I Wasn’t Catholic
I was seventeen years old attending a private Catholic school. I wasn’t Catholic.
“It is true that a mirror has the quality of enabling a person to see his image in it, but to do this he must stand still.”
– Soren Kierkegaard
I was confronted with myself. I was divided, and yet it was not the division that frightened me. The thing I feared most was that I didn’t care. I was completely apathetic, indifferent, and uninterested. I thought. I thought myself indifferent until my self-conceit stood exposed concerning the hardness of my heart and for a brief moment I had recognized my true condition.
I was seventeen years old attending a private Catholic high school. I wasn’t Catholic. I was only attending because of higher academics. My mother was raised as a Catholic attending Catholic schools from elementary school through junior high school. She and her siblings attended mass everyday at school as well as Sunday, her parents did not. The rigidity from the nuns and priests left little room for children to be children. My mother was in fourth grade at the time of her confirmation. As the youngest, her grade sat at the front of the sanctuary. My mother and her best friend seated beside her turned around to watch the beautiful procession as her fellow classmates entered and took their seats. She stared in amazement as the bishop entered and went to the front where he would conduct the ceremony. Immediately following the ceremony the children were ushered back to their classrooms to continue with their academic day. The priest entered my mother’s classroom and requested to speak with my mother and her best friend. They were told that they had committed a terrible sin; they were told that they were going to have to go immediately to confession in order for their confirmation to be considered good. They had turned around during the ceremony to watch the procession. My mother did not go to confession, convinced that God knew her heart. I was seventeen years old attending a private Catholic high school. I wasn’t Catholic. My mother was an atheist.
I was seventeen years old attending a private Catholic high school. I wasn’t Catholic. My father was raised at the end of the Bible belt in Florida as a Southern Baptist attending church with his grandparents every weekend – his family did not go. My father continued to go to church through high school spending much of his time at his pastor’s house. My father once told me that his idea of a good date was a movie and then going to his pastor’s home to hang out where the door was always open and there was always Pepsi in the refrigerator. During college, my father played basketball for the University of Florida. My father slowly stopped attending church. I was seventeen years old attending a private Catholic high school. I wasn’t Catholic. My father was a moralist. I was seventeen years old attending a private Catholic high school. I wasn’t Catholic. My parents had both grown up in religiously dysfunctional settings. My parents never talked about God, they did not speak about spiritual or religious matters. I wasn’t Catholic. I wasn’t anything. I (an only child) grew up in what I call a very spiritually dysfunctional setting. There was no need or place in my life for God, religion, or spirituality. My modern and philosophical thought claimed that reason and logic were sufficient and anything else was quite ridiculous and would end in absolute disappointment. It was not reality; it was not truth. I was seventeen years old attending a private Catholic high school. I wasn’t Catholic, I wasn’t anything, and I was confronted.
April 20, 1999 I was confronted with the fragility and absurdities of life. The shootings at Columbine slapped our community in the face. I was confronted with evil. I had attended a church a few times with a friend in the proceeding months. I hated it. A girl she was very close to that attended the same church was killed during the shootings. Her name was Cassie Bernall. She was seventeen years old attending a public high school. She was a Christian. She believed in something, something that was beyond herself, something I didn’t understand and did not care to understand. April 20th, 1999 Cassie stood in the library of Columbine High School with a gun held to her head and was asked the question – the question that marks all of humanity and its history. She was asked if she believed in God. Cassie said yes. April 20th, 1999 Cassie stood in the library of Columbine High School and was shot in the head for her faith. She was seventeen years old attending a public high school. Cassie was a Christian. She was a martyr. Martin Luther King Jr. said this: “If a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.” I was seventeen years old attending a private Catholic high school. I wasn’t Catholic, I wasn’t anything, and I had neither anything to live for nor anything worth dieing for. I wasn’t even living, I was merely existing and I had a choice to make. Reflecting on my mere existence I was confronted with my indifference. I was confronted with myself. I was divided, and yet it was not the division that frightened me. The thing I feared most was that I didn’t care. I was completely apathetic, indifferent, and uninterested. I thought. I thought myself indifferent until my self-conceit stood exposed concerning the hardness of my heart and for a brief moment I had recognized my true condition. I thought myself an agnostic. I believed that there was a possibility that God existed and a possibility that God did not. But in all actuality, I was an ignostic. Both the possibility and the impossibility were there, I just did not care. I was wallowing in indecision – but the supreme fact and nastiness lay in the fact that not only was there a choice; but a decision had to be made. I was in the words of Kierkegaard “thereby subject to an enormous burden of responsibility, for upon [my] existential choices hung [my] eternal salvation or damnation.”
This began my journey into finding faith. I have learned to embrace the fragility and absurdities of life. It was not necessarily that I just changed my mind about an issue. It was a change in mind and heart about my attitude toward the issue itself in which I was undecided. I was challenged by an identity crisis that left me void wondering and pondering the meaning, purpose, and aim of life. I was dared to decide. Commenting on Either/Or, Kierkegaard said this:
“A choice! Yes, this is the pearl of great price, yet it is not intended to be buried and hidden away. A choice that is not used is worse than nothing; it is a snare in which a person has trapped himself as a slave who did not become free – by choosing. It is a good thing that you can never be rid of it. It remains with you, and if you do not use it, it becomes a curse. A choice – not between red and green, not between silver and gold – no, a choice between God and the world! Do you know anything in comparison to choice? Do you know of any more overwhelming and humbling expression for God’s condescension and extravagance towards us human beings that he places himself, so to say, on the same level of choice with the world, just so that we may be able to choose; that God, if language dare speak thus, woos humankind – that he, the eternally strong one, woos sapless humanity?… The love of God is hatred of the world and love of the world hatred of God. This is the colossal point of contention, either love or hate. This is the place where the most terrible fight must be fought… Terrible is the battle, in a person’s innermost being, between God and the world. The crowning risk involved lies in the possession of choice.”
I was seventeen years old attending a private Catholic high school. I became a Christian.
And to end on a personal note (Doestoevsky is my favorite!)…
“Dream? What’s a dream? Isn’t this life of ours a dream? I’ll go further: suppose it never, ever comes true, and there is no paradise, well, I’ll still go on preaching. And yet how simple a matter it is. In one day, in one hour it could all be brought about, at once! The chief thing is to love others, as oneself, that’s the main thing, and that’s it – absolutely nothing more is necessary: you would immediately discover how to bring it about. And yet it’s just the old truth after all – an old truth a billion times repeated and preached, though it fell on stony ground, didn’t it? The cognition of life is superior to life, the knowledge of the laws of happiness – superior to happiness! – That’s what has to be fought against. And I shall. If only everyone desired it, it could all be brought about at once.” – Doestoevsky