bad Catholics – and certainly not bad people. Quite the contrary; the church could use more like them. But it’s not a place I’m comfortable going right now.
I’ve been asked if we are going to baptize our daughter anyway and the question has always kind of confused me. I certainly don’t think less of people who baptize their children but don’t otherwise practice their faith – that’s their decision to make and it’s far too personal a decision for me to ever second guess – but, in a twisted way, I feel like I respect the church too much to fake it. I can’t stand at an alter and pledge that I will raise her as a Catholic and invite the church into our lives if it’s not a commitment I’m ready to honour.
But I’m not ready to close the door on it for her either. I want her to see the powerful force that God has been for her Grandma and Grandpa and even for her Daddy. I want her to understand that some people are Buddhists and some are Christians and some are Muslims and that all of those can be a force for good. And ultimately I want her to make her own decisions; to set her own path and to find a relationship with God that she can find her own strength from.
I was born into an Anglican family, I was baptized and I remember going to Sunday school a few times when I was a kid, but then we stopped going. Church was never a major part of my life, though I had a general understanding of God and prayer and that different religions existed. My best friend used to invite me over for sleepovers on Saturday night so she would have an excuse not to rush out to church on Sunday morning.
When I was a teenager my cousin got married and I went to the church for the big Catholic ceremony and discovered that part of my family was very definitely Catholic. When I was 18 my Great Uncle died and I travelled with my family to Peterborough for the funeral. The service was held in an Anglican church and I was shocked when both my grandmother and my mother knelt to pray upon our arrival at the pew – I had never seen them do that before.
I knew Joe was raised Catholic, and that his family was Catholic and that scared me a bit when we were dating, moving in together (it took him a while to tell his family) and then getting married. Our wedding was performed outdoors by a United Church minister. At the beginning of the ceremony there was a prayer, which I was comfortable with because I know other people believe and take comfort in prayer, and I knew people would be praying for us as a couple. We asked Joe’s parents to do the readings, and we asked them to pick their own, something that meant something to them and their wishes for us.
I’ve struggled a lot with what I believe and what I don’t. Sometimes I wonder if I would have been fighting depression for so long if I had grown up in the church. I believe in fate, I believe in karma to an extent, I believe in ghosts and angels and the idea that when you die you’re not just dead, but not in any way I can explain.
I also believe that a lot of the problems in the world stem from people misusing and misunderstand religion. I’ve had friends hurt by their parents because the church came above their children.
The problem is, I have no idea how to approach any of this with my kid. I don’t want to prevent her from believing, but I don’t know how to let her.