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Where do I even begin… At the beginning? Where is that?

I was raised Catholic. I attended a Catholic grade school and Catholic high school. Does that make me Catholic? I was baptized, received my first communion, experienced my first reconciliation, was confirmed, and married (the first time) in the Catholic church. Does that make me Catholic? How about attending mass each Sunday morning with my mom and sister during my primitive years?

Of all my years in Catholic schools, I can’t remember much of the actual religion classes. I know we met several times a week and we attended mass weekly together, but the actual class sessions are a bit fuzzy. Although to be fair, most of grade school and high school is. I remember coloring in the pews, sitting on the kneelers, waiting my turn to tell the priest how sorry I was for talking back to my parents and hitting my sister. I remember having to dream up things to the priest, as gosh, I didn’t sin that often, did I?? I remember receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday and the blessing of palms on Palm Sunday. I remember the stations of the cross and being horrified by the treatment to Jesus…

In grade school, several sessions of religion classes each year were replaced by Christian Life, the Catholic’s version of sex education. I remember our workbooks and how the boys always went to another room as out came the tampons and pads for demonstration! I’m fairly certain these Christian Life lectures scarred me for life, as we were repeatedly told that sex was bad, that affection toward others was bad, and that we were not to touch boys. I remember in college, when relationships became more real, that it was difficult to switch from, affection is bad, to, some affection is healthy. And even stranger was the concept of trying to get pregnant, when for so many years we were reminded how naughty it was to be pregnant.

In the fall of 1998, when I moved to Iowa City for college, I officially stopped attending mass weekly. Although to be honest, there were many Sundays in high school I missed. I remember arguing with my mom, telling her I was sick, or tired, or just plain didn’t want to go. I liked sleeping in on the weekends, and saw church as ruining that luxury. Plus, I felt uncomfortable in church, as I don’t like to sing, but yet felt like everyone noticed when I didn’t join in. And to me it seemed as though church was just a series of motions to perform. If you’ve ever been to a Catholic mass, you know it’s essentially the same each time, aside from a different selection of readings and music.

College was truly a detour from religion, and it wasn’t until my ex-husband and I became engaged that I realized we’d need a location for our ceremony. Being I still considered myself Catholic, the logical choice was a Catholic church, but which… I no longer lived in the city where I’d grown up and therefore not near the church which probably still considered me a member. So, as silly as this sounds, my ex-husband and I went in search of a Catholic church to join, visiting a few each weekend. Sadly, looking back, our selection was based on the attractiveness of the church, as I had wedding pictures in mind, and their availability, for obvious reasons. After many, many visits, we decided on one which was quite close to our reception site and which didn’t require us to officially join. My ex-husband was not a practicing Catholic, although he was baptized Catholic and therefore ‘made the cut’ and was allowed to be married within the church. To my knowledge, his family didn’t associate with any particular faith.

Without going into too much detail, which may bore you, let me say I was not at all pleased or impressed by the process of marriage in the Catholic church, specifically the hops required of us to jump through. Although I must acknowledge, the particular Catholic church in which I was married is the cause for most of my displeasure. I was told which songs could be played and which couldn’t, I was told what could be read and what couldn’t, I was told how the music could be played and how it couldn’t, I was told under which circumstances we would be married and under which we wouldn’t, I was told what time we could be married, which type of flowers I could carry… I just really felt like the details that make a wedding personal were stripped from our experience. And no, that’s not why we divorced, that’s another post all on its own! But can I just add that a State Farm agent ending up marrying my ex-husband and me, as the priest decided, the day of, that he wanted to attend the church picnic! Who does that???

Fast forward to February of 2008, my divorce was final, not four years after it began in July of 2004. And I hadn’t been to church since my wedding, aside from the occasional wedding of a friend or family member. My own marriage ceremony hadn’t felt personal or special, not because I wasn’t in-love with my ex-husband at the time, but more because we had been forced into a cookie-cutter ceremony that all others at that same church also experienced. And now being divorced, I felt excluded from the faith, knowing Catholics don’t believe in divorce. And no, there was no annulment. I’m not sure I believe in annulments though, as how can I pretend it never happened, almost four years of my life, eight if you count the time since we’d started dating?

So back to the present… I’m not sure where I stand currently in my faith as a Catholic. Looking back to my Catholic education, I don’t remember the actual classes, but I do remember the lessons and themes and would like to believe I demonstrate those in my life regardless of whether or not I physically pray inside a church. I’ve asked God for help with my fertility struggles, and while I can’t say he’s answered my prayers, maybe the time just isn’t right yet. Maybe something else is in store for me and Eric.

Side note, for those of you not present at Eric’s and my wedding, we obviously were not married within the confines of a church. No, we picked a casino. What does that say about us??

During visits with Eric’s parents the topics of conversation often lean toward his years in high school, the sneaking out, the drinking, the tipping over of cars, the bullying, which I have to believe he was on the dishing out side of… Eric did not attend a private high school, and while I can’t confirm that is the cause for the striking difference in our experiences, for the time being I’m going to assume.

Now to the future… What do I want for my own children? My first instinct screams Catholic schools, but how can I send my children to such when I can hardly be considered a practicing Catholic myself? Must a Catholic school be part of their lives if my goal is respectful, genuine, honest, loving, gracious children? And if not the Catholic faith, than which? Am I not required to instill in my children some version of faith, some form of religion?

2 thoughts on “Religion

  1. Stef,

    I grew up Lutheran and went through all of the steps in the process. I too strayed once I went to college. I just recently started going back because I do at times feel like I miss the good messages I used to get from a sermon. Not that you cannot pray at home and what not, but I’ve sorta found my faith again. I want my kids to learn some of the good lessons that I learned about being a good christian and member of society and for some reason I think church helps to do that. But I never was taught that affections, sex, pregnancy, or any of that was bad and I never had to confess any sins. I went to a public high school, but never tipped a car over! I think if you’re really against what the religion says, enroll them in a non-denominational type school or a public school and then find a church that feels like home where you are comfortable and want to go. I didn’t get married in a church either, so I think whereever you choose to marry is just fine and I presonally loved your wedding at the casino.

  2. You are an adult now and you have to make your own decisions but I am so very happy your first instinct is to scream Catholic schools. This is the one thing in your life you wouldn’t have to worry about making the wrong decision about.

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