Losing my religion: The illustrious tale of a college student’s spirituality

Originally Posted on The University News via UWIRE

It’s hard to be religious in this world. Faith is such a beautiful thing, but all the escalating violence, retaliation and hate that have spread over the last few months (and years) centered around religious belief has really made me stop and think about my own spirituality and privilege.

I don’t think that being religious would be the first thing that anyone close to me would identify me by, but for a large portion of my life, it was a core part of my personal identity. I was raised Catholic, and I have no remorse for my upbringing in the faith. Sure, I didn’t like going to church as a kid because I thought it was boring, but my dad would just tell me and my siblings to picture the priest as Spongebob and pretend we were just watching two episodes of TV.

It wasn’t until I was in the seventh grade that I considered myself a religious person. I lost my aunt that year after her nine-year battle with breast cancer, and turning to God was something that helped. Praying every night helped. Going to church every weekend helped. So I ran with it.

My first 13 years of Catholic education didn’t come with much of a choice, but I made the conscious decision to attend a Catholic university for college. In fact, one of the main reasons I chose SLU was because it was a Catholic school. I thought that college would be a time when I truly deepened my faith. A time when I proved that not every young adult rebels against their religion when they go to college. And for the first two or so years, I think I may have done that.

Going to 9 p.m. mass at College Church was exciting, so I went pretty much every week without fail. Taking upper-level theology courses where I got to expand my ideas about religion, faith and God were exciting. Having late-night “deep talks” with friends about the existence of God among other existential crises were exciting. It felt like I was thinking the things that book and movie characters thought in college, and I loved it.

But somewhere along the way I realized that maybe, it was possible, that the religion I’d been practicing all these years wasn’t really Catholicism at all. Ok, I know that sounds crazy. I’d done all my Catholic sacraments, and went to Catholic mass weekly and attended Catholic schools my entire life, of course I was practicing Catholicism. But was I?

For me, religion was about finding comfort when I felt lost, and anxious, and scared. It was talking to God at night to rehash the day and think about the other people in my life who needed help. Once I started journaling my second semester in college, I actually found I had no use for nightly prayers, so that practice was out. Going to church was still a comfort, but it was more about the routine. When I was at mass, I mostly just people watched, thought about my week and zoned out. The stuff happening on the altar was so ingrained in my mind from years of the same mass over and over again that it became a little meaningless. As life became more hectic, I just stopped going as much, so there went that practice too.

More than the loss of those practices that I believed tied me to my religion, I started to realize that, actually, I didn’t believe everything the Catholic church was preaching. It’s been a rough time to be a Catholic, there’s no doubt about that, but really what the Catholic church lacks more than anything is a willingness to change. Despite having a really awesome pope right now who is setting us down a slightly better path—shout out to you Papa Frank—a lot of Catholicism is stuck in the past. I also—through the religion classes that SLU required me to take—found that I’m not even sure I believe in God, or at least the God that Catholicism paints.

So now I’m an agnostic, semi-practicing Catholic who has created her own version of a 2000-year-old religion as a coping strategy for crippling anxiety and depression (not aided by a stressful and busy college life). When I do go to church, which still happens relatively often, I like to find small ways to be rebellious. For example, when the whole church recites the Nicene Creed there are two lines that directly contradict my own beliefs: “For us men and our salvation” and “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.”

In place of the first, I simply erase the word “men,” because it flows better and acknowledges that women exist in the Catholic church (something else they’re not too great at doing). It’s a little petty, but it’s also 2019.

The second is a newer addition to the rebellion, but one that has really helped me deepen my understanding of my own beliefs. The line in question recites the four marks of the church, and I believe in all but one, literally one. I didn’t used to think about it, but as someone who has developed a deep passion for social justice in her formative years, I simply cannot say with confidence that Catholicism is the one, correct religion. How the hell would I know that?

This rebellion is not sticking it to the church. I’m not making a difference. And yet, these small acts, in addition to my innate curiosity to learn about different religions, have helped me come to the conclusion that in reality I’m not a religious person, but rather a spiritual one (that’s allowed, I checked with the big (non-gendered) guy upstairs).

The funny thing is, looking back even when I thought I was in the peak of my “I’m religious” phase, this was true. I gave a speech at a religious retreat in high school about discovering God in my life and a direct quote from that speech reads “I do think it’s important to believe in Something…[Faith] is an ideal, a place, a person, a feeling, a smile. My faith in God is merely a sum of the people in my life whom I love.”

A lot of that has to do with me being the World’s Biggest Theatre Geek™ who likes to allude to “Les Mis,” but faith for me has always been more about love than any of that other stuff we do. Without love, it really would just be a weird cult (well, more of a weird cult than it already is).

Who knows, maybe if I lived in a different century I wouldn’t have lost my faith, but for now this is what I believe. I don’t regret the 17 years of Catholic education I’ve experienced because it challenged me to think for myself, to be curious and to love. Maybe you don’t care about religion, or maybe you’re super passionate about your own. Wherever you fall on the spectrums of religion, faith or spirituality, know that you’re not the only one who’s confused, or skeptical or questioning.

The beautiful thing about faith is that it is subjective. It can be what you need it to be, when you need it to be. That doesn’t mean that it’s a joke or you shouldn’t take it seriously, it just means it was created by humans. Oh that reminds me, “God, please let me get a job after graduation. Amen.”

Read more here: https://unewsonline.com/2019/05/02/losing-my-religion-the-illustrious-tale-of-a-college-students-spirituality/
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