Healthy Soul/Lessons Learned/My Life/Teen Life

You Can’t Make Me Be Catholic: When Faith is Forced on You

I’m kind of a quitter, guys… I think, in my childhood, I tried almost everything once, and then quit almost everything. There was soccer, in 2nd and 3rd grade. I was the goalie because I hate running… Turns out, even the goalie has to run at practice. That was about the same time I quit piano. I never actually learned to read sheet music, just followed my teacher’s fingers and tried to go at the same pace. I’m sure it sounded awesome. And I was only in Girl Scouts until another female cousin became old enough to sell cookies.

What I appreciate the most about those situations is that my parents never forced me to do anything. They let me try whatever activities I was interested in – and once I was signed up for something, I was committed for the year/season/session – but when I was done, I was done. And if they threw out an idea for something new, if I wasn’t into it, I didn’t have to check it out.

I think the closest I ever came to being forced to participate was swimming lessons (something about not wanting me to drown?) and going to church.

CATHOLICISM OR BUST?

Faith was not an option – it was the only option. I went to a Catholic school because that’s where my parents sent me. If I was sick enough to skip Mass, then I was sick enough to not play outside later… and I really liked playing outside. We found Mass times that worked with sports schedules and vacations. We even managed to pray around the dinner table sometimes. Faith was a non-negotiable.

Except that, even with all those opportunities to grow in my faith, I was not all about church in my childhood years. I thought Mass was boring, I didn’t understand why we repeated the same old prayers over and over again, and Scripture might as well have been in another language (what’s with all that begetting?!). I certainly didn’t connect with the person of Jesus.

GET REAL

Somehow, I found myself going on a weekend-long retreat the summer before I started high school. I wasn’t excited to be there, but a couple of friends wouldn’t take no for an answer, and so I gave it a shot. My parents were happy that I was taking the chance. I was happy to hang out with my friends.

And on that retreat, I had an experience of Jesus that changed everything for me. I’m sure it was the Holy Spirit – that I had received at my baptism and ignored for so long – shouting to me that Jesus was for real. He had really lived, and really died, and really lives now. And all He wanted was to spend time with me.

So, rather than my parents choosing the faith for me, I started to choose it for myself. I made a decision that if Jesus was real, then my life would have to look different. That was it. And that change in my own heart changed everything about my relationship with God and His Church.

If any of the above sounds familiar – if you’ve been dragged, kicking and screaming, to a Sunday morning service, or are only getting a religious education because your parents insist – but wish your relationship with God would be so much more than that, how can you make that shift? How does faith stop being something we HAVE to do and instead become something we can’t help but do?

1. STOP FIGHTING
There are plenty of reasons to resist the faith – maybe it’s about rebelling against our parents; maybe there is some particular teaching that’s really hard to accept? – but when we just stop and take an honest look at God, we will find ways to connect. Your interest (however vague) in Christianity is enough to get started. If you have ever felt even a slight connection to the Catholic Church, then explore it. What harm could it do?

2. START TALKING
Talk to God about it. Prayer can be tough, right? All mysticism or memorization? But the best part of prayer is that it’s just about having a conversation. You know how to talk to your friends, right? So start talking to God. Angry? Frustrated? Excited? Confused? Scared? Overwhelmed? Talk to God about it. Tell Him what’s on your mind. He already knows… He would just rather hear it from you.

3. GET LEARNING
The faith we believe in has been handed down for two thousand years. There are a lot of people who have believed, for lots of good reasons. Listen to their stories (in the Scriptures, saints, your loved ones) and see if there are any ways you can relate. There are so many others who ran, hard, in the opposite direction of God and the Church… and today, we call them saints. There was something that made them turn around. What was it? Talk to a campus minister, youth minister, parish priest, that cute old couple at daily Mass – there’s an answer for every question, we just have to seek them out.

FALL IN LOVE, STAY IN LOVE

No one can force you to be Catholic. We might not have chosen baptism, if our parents chose it for us in our infancy – but we can choose Confirmation, we can choose Sunday Mass, we can choose Reconciliation and prayer and Scripture for ourselves.

That’s the thing about love… it isn’t a feeling. It’s an action, a choice. It’s about choosing what is good for the beloved. God has chosen His Church to be His bride – so when we choose to live in His Church, we choose to live as His beloved.

I love being Catholic. Yes, there are parts of it that can be difficult, or challenging, or hard to understand. And heaven knows no one within the Church is perfect. But when you fall in love with Him, you realize that He’s already been in love with you, for years.

“Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in an absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.” (Pedro Arrupe, S.J.)

Maybe faith wasn’t something you chose for yourself in the past… but you can start choosing it for yourself today. He chose you, long ago, for Himself. So stop fighting, start talking, and get learning – and it will change everything.

About the Author

Rachel Leininger

I work for a retreat ministry called the REAP Team, where it's my full-time job to talk about sex, love, dating, and chastity (which can sometimes lead to some awesomely awkward moments). I love being Catholic, my bearded husband, watching movies, and browsing antique malls. The only thing I have against winter is the fact that there's no baseball. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @raleininger

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