Coming Back to the Church

Rediscovering my moral code.

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Both my mom and dad were raised as Catholics. They met in a Catholic Charismatic church group, so when I was born I was promptly baptized into the Church and taken along to Mass. Eventually my parents became fed up with the disapproving glances cast their way by fellow parishioners, because apparently babies were expected to be kept in the quieting room so that their cries would not disturb the Mass at this particular church. So they decided to leave the Church.

My parents eventually settled on attending a non-denominational Christian church in Katy. This is where I my first memories of Christianity come from. I remember church sessions filled with singing contemporary Christian music, speaking to the Lord in tongues, and watching a lot of VeggieTales during children ministry events. I had a very personal connection to God when I was a child. During sermons I felt the presence of God in our midst, a mysterious, vaguely-defined entity that would bring goodness to the church while we worshipped him. I prayed most every day, and called upon Jesus in my times of need. I believed God to be an active participant in my life. He was a force that actively shaped my life for the good.

During middle school I stopped attending church regularly. My dad stopped going to church for the most part, while my mom searched for congregations that meshed with her religious sensibilities. My brother and I would go to church on the important holidays like Easter and Christmas, but otherwise we tended to stay home while my mom went to church. I didn’t go to church because I had stopped believing. I would rather stay home and play videogames than go to another church my mom had discovered. I would remember God during crises, and pray for to him for a while. Once the situation passed I would go back to my regular ways, never bothering to think much about the divine. I’d say that I believed in God, but didn’t really think about him much.

As I went through high school I began to read “intellectual” books, and I suppose I subconsciously picked up the idea that being religious was incompatible with rationality. I decided that I didn’t know whether God existed or not, and became an agnostic. I was pro-religion because I found the smarminess of my high school’s atheists to be annoying, but I can’t say I had a serious religious impulse at this point. I went to Catechism classes for a couple of months in my sophomore year, but dropped them because they were poorly run. I had lost my connection to God.

My first step back into a religious life was caused by a deep personal crisis. At the end of my sophomore year of college, I was dumped by my high school girlfriend of around two years who I loved very much. My first experience of love gave a meaning to my life that I hadn’t experienced since my intensely religious childhood. The collapse of the relationship broke me for around six months. I had built up this image of the rest of my life being filled with the love and happiness. That was enough for me to build my future on. I developed an angelic view of my significant other, in some ways she became an idol to me. Clearly this was unhealthy behavior, but I didn’t recognize it as such at the time. I was cast adrift. I didn’t know what to do with myself.

I searched for a something to believe in, something that would give my life meaning. I was also searching for an escape from the emotions that controlled me. I read The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh and became fascinated with Buddhist spiritual practice. I joined a weekly meditation group where we discussed Buddhist literature and practiced mindfulness meditation. I meditated daily for an hour, and consciously attempted to get away from the self. Buddhist teaching made intuitive sense to me, it’s emphasis on the connected nature of the universe aligned with my intuitions. What I received was a powerful tool, a way for me to escape from myself and deepen my connection to those around me. On the spiritual level, however, it didn’t connect with me. I think the cultural disconnect was just too much to bridge.

After I graduated from college, I left the meditation group and Buddhist study behind. I moved back home to Houston and began to take my Grandma to Mass every week. My initial motivation was to spend more time my Grandma. My Grandma is an extremely devout Catholic, so I was pleased to be able to bring her the joy of mass every week. Over time, something changed. As I participated in the mysteries of the Mass, heard the gospels, and watched the parishioners consume the body and blood of Christ, I began to connect with the divine. Although I wasn’t raised in the Catholic Church, I was raised by people who were raised in the church. Catholicism was latent in the environment I was raised in, I just didn’t realize it.

What pushed me o was reading the Gospel of Matthew for the first time. The Sermon on the Mount was what really got me. As I read Jesus lay out his instructions for living a moral life, everything he said struck true to me. Judge not and you will not be judged. Love others as you love God. The first will be last, and the last will be first. Ask and you shall receive. Turn the other cheek. Give to anyone who asks you for anything. If your eye causes you to sin, then pluck it out. The radicalism of Jesus’ message was something new to me. I had heard variations on these themes in snippets throughout my religious education, but getting back to the source brought the revolutionary power of the Gospels to the forefront of my mind. I cried after I finished it for the first time. Jesus’ message felt true to me in a way I can’t articulate, and I decided I would try to follow these mandates as well as I could. I found a moral structure to live my life by.

The decision to join the Catholic Church was more a matter of convenience than anything. I was already going to Mass every week, and I knew that my Grandma would be overjoyed to see me become a full member of her Church. I disagreed with many aspects of the Church’s teachings, but the essential moral structure of the Church’s teaching struck as being close to Christ’s message. The antiquity of the Church attracted me as well. Reading the history of the Church made me feel that if I was going to join any Christian church, it may as well be the one that has been around since the beginning. So I decided to do it. I attended confirmation classes earlier this year and took my first communion around Easter time. I go to confession, I attend mass, and I receive the gift of the body and blood of Christ every Sunday. Something of the spark of religiosity I had as a child has come back into my life, and I am grateful for it.