My Faith/Teen Faith Don’t Skip Dessert: More Than a Cultural Faith by Juan Aznaran One of my fondest childhood memories is from an awesome party. I was probably six years old and though I don’t remember many details about the party, I do remember that I had a blast. At the time, I didn’t have any idea what we were celebrating, but I didn’t care. All I cared about was completing my role: play with my cousins until I couldn’t run anymore, dance (or pretend to) a little bit, and say hello to people. This would assure I would get the long awaited prize — dessert! When I look back on this memory, I realize we were celebrating my cousin’s baptism, one of the many Baptism, first Communion, and Confirmation parties I attended growing up. We celebrated so many sacraments, and yet, I didn’t remember any of them. I did, however, remember the parties. Why was that? Why did I remember the parties more than the sacraments? These questions kept coming back to me over and over again the more I discovered about my faith. “Because… I do.” See, when I moved to the United States from Perú at the age of 13, I didn’t realize how ingrained my religion was in me. Whenever I had a form that asked me to check a box for “religion,” it was an easy answer — Catholic. Now, was I Catholic? Uhh… I think so? I went to Catholic school, so that meant I was Catholic, right? I went to (or rather was dragged to) Mass every Sunday with my mother, so that meant I was Catholic, right? I was Peruvian, so that meant I was Catholic… right? We celebrated El Señor de los Milagros (go here to learn more) at my parish every October, and like a good, devout Catholic man, I was always there serving soda at the party after the procession. El Señor de los Milagros is the most famous Peruvian depiction of Christ and I am Peruvian, therefore we must have connection! One day while walking home from high school, a stranger, clearly from a different religion, asked me, “Do you believe in God?” I thought to myself, “This is it! This is my time to shine! I finally get to school someone else in my faith that I know so well!” So I firmly said, “Yes. Yes, I do.” He then said, “Awesome! Why?” To which I replied with some random assortment of words that made less sense than Bellichick going for it on 4th down in his own territory (if you don’t get the reference, see it here), with the best and most comprehensible part of my answer being “because…I do.” “Culturally” Catholic This was the moment when I realized something was missing. I yearned for something so deeply, and just when I thought I had found it, I quickly realized I hadn’t. You see, to me, my faith was very much dependent on my culture. I was Catholic because I was Peruvian, but I hadn’t realized that until I started asking the deeper questions. Once those questions started coming, I learned that saying, “I believe in this because I do” only gets you so far before it starts to crumble. And this is coming from a guy that recognizes he was — and even still is — a bit of what you would call a “blind-faith-Catholic,” someone who simply believes things because that’s how they’ve always been. Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with having blind faith; sometimes you really need to rely on blind faith and God to get through difficult situations. I know this because in any conversation, there is a 95% chance that my grandma or great uncle will say, “Si Dios lo permite, mijo” (“Only if God allows it, my son”), “Que Dios lo quiera” (“God willing”), or even “Vaya con Dios” (“Go with God by your side”). Trust me, I know that many times my family just throws God’s name around blindly as a figure of speech. Where I come from, the Immaculate Conception of Mary is a day off for everyone and yet, half the people don’t even know why it’s a day off, let alone why they are supposed to go to Mass on that day. This was very tough for me to understand. I did not understand how people could be surrounded by the faith and still not notice it. To me, receiving Communion for the first time was just another Saturday wasted at my school chapel followed by a great party with lots of my cousins, gifts, great food, and, of course, dessert! All I needed to do was get through the hour-long-monologue by the tall guy wearing white vestments near the fancy table. That was it. Just as I wanted to just get through Mass so I could go to my party, I found myself wanting to get through the ache of not understanding my faith and get to the party where I could rejoice in it. And then it finally clicked. My culture was simply the hors d’oeuvres of the party. But unfortunately for me, I had too many hors d’oeuvres (let’s be honest, who hasn’t done this before?), so much so that I never allowed myself to get to the main course — the course where all the questions were asked. The main course was where the where, when, why, and how were all beautifully answered in a way that made sense. If you went to a party and only ate the hors d’oeuvres, you would feel full for a while but would realize, on the car ride home, what a big mistake you made by not eating dinner. In the same way, we must not fill ourselves up with just the appetizers of where we come from. Instead, we must learn to find the perfect combination that will create a balanced meal. Then, we can begin to imagine how incredible the long awaited prize — the dessert — will be.