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Life Learning Essay

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Life Learning Essay

October 01, 2004

My Religious Odyssey

You can take the girl out of Catholic School...

Most people grow up with some type of belief system. Judaism, Christianity, Islam and even Agnosticism are some examples. It wasn't until I had a child that I realized that religion was just man's way of explaining God. Even as a kid, however, I always believed in a higher being. Not just because of my very heavy-handed Catholic upbringing. I questioned many things about my religion. Since I loved science, I was confused about how the "Big Bang" and Adam and Eve coexisted, but I always knew that God existed. I had no scientific irrefutable evidence - I just had faith. You know how they say everything you ever really need to know you learned by first grade? Well it wasn't until I had both my faith and my life tested, that I fully came to realize that one's spiritual journey in life doesn't have so much to do with what religion one surrounds herself with, as much as the faith that one has in God. Faith is what defines a person's spirituality as opposed to specific religions.

I was raised in a Catholic upbringing. I grew up in Chicago, which has the second largest archdiocese in the U.S. I was baptized as an infant at St. Sabina's and attended high school at Mother McAuley Liberal Arts, run by the Sisters of Mercy nuns. Catholicism is a religion steeped in ritual and tradition and so I vividly remember my first holy communion in the first or second grade, and my Confirmation, when in the seventh grade I reaffirmed my decision to be both a Catholic and a Christian. I also remember the many hours of study, every year, in religion classes that were required in each grade level. I had cousins who weren't Catholic who spoke of religion classes taking place only in Sunday school. I did not have Sunday school. I had

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday school. Every class attended mass at least one other day during the week, in addition to Sunday. I remember learning how to pray the rosary beads and knowing certain holy days and saints, important to the Catholic religion. We also participated in confession, where we told a priest about our sins and transgressions, and he gave us a penance to absolve us from guilt. If one is looking for a pomp and circumstance religion, then Catholicism is the one for you. Since about eighty-five percent of the school also attended the church, the parish was made up of many close knit families who all knew each other and were very involved with both church and school celebrations.

Catholicism had a profound influence on my life. It's almost hard to explain to someone who has not had the same experience. Since I attended both Catholic school and church, Catholicism had a total indoctrination in my life. My brother attended church with us, but went to a magnet public school, instead of St. Margaret's. There was a BIG difference. He attended classes outside of school to study for his first communion and confirmation, but the experience was much less intense.

When you are both Black and Catholic, one's religions and cultural identities are sometimes at odds. God is viewed as a very strict paternal figure and seemed very distant and removed to me as a child. I heard about and talked about God every day, but I didn't really have any real relationship with God. But because Catholicism has both a lot of structure and fit in well within the constraints and confines of order (I was good at following rules), I had few problems embracing the Catholic church and its rules and tenets. I also loved the beauty and ostentation of most Catholic churches. St. Margaret, still to this day, remains in my memory, one of the prettiest churches I've ever seen.

It wasn't until I turned eleven that I started to question certain beliefs. I wondered why only Christians got into heaven, why I couldn't be an altar girl, and why nuns didn't have the same power as priests, even though they did the majority of work within the parish. The ethics of the Catholic Church definitely led me to question both my ethics and those of the church. I loved that Catholics valued education, but then I began to hear about priests mistreating students. I wondered how a religion that didn't seem to hold its own leaders accountable, could hold me accountable. The philosophy I pondered most, however, was the statement that every Christian seemed to rally around, the fact that you could only enter the kingdom of heaven through Christ. I couldn't shake the feeling that Christians felt that heaven was just one big country club, where one could only enter if one were Christian. Since I knew that three quarters of the world was NOT Christian, I wondered how my God could be so discriminating. My God would let me into heaven, with all my absolved-in-confessional sins, but he wouldn't let in anyone who was Jewish or Buddhist or Muslim? That just didn't seem to make any sense. My God was bigger than that.

The Catholic church definitely instilled in me an appreciation for discipline and hard work. It also taught me what I liked and disliked about religions. Catholicism opened my eyes to the hypocrisy of church morality. I learned over time, that just because the Catholic church and the Pope says something is so, doesn't necessarily make it gospel. I eventually realized that just as I respected the differences in other people's races and genders and social upbringing, I could also respect the differences in both mine, and other people's religions. I was fiercely proud and secure in being a Christian, yet I could also be proud of having friends of different religious viewpoints. It would only help to make my faith stronger.

Having attended Catholic school for twelve years, I looked forward to attending a public college with broader views on religion. I attended the University of Illinois and did indeed encounter many people of different faiths and religious beliefs. One such person was my husband whom I met a few months before he was to graduate. We hit it off immediately and had a lot in common. I learned that he had been raised in the A.M.E. church; the oldest recognized African American faith in this country. I was pleased to learn that he and his parents were brought up in the church. Phillip was also very afro-centric and conscious of what affected Black America. One day I asked him to attend church with me and he informed me that he did not believe in the same Jesus that I did. Now, for someone who could

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