I am a “cradle Catholic”—meaning I was born into the faith. Yet, my love of Catholicism has grown throughout my time in high school and college: I remember taking a class in high school called, “stories of the sacred”, and I was instantly drawn to biblical studies. Moreover, I loved analyzing the different contexts and unpacking the significance of biblical passages. I was also involved in my high school’s campus ministry program—and I witnessed firsthand how faith could be used to build bridges and bring communities together. My exposure to faith displayed affirmation and inclusivity for all students, and I felt the tradition I was apart of celebrated individuals.
When I entered college, I knew I wanted to pursue religious studies as a major. I had no idea, however, the ways in which the academic discipline would impact my life: Being able to dive deeper into course content and ask questions pertaining to God reaffirmed my Catholic identity. In addition, reading academic work from some of the most profound Catholic theologians also inspired me to continue studying in the field.
Like most academic disciplines, there are challenges in the field. Within my third year of the major, I noticed tension between the religious institution and the discipline. Occasionally, I would receive strong opinions that seemed to insinuate my choice to study theology was “dangerous” and made me appear “less faithful”. As suggested, this was deeply painful. I would ask myself, Why do people think I am less faithful by choosing to study the faith tradition that I practice? How does Catholicism, a faith that is supposed to promote human dignity and compassion, currently reflect a different message to me?
Honestly, these types of questions still circulate in my life. When I receive similar feedback, it does cause a lot of upset. As someone who cares deeply about people’s perceptions, it hurts when it feels like I am not enough of something or too much. Moreover, it prompts me to question if I will ever be “good enough” to be Catholic.
I remember I reached a tipping point last year—where I was perpetually exhausted. I kept trying to change and adapt in different contexts in order to fit peoples’ expectations of me. On one hand, I felt like I wasn’t religious enough. Yet, on the other hand, my secular peers labeled me as “the religious one”. It might sound silly, but it felt like however the pendulum would swing—I wouldn’t be enough. College can be challenging, especially when there are so many different voices:
“Be outgoing” “You aren’t really religious because you are like the fun Catholic, ya know?” “Whoa, you are way too Jesus-y right now…”
The reality of this reflection: we are all worthy of God’s love. I was raised to believe in an unconditional God—where I don’t have to change myself in order to be loved. I was raised knowing I am made in God’s image and likeness. I was raised to affirm people in my community and welcome them because they are made in God’s image and likeness as well.
A mature Christian sees Christ in everything and everyone else. That is a definition that will never fail you, always demand more of you, and give you no reasons to fight, exclude, or reject anyone
-Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ
I do want to recognize that I also struggle when it comes to practicing this. Yet, I am really trying to focus a lot of my energy into the practice of humanizing and accompanying. In my opinion, God’s love is not promoting human suffering. God’s love is not passively endorsing cycles of shame. God’s love is not ignoring the current injustices that take place in contemporary culture. Promoting God’s love requires us to stand with those on the margins and to recognize the human dignity of all persons (even if difference is present).
In essence, I hope this reflection prompts more discussion: How can we come together to promote human dignity? How can we build bridges in our faith tradition? How can we view the invitation to love others as a constant practice?
I pray we can come together and advocate for one another.