“Doesn’t seem like that right now, but it’ll all work out somehow.” – Marylou Villegas
In K-12 Catholic school, we were taught to believe that the best faith was childlike; it operated without question. One truth, one truth. Questions hinted at a doubt, and doubt was dangerous. Inquisitive minds were minds trying to disprove a person of what they believed in, and that was not welcome. Regardless of that, religion had a glow of beauty around it.
People who were very religious seemed to emanate a certain light. They were calm, happy, and others were drawn to them. They appeared to move easily and confidently through their days. When I was a freshmen in college, I credited my amazing year to the wonderful people I had met and the seniors of campus ministry. I attributed some of the qualities I admired about them to the religion that they practiced. I planned to be them in three years time. The campus ministry senior who would show the freshmen the ropes to all things LMU.
Even in high school, I looked up to my peers and how they exhibited their faith. At times, I wonder about them now. Would I still see the light that I once did or would there be something else in its place? My religion’s got me confused, and I don’t have the interest I once did in being a part of it.
Firstly, I still believe in a Divine something or other/God. The reason I believe in something having created the Earth is because of the duality present in its nature. It is both complex and simple. There’s no random order to what occurs. The functions of the universe and its inhabitants work so effortlessly. The variety of people and ecosystems present is a work of art. It is awe-inspiring to think about how well-oiled everything is. So, for me, a God, a Divine something, some gods, some goddesses are there somewhere.
Secondly, I prefer Catholicism to overall Christianity, and there are reasons why. I’ve never loved Christianity as I have Catholicism. Same faith, different denomination, but the differences in proposed worldview are stark. Yet, even then, I wasn’t always happy to be Catholic. I loved my school, but Church was a chore. If I had a sleepover the night before, the congregation could definitely catch me sleeping upright in a pew with my best friends. The calm demeanor of the Catholic Church was no match for all of the festivities of the previous night. Good thing it was only an hour. I began to like Church through high school retreats and when I started going alone and could really concentrate. The music pointed to a Divine being and the second reading was always my favorite.
Yet, the Catholicism of K-12 is not the one that kept me there. My first year of college, a professor of mine named Dr. Susan Abraham, and the Jesuits provided me with the Catholicism that I love.
Dr. Abraham taught me that US Catholicism is really similar to Protestant religions, and it is. Its emphasis is on sin and being saved. She presented us with a different version. Roman Catholicism holds that Jesus has already died on a cross. He’s got us. We’re already saved by virtue of his death and cannot be saved again. That’s redundant. Because he’s already gotten our back, everything in the world has been imbued with that love. Aka a term called sacramentality. Owing from that is a term called materiality. Since everything is imbued with God/Jesus, then everything is special and following a Protestant ethic of eschewing worldly pleasures isn’t needed. Which, ya know, maybe Catholics took and ran with because our Churches are elaborately decorated, which I absolutely love.
What makes my heart soar about Catholicism is: the hymns, the saints and what they represent, the rituals and sacraments (high religion, where ya attt), the stained glass, and the artworks.
About the artwork/images if you will: No, I don’t like the Eurocentric depictions. Religion has been used by white societies to claim their perceived rightful dominance in God’s eyes, and I worry about what damage that has caused on the psyche of the Western and non-Western worlds and the way that we interact with each other- who is subjugated and exalted and who is not. Yet, the strength that is present when communities reclaim portraiture of Jesus and re-image themselves is lovely. Yes, Asian, Afro Latinx, and Black Jesus. Do yaaa thing. My favorite is the Byzantine Christ however, as it’s theologically sound in a Catholic realm. Beyond the Eurocentric depictions, I worry about the reference to God as a male and how my first mental image of an aura that is supposed to beyond the world was of a Santa-esque white man in the sky, flowing beard included. It leads me to wonder what that image has done to how people perceive women or those of non-white descent. I’ve come to prefer the term Divine, even though “God” is engrained in my thought process. That’s one of my issues that draws me away from the religion I have loved and still love in some capacity: the anthropomorphization of God and envisioning of him as a man. This leads me to the main reason why it’s losing my love.
I’ve begun to question what it took away from the world and the methods by which it did that. In March, I took a trip to Managua, Nicaragua with some other students, and we got a chance to stop by the national museum. While we were there, our tour guide showed us around. In one room, she took a minute to mention how the Spaniards/Europeans came and tried to “civilize” the native Nicaraguans by giving/forcing upon them the Christian religion as if they did not have their own. There’s also a book called “When Jesus Came, the Corn Mothers Went Away” by Ramón A. Gutiérriez which I have not read yet but the idea seems similar from the title. What did the world lose by Christianizing the people of it? And why is Christianity so concerned with what other people are doing? It’s undeniable that much blood was shed and many rapes occurred in this pursuit of a wider cross. I wonder why it’s so excusable.
I wonder what damage the construct of virginity has done to women’s personal fulfillment and the world as a whole. All of our liberations are tied up with each other. I wonder whose mental illnesses could have been alleviated if suffering wasn’t romanticized to the point that it is and if the higher powers that be were not a sole reliance. That’s appeared as one of the most dangerous things to me in recent years. I can’t speak of other religions because I know the one that I was born into the best, but the emphasis on acceptance and forgiveness and calm that Christianity has now turns me off. Good intentions, but as those tenets apply to this world, it seems to be used to justify people’s life situations and to expect immediate or eventual forgiveness from those whom someone has wronged. For example, the Dylann Roof massacre of the black churchgoers in Charleston, NC. On the news, literally the next day, news reporters were asking the family members if they would extend forgiveness to Roof for the killings. Like, is that a joke. The calmness that seems to arise from religion is something I really used to admire/aspire to/love. But now- I don’t know. It rings of too much silencing. But silencing of certain demographics only. Expectations for people to be sheep to be herded for one’s own purpose and benefit.
Personal worlds have been enriched by Catholicism/Christianity, but there has never been one singular truth to me. I believe that the Divine can have gods and goddesses and spirits working together, and that’s actually always been my thing. I haven’t always believed in Jesus as a half fully Divine person, and I don’t care that Jewish people don’t either. I believe each religion has found a slice of truth. I realize that humans have crafted our religions. We are the ones who have sat here and written down events, tales, stories. We’re the ones who have borrowed from other religions and changed names, places, and faces to suit our own context. We’re the ones who lose things in translation but also the ones who created the original words. So, I guess I’m a bad Christian but a stereotypical Catholic in that the Bible holds no supremacy for me. It’s meant to illuminate and communicate things that human beings have decided upon, but for me, it’s not literal nor historical. It’s Biblical truth; it is it’s own truth.
In addition to wondering what the world has lost at the expense of its gaining, another thing that distances me from loving my religion is how hateful Christians have seemed to me in recent years. Technically, in terms of the history of the world, the past few years and Westboro are not outliers. Christians decided indigenous people, black people, and Asian people were all some form of sub-human/savage and physically wreaked havoc upon them for that. This is a mini tangent, but that’s a reason I take issue with the designation of places as third world/less industrialized/developing. Why do we all need to work towards the same thing? And why is Christian nation extraordinaire The United States supposed to be the ideal for the rest of the world? We have set what we think is the standard, so we get to decide who plays catch up and by extension, who is uncivilized. By our own standards. But why is civilization as we define it so good and the rest of the world so bad? Alright, tangent over. But point somewhere in there is that its the same ideas as when Christianity was killing people, raping people, and forcing people to adapt their religion. Its just different now in the means and method. It appears more benevolent and goes on mission trips instead. It hangs out with children and photo ops it up but doesn’t speak to the adults. It stays in its village but looks upon the rest of the country warily. It gushes about thankfulness and worries about the hopefully life-long impact its making for the days that its there. I’ve wanted to continue to identify with Catholicism but eschew Christianity. I guess that says something about the things we consider dear to us. You want it to stand out and be special and better than its counterparts. But, really, it’s not.
I think many Christians are happy to consider themselves/their values under attack and rally with that, but I can’t. Christians have now painted themselves as the ones either screaming in your face about how you’re going to hell or how they’ll pray for you under a mask of love but really, it’s just tolerance and that’s not love at all.
I think I sound angry, but really, I’m confused. Because I want to love my cradle religion, but it’s done so much harm, so am I condoning everything it has done and continues to do if I ignore that? These are things that have caused me to question my alliance with the Church. I recognize the benefits of having a church family and worshipping in a set location each week (if you’re not an Easter, Mother’s Day, Christmas only kind of Catholic), but where do you go when you start to wonder who that family has excluded in the past and might want to exclude in the future? Who that family only began to see as human once they made them a convert and not a “savage”?
Things like this always lead me to contemplate if ignorance is bliss. On one hand, yeah- because I might still be perfectly content to exist in my religion as is, and as it was, I was very happy with it. On another, no- because do I really love it if I’ve never questioned it? James Baldwin style.
Meeting other Catholics, estranged or not, still strikes a certain familiarity in me. Seeing a gorgeous cathedral or elements of Catholicism in people’s homes makes me feel content. The worldview of Catholicism is one I love, but I guess I just have to decide what I want to do with how I feel.
There are religious people that I still admire. Fr. Greg Boyle tops my list, but my classmates are there too. I think it’s great when people love their faith. I was super happy for the Muslim students when their center opened this year on campus, and I get their newsletter and have been to some of their events with my friends. I still remember when Sacred Heart Chapel seemed to be the center of LMU to me, and I still think our music is unmatched in its quality. Liberation theology and other forms of theology still catch my attention and interest me so much. I’ve ran into the rabbi of campus a couple of times. I have a book of Buddhism that I got from the random mini lending libraries scattered around our palm trees. One of my homeboys is Hindu, and it’s cool to see him rep how his faith influences his world and to see how he laments other people appropriating it. I respect people who faith is very important to, like the ladies from the Dolores Mission community in Boyle Heights. Its world-orienting. I get that. I will worship with you if you ask me to because its important to you and your life. I’m down with it, as long as people don’t force it on other people.
The beginning quote is from an original song by a YouTube singer. Regardless of how I feel about organized religion, I still feel like the Divine imbues the world and voices like the one she has and the passion she has for what she’s singing about shows me that.
The Church isn’t a home for me anymore. That doesn’t even really upset me because it has let me see the beauty in people who are non-religious as well, without thinking that they should be. It’s opened me to new ways of life too and to further believing that there is not one truth, especially since we’re all just making up rules, concepts, and contexts as we go along. I’m not even working for campus ministry this final school year, but those seniors from my freshmen year are still people I wouldn’t mind emulating every now and then.
I guess the saddest part about losing a home is trying to find what can take its place and deciding if you even want anything to.