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December 19, 2015

I am a Happy, Delinquent Catholic.

catholic prayer

“God has no religion.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

When I got married 31 years ago, there was no other option in my mind other than living happily ever after with my husband.

I made for a young bride, walking down the aisle three weeks after I turned 21, only three months after my college graduation.

When I announced my intent to marry, my Father cried while my Mother sat in stunned silence. I had just shown up at their house after eloping and marrying secretly before a judge—secretly pleased with myself that the civil ceremony preempted any expected protests and objections.

This morning, on the day that should have been a celebration of a 31st wedding anniversary, I flipped through my wedding album with the heavy paper, custom binding and a built in music box that played “Unchained Melody.” The photos that were in full color when first pasted on to the glossy pages have now turned into sepia-toned, creased portraits. A few pictures on opposite pages have become stuck together and I berate myself for neglecting to care for these aged keepsakes.

Catholic guilt made its presence felt that morning as I looked through the album. I felt irritated. I was born and raised Catholic and schooled by Catholic nuns and priests. Call it brainwashing or indoctrination, the Church successfully ingrained the notions in my head that sex was bad outside of marriage and that matrimony was forever.

As a Catholic, divorce is an absolute no. While I signed the divorce papers in Court last year, I was bombarded by pangs of remorse and guilt. I engaged in behavior considered wrong or sinful by the Church. “Thou shalt honor thy husband” was the commandment I disobeyed. I expected lightning would strike me down next.

I am a delinquent Catholic.

I don’t attend regular Sunday masses and I can’t remember when my last visit was to a confessional box.

Does this make me any less spiritual or faithful to My Heavenly Father than the person next to me on the pew who does go to Church on a regular basis and is cruel to his wife and children?

My religion places greater emphasis on pomp and ceremony rather than how one lives their life and how we treat one another. I live bound to tenets of kindness, love, generosity and compassion and not the number of Rosaries I can pray in a given week or the number of communion hosts I eat.

One recurring question that I keep coming back to is this: who is truly faithful and how is faith measured?

According to the New Strong’s Dictionary of Biblical Words, the word faith is the translation of the Greek word pistis, which means trust, confidence, assurance and belief. I’m sure the encyclicals can provide a theological definition, but I choose to simplify what it means for me: a belief in an Almighty (with whatever name we choose to refer to him or her) who lives in and around us with the purest love, who is all-knowing, merciful and kind—guiding us to live a life of love, kindness and compassion.

My guilt eventually faded from the divorce because I didn’t believe that my God was rigid and stern and turned a blind eye to the despair and grief of two imperfect human beings. I’m happy now and what kind of God would deprive me of this joy long sought from a union that was a mistake from the onset? Aren’t we allowed second chances to rectify a wrong and to have peace?

I now understand my father’s tears and I see now what he predicted. His tears were his muted pleas to me, hoping that my impulsiveness could be held in check just this once. He knew I was making a huge mistake and that the man I was going to marry did not truly love me.

How my Father foretold this I now attribute to a power I myself have developed over the years as a mother—infallible intuition.

Infallible intuition is a connection existing between parent and child that is so deep and ethereal—based on faith—that it defies logic and reason. If I did reach an epiphany, he was going to save me and take me home. My Father was an extremely religious man and believed that his faith would save us all and lead us to a life everlasting.

My faith remains strong through the years. I have family and friends who, at the worst moments of their lives, have cursed their God, in anger and despair and a few gave up and renounced their faith. Does this mean seats in purgatory have been reserved in their names even if they lead virtuous lives up till the day they die?

Each one of us has a personal relationship with God/A Being/Dharma. Our beliefs may vary but the common ground is living with a sense of meaning, purpose and joy. I don’t believe any ideology should impose on any individual its criteria for faith. However, I may consider a list of 10 Commandments that still start with the word do and the word not disposed of as in, “Do love your neighbor as He has loved you.”

So Catholic guilt, be damned. My life is now in my hands and His. I will be loved still and I will love people of all faiths. My religion does not represent my spirituality. My faith and how I live and love does.

In my faith, I trust.

~

Relephant:

Abandoning my Big, Blue Security Blanket of Faith.

~

Author: Tess Estandarte

Apprentice Editor: Annie R. Towns / Editor: Caitlin Oriel

Image: FotoKatolik/Flickr

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