I wish I could just call myself Catholic and leave it at that.
After all, I grew up in the church. I know the names of my saints and which of them I should speak with when faced with a particular problem (St. Jude is the patron saint of lost items, St. Francis de Sales of writer’s block). I know my prayers and the Ten Commandments. After teaching Sunday school for three years, I even know a significant portion of church dogma (i.e. church teachings).
Yet there’s a difference between understanding and believing. And I find that my faith has had its peaks and valleys. At one time, before noticing how cute girls are, I wanted to be a priest. At another point, I became very concerned that I wouldn’t like heaven (If there’s nothing wrong, and I am eternally happy, how can I really appreciate it?). And because of this, I’ve not only questioned my own faith, but the nature of faith. The term is thrown around often, but I find it incredibly illusive. After all, it is called a ‘gift’ so assumably not everyone receives it.
In any case, it’s along this journey that I was invited to go to a new church with one of my friends, Heidi Bezanson. She mentioned it on a whim, but I like to keep occupied and try not to turn down any invitations (one of the reasons I also ended up taking Salsa dance lessons, but that’s another story). Plus, I knew there were a lot of pretty girls that went to her church and as a rule, you shouldn’t turn down opportunities to meet pretty girls (one of the reasons I practically went to an all-girl’s school, but again, I’m getting off topic).
Oddly enough, the service was held in the local Empire Movie Theatre. While I’ve attended many different church services in locations ranging from basements to basilicas, a movie theatre was certainly unique. I was to meet her there and walked over that morning since the theatre was walking distance from my apartment in the city. On my way, I stopped by McDonalds (product placement money, please!) for a coffee.
Heidi was running late (a missed bus, apparently), so I waited in the mall’s lobby and watched as the stream of young adults headed to church. I recognized a few friendly faces from past get-togethers and waved awkwardly. She arrived eventually and with a skip in her step we headed to the escalator that would take us to the theatre. As we passed people on our speed walk, she would gesture to me and introduce the person she was making very fast, very small talk with. She also pointed out the free coffee being offered at the main entrance and the day care facilities.
To my surprise, the service was being held in the largest auditorium and upon entering I found myself faced with a theatre so full that it looked like we were about to see Avatar in 3D (i.e. it was pretty full). Since we were running late, the band had already started playing the opening songs so we rushed to the back of the room and found seats.
Pastor AJ Thomas was giving the talk that would make up the majority of the 90-minute service. While it was book ended by music, he filled most of the time. I’ll admit, he filled the time well. His theme was accountability and centered on the idea that individuals should have designated people in which they tell everything to in order for them to keep accountable. As a person that blogs often and openly discusses his faults and misadventures, I agree. Plus the speech was supplemented with video clips from Rocky projected on the big screen.
As the pastor talked, I noticed that Heidi was regularly getting texts and I peeked over wondering if she was flirting with some boy in church (Tsk, tsk, Heidi!). Instead, she was getting regular tweet updates from the church’s twitter page highlighting key quotes, offering biblical verses, and expanding on the pastor’s ideas.
At the end of the service, the pastor symbolically recreated the Last Supper by offering the members a plastic shot glass of grape juice and little pieces of bread. I vaguely remembered a Catholic rule (which I may have been remembering incorrectly) that Catholics weren’t supposed to take Eucharistic substitutes, so I passed on the snack.
Overall, I enjoyed the experience. The speaker was interesting and returning to a more religious state of mind for a couple hours offered an interesting lens to dissect my life. Admittedly part of me missed the rituals and patterns that a Catholic mass had to offer, but I wouldn’t mind returning for an encore service (pretty girls, after all!).
As for the doubt, I’ve made peace with it. The conclusion came during a Catholic mass, oddly enough. I was in church one Sunday and a man sitting across from me seemed to be having a spiritual struggle of his own. His head rested in his hands and has face was construed in a confused glare. In my mind he seemed to be going through the same sort of doubt I was going through. And as I telekinetically consoled his spirit, the answer to my question donned on me. Perhaps not the answer, but certainly a conclusion that appeased me. Being Catholic – being any faith – is not a declaration. You can’t just say, “I’m a Christian” and let it be. The answer isn’t that simple. Faith is a question, that throughout our lives we attempt to figure out. Churches are there to guide us, but the journey is our own. It has valleys and mountain peeks. Being Christian is the process we all go through to find our conclusion.
I still doubt, but that’s okay. It’s okay to question. It’s okay to be thrown off balance. As long as you keep trucking along you’re on the right path. The yo-yo never stops. Life is just complicated like that. And it can’t hurt to have a friend dragging you to church every now and again.