Why Catholic faith is so important to me

It has grounded my identity

One year ago, I was burned out from my year abroad. I was homesick, tired and stressed from the burden of work I had for finals week. Europe had lost its allure, and I longed for something fresh, something sustaining.

During the month of finals, I had scheduled a trip to Rome for the weekend with a classmate in hopes of finally fulfilling my long-lost dream of visiting Italy. I endured the long lines to the Vatican, skimmed the different exhibits of the museum, ate my gelato and even scarfed down several pizzas, mentally checking off each item on my bucket list.

I then entered St. Peter’s Basilica, passing by the ornamental decorations of gold and the grand ceilings. I even ignored the altar. Instead, I sat in the section reserved for prayer, sitting on my knees, pleading to be revitalized.

Maybe that is all I really needed, I thought to myself.

I got up, eager to see more and basking in the literal and figurative glory that has lasted for centuries upon centuries.

st. peter's

Like many other young people, I resented going to church. I pleaded, fought and cried against Sunday School, confirmation retreats or youth group events. For so many years, I resented having to spend a part of my weekend “praying” or “believing” in something that was invisible to me.

It wasn’t until late middle school that I eventually gave in to my mother’s whims, deciding I would not convince her otherwise on this part of her parenting. I obediently attended all of the Catholic “requirements,” rolling my eyes while my religious education teacher drilled us about the wrongs of abortion or not going to confession once a month.

I did everything I could to come off as a presentable religious person. I attended mass without protest, made friends at youth group and even volunteered to sing as a worship leader once a week. I checked off these items, one by one believing I was fulfilling my “duties.”

Then, senior year of high school came–followed by a whole lot of drama. I got rejected from my first choice college, rejected from the coveted lead role in the musical and even worse, was diagnosed with some voice issues. All of this happened in a span of one to two months and I started losing everything I held important to my identity.

If I did not come across as smart, as talented, as pretty or as together as I always hoped to be…what was I? I had nothing left to turn to until I thought of the same word that had–and would–save me so many times in my life. Prayer. 

For so long, I prayed selfishly. I prayed to get into the Honor Society, to pass my driver’s license test or to pass that math course. It was that night of my very confused and tired senior year that I finally just asked for clarity, for peace and that I would somehow make it through.

And I did. Everything turned out fine. In the few years I have actually come to understand the nature of life, I have learned that I only went through a grain of sand compared to the mountains of challenges other people climb. More times than not, life pulls us through. But it wasn’t until I was actually challenged with something bigger than a test or an argument with my parents when I had to turn to something bigger than myself, friends or family to help me.

Finally, I understood–I understood my mother’s protests, the undying devotion of the churchgoers and even the endless, passionate cries of those “weird,” televangelists I saw on television. Faith in anything gets us through. Whether it is in God, the universe or “the force,” the relentless challenges life throws at us forces us to evaluate what really gives us strength, because in my experience and in most other cases, the things we hold dearest on this earth can and will fail us.

Now, I don’t take Communion just because I have to. I don’t read my Bible because it’s a “chore,” and I don’t go to mass as a part of my routine. I do it because I have seen a glimpse of what it’s like to have things that are important to you stripped away, when you should have known it was never yours to begin with. For me, all I know I have is myself–and God.

Still, I know others disagree. I understand the Church gets a lot of heat, especially from millennials. In defense of the Church, it cannot constantly evolve with the popular beliefs of our generation because it is an institution that has stood the test of time. If the Church changes their views on divisive issues constantly, then what exactly will we stand for? The Church doesn’t–and shouldn’t evolve quickly. That is what makes it quite frankly one of the strongest religious establishments.

I know others will disagree with me, which is fine. Above all things, as a Christian and a person, I believe in respect. I would never criticize another person’s belief system, but I also expect the same in return. I am interested to see where the direction of the church goes with our popular, more progressive pope. I hope he continues breaking down the barriers and stigmas so many hold against the Catholic Church.

But I also believe and hope anyone going through challenges believes in something bigger than accomplishments, families, friends or relationships. All things on this earth fail. Maybe it’s just finding that hope within yourself and using the universe to pull you along in this thing called life.

For me, it was those moments when I knelt and asked to be given a fragment of strength when I started to believe–and I can always say with the utmost conviction that it was something much bigger than myself that led me to find it.

Wake Forest