This is who I am. This woman in her mid-twenties, with a day job and a writing itch. A daughter. A sister. The “best girlfriend in the world”. A cousin. A niece. A best friend. A friend. A colleague. A side-kick. A buddy. A Catholic. A practicing Catholic.
And what does that even mean?
I left the Catholic Church as a teenager. I was disillusioned by many of the adult Catholics around me including, it must be said, a couple of priests. I didn’t understand the “idol worship”, or how the Catholic Church could help me develop the faith I needed to move the mountains in my life. And there were many mountains that needed moving.
So I left in search of the Light. And I found it…in the Catholic Church. Let me explain.
I searched in other churches, and I found sparks, glimmers that whetted my appetite. In one of the pentecostal fellowships I joined in university, I learnt to study sacred Scripture. In another, I learned to give to the church, to only offer to God that which cost me something. In yet another, I learnt to make time for God in my daily life. I learnt to “fix my mind on what is pure and admirable”, to screen the music, movies, conversations and books I let into my life.
But they weren’t enough.
Don’t get me wrong, those experiences affected my life immeasurably. I would not take my faith this seriously today if I had not left the Catholic Church and encountered these other denominations. They made it possible. I’m talking specifically about a certain Pastor Ibukun who inspired me to be a beautiful, well-spoken, professional woman who loved God passionately. Because she did. And there aren’t many Catholic women who inspire me like she did.
But there is more to faith than inspirations of other humans. I met Catholics who convinced me to give the Church another go. I found chapels that I could kneel and pray in for hours without the distraction of someone bursting into “speaking in tongues” beside me. And I have nothing against speaking in tongues, but after years of being told a “stubborn spirit” was blocking my ability to engage in that activity, I came to the simple conclusion that I just did not have that particular “gift”.
And then, I fell in love with the mass. With its simplicity and its routine. With the Latin, with the weight of history. The Catholic Church was the only one that, it seemed, affirmed Jesus as a historical fact, man-made flesh 2000 years ago and look, we remember his sacrifice on the cross E-V-E-R-Y-D-A-Y.
And then I read C.S. Lewis and realized that Christianity isn’t meant to be an easy joyride. I am asked to take up my cross everyday and follow the Christ. And we all have different types of crosses. At different times in my life, the crosses have been different. No money in the bank. Poor health (mine and my family’s). Disappointments. Failures. The scorn of others. All of them, my crosses. And some were easier to bear with a smiling face. And others I reacted badly to, in a very unChristian fashion.
And this is what I understand my faith to be:
To love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul and strength – to seek His face, to not allow sin or situation to separate me from Him, to strive to do what is right before Him, to freely subject my will to His. It was more than obeying the 10 commandments, it was knowing why the 10 commandments were given and internalizing them.
To love my neighbour as myself – to continually and actively seek the good of everyone God places within my environment. This shows up in things as little as letting a car cut in front of me in traffic.
And I held up everything I was being taught in the churches/fellowships against these principles. Many things didn’t make the cut. For instance, I didn’t understand having to “fast” for good grades. Good grades came from good work, and good work came from studying/natural precociousness (for those so blessed). Instead of fasting for good grades at the end of semester, I preferred to pray for the discipline to study at the beginning of the semester.
The more I discovered what my path to God was, the more I came to see it was all there in the Catholic Church, in the first place. I should never have left, maybe. But if I hadn’t, would I own my faith as I do now?
I’m not a perfect Christian. I don’t always let people cut in front of me; I have taken my car to the panel beater’s too many times. I still listen to music, see movies and read books that I know portray ideas that are contrary to the faith. I still struggle with justice and fairness and chastity and modesty. I still have a temper and let it loose more often than I care to count. I still compare myself to others and wallow in self-pity. I still put my will first, sometimes.
I am, many times, a sorry excuse for a Christian.
But the trying is everything. Someone once said, “You must want to love God. That’s the essence. Wanting with all your heart, soul and strength to love God. And even if you don’t want to love Him, you must want to want to love Him.”
And that is what it means for me to be a Christian/Catholic.
What does your faith mean?