Yep…..I’m gonna go there.
It is often said that you should leave religion and politics out of general conversation and stick to safe topics like the weather and stuff like that. Why is that? Because people have different systems of views and beliefs? Because we are afraid of offending someone? Because it causes tension between people? Who knows? I personally enjoy talking about my faith and like to have conversations with anyone who is curious about it. I love to hear what others have heard about my faith, and it gives me a perfect opportunity to set the record straight in a manner of speaking.
So lets start things off. I’m a Roman Catholic. I am a Cradle Catholic, meaning I have been a part of the faith since my infancy. I went to a Catholic School from Kindergarten through 8th grade. We had religious education every day for all those years, where we learned not only about our religion, but about other religions as well. The thought behind this was that if we knew about what others believed, we could understand them better. The first public school I attended was freshman year of high school. I didn’t really know anyone who wasn’t Catholic at the time. Religion wasn’t really discussed in the school and it really was a non-issue at the time. We were all too preoccupied with the typical teenager lifestyle. What were we doing Friday night, how do you think the football team is going to do this week, did you hear what Susie said to Brad after 5th period? Stuff like that. It wasn’t long after starting high school that I became involved in my Church’s youth group. I hadn’t gone to the Catholic high school in the area by choice like the majority of my elementary school counterparts, but that’s another story for another day. Ironically, all the kids that were participating in the youth group, at the same parish that I attended grade school at, were mainly from my high school. I quickly became friends with those there, and we saw each other at school and formed our own group, many of whom I am still in contact with to this day. High school came and went as it always does. I continued to attend weekly Mass with my family and there was never any major upsets or hullubaloo made about our beliefs.
There’s that old saying, “There’s a time and a place for everything in life. And that place is called college.”
It all started in the fall of 2002. After getting settled into my dorm room, meeting my roommate, and all sorts of new people from all walks of life, it was all quite overwhelming. I spent hours meandering the campus just trying to figure out where everything was. The involvement fair was the first week of school when all the clubs on campus came out and had a booth to try and attempt to garner new members. As a doe-eyed 19 year old, I really didn’t know what to make of all of it. I took a few brochures and went back to my dorm room. The weeks went by and we all settled into a routine getting a handle on the college life. In getting to know my new friends, the topic of religion came up. When the conversation had turned my direction, and they found out that I was Catholic, they all became very interested in me. (Red Flag #1.)
They invited me to attend their next Bible Study group later on that week. “Oh! And make sure to bring your Bible! You…..did bring a Bible to school with you, right?” (Red Flag #2.) When the day arrived, I showed up, Bible in tow and took an empty seat in the circle. I was welcomed as a new member of the group and everyone made their introductions. After the formalities had concluded the leader (also the person who invited me) asked everyone to turn to the particular verse that we were to discuss that evening. After a few moments, I was called on….
“Would you please read the passage?”
I obliged and read a reading from Mark’s Gospel. Once finished, I closed my Bible and sat it in my lap looking around the circle. Everyone around me had looks of confusion, condescension, and disgust in my direction. The group leader then spoke.
“Hmmmm….that’s not what mine says. Does anyone else’s say that?” The circle responded with a silent headshake. (Red Flag #3.)
She then called on another member of the group to read the same passage. Turning to me she said,
“Does everyone else’s say that? Oh ok good. (Turning back to me) I think your Bible is wrong.”
“How can it be wrong?” I said. “It’s the same passage, just a different translation. The overall message is the same, it just has the wording changed around a little bit.”
“Is that a Catholic Bible?”
“Well….I suppose. It was given to me when I was in school. It’s the New American Translation”
“Oh…..oh my. That’s not the translation that we use. We use the King James Version here. Your Bible is wrong. You are wrong. I’m afraid you’re going to hell.”
“Wait….what? You can’t be serious.”
It was around this point in the evening that I discovered I had been set up. I never figured out what the overall mission of that night was; whether to rain hellfire and brimstone upon me, convert me, or just be their general punching bag. Regardless, after several more back and forth exchanges I had had about all I could stomach. I left the room in a huff. The next day, I could see that group that I had, for a brief time called my friends, pointing and leering at me with judgmental eyes from across the dining hall. I chose to ignore them. They never spoke to me again.
Over the next several months, I came to the realization that there were a lot of people in the world who hated Catholics. I had no idea! What was wrong with being Catholic? Was I really going to hell? Was my faith the wrong one? I didn’t understand. Different preachers would make appearances on the campus with gigantic billboard-like signs being carried by a parishioner listing all the categories of humans doomed to eternal damnation while the preacher screamed into a microphone at students as they walked by. The signs usually consisted of the usual chastised groups. Jews, Muslims, Satan worshippers, gays, lesbians, heavy metal music fans, gamblers, sex addicts, etc. On every one of these signs also listed Catholics. So one day, I decided to ask one of these church groups what was wrong with being Catholic.
“A Catholic eh? Well let me tell you what your problem is. You worship Mary! You worship Saints! You let a guy halfway across the world wearing a goofy hat and pajamas tell you what to do!”
I started to tell him that none of those were true (well except for the goofy hat/pajama wearing dude halfway across the world thing), but I was quickly cut off with further insults to my moral character followed by the preacher beginning to speak in tongues. I quickly departed feeling shaken. I didn’t understand. This is why so many people have a problem with Catholics? Hatred fueled misnomers? Where do people get these ideas? I found out many years later that some churches teach this to their parishioners.
“Well, I know that’s true about Catholics because that’s what my pastor told me, and he went to Seminary!”
“Was is a Catholic Seminary?” I asked.
“Ok, then how do you know for a fact that’s what Catholics believe when you were taught this by a non-Catholic, yet you have a Catholic standing in front of you telling you what the facts are.”
Now I’m not going to sit here and say that one faith is better than the other, because I don’t think that’s right. Nor do I know that the Church is without fault/controversy etc. But I am a firm believer in that it doesn’t matter what your faith is, just that you HAVE faith. The ways in which you celebrate and practice it are in inconsequential. No one faith is better than another. Don’t judge someone by their religion. It just spreads hatred. Some of the nicest people I have met have been Muslim or Jewish.
Remember, we are all called to love.