Growing up a Catholic leaves an indelible mark on you. My mum was Catholic, and as she raised me single handedly from the age of 7, she had a huge input and influence on my life. In fact, just before she kicked my dad out, she changed the school I went to, and I moved from a standard infant school to a new Catholic Infant / Junior school. Although I knew about God before, going to a Catholic school obviously drove that home a lot more. We were expected to attend mass every week in the church that was next to the school, and I have memories of the huge ceilings, cold pews and uncomfortable atmosphere whenever I went.
On some schoodays we would all be trooped down to the church to take part in a mass, normally at specific times such as Easter and HArvest Festival, but also occassionally when there were funerals taking place of someone that had been involved with the church. As kids, we had no real choice in what to believe. God existed, Jesus died for our sins and we all must repent for our sins. It was indoctrined. And there’s no use sitting in a confessional box denying that you have done anything wrong since you last confessed. Everyone sins, apparently, and even in my formative years I remember really struggling to think of things that I had done wrong. After all, I was an only child, I respected my mum, and there was never really anyone around that I could get in trouble with.
I struggled to understand, though still accepted, that my confession of "having an argument with my mum" resulted in being told by the priest, hidden away on the other side of the confessional box, to say the same amount of Hail Marys as penance as the kid who had tried burning down the school a few days before.
Catholicism was, to me, something ingrained in me to believe. When I left junior school and went to a grammar school, rather that a Catholic secondary school, my church going waned. For the first time in my life that I could remember, I wasn’t being told that I HAD to go to church, More than that, there were kids around me that didn’t even believe in God. "An Atheist?" I remember saying, "what religion is THAT?"
I can look back at my life now, which I am wont to do in times of reflection, and think about my faith and the effect it has had on me up until now. I am a logical person. I believe scientists who say that we come from monkeys. I believe in evolution. I believe in things that can be proved. Yet I also believe in God. To think about it logically - that this mythical figure exists - is ludicrous. If he does exist, why doesn’t he make himself more known? Why does he let so much suffering continue in the world? Why does he reward only those that he deems worthy? Why did he send his son down here, in human form, to suffer on behalf of everyone else? Why didn’t he come down here himself?
There are so many questions which, logically, have no answer, yet I still believe. I believe in God and that he oversees things. I certainly pray to ask for the important stuff, and thank Him for the important stuff. I believe that Jesus existed, although not quite in the perfect extent that some would have you believe. I believe that the Bible is a book of stories based loosely around the truth. And I believe that if you try to live a Catholic or Christian existence, then you are generally living life a nice way.
And that’s generally how I live my life. I treat others the way I want to be treated, and put trust in people when I shouldn’t do. I accept that I will make mistakes, and that I will "sin" in life. But I also believe that, generally, if I mean no harm then that’s ok.
This Sunday just gone I went to church for the first time since I got married in 2005 (and look how THAT turned out!). Chelle was having a dedication for her kids, which is similar to a Christian Christening. The service was held in the hall of a primary school, where the church meets every week. The service started with a rousing version of Amazing Grace, followed by three or four other songs, all very upbeat. The parishoners were all singing loudly, with some using tamborines and others opening their arms aloft in a way that seemed to say "come to me, Lord" and it was all quite disconcerting to me, someone who shies away from group activities, and who has been brought up to behave very differently in a church to what I was seeing.
There was no alter. Ho holy water, no incense. After the first few hymns the kids of the parish all got up to the front and performed a song about God (obviously), complete with actions such as turning around, touching the ground, dancing about and jumping in the air. Once they were finished, the leader of the congregation started the song over and got everyone, adults included, doing the dance too. It was very surreal. Once the kids had finished they were shuffled off in to a room to basically take part in a Sunday school, and the adults were given a sermon which was not disimilar to being in a classroom with a teacher teaching.
All in all it was a strange day. Everyone that I met was very friendly and very warm towards me, which I was grateful for as I had no one to talk to. I was able to ask questions and make comparisons between that day and what I had experienced in the past, and no one seemed to mind me asking questions or talking crap.
I’m not sure I’d want to do it every week, as it is far removed from my comfort zone, but it was encouraging and I’m tempted to find out more, not least because in the long term I would have to find out more for Chelle’s sake, as she is a practising Catholic who goes to church weekly. In fact, I’ve just dug out my response to Chelle’s text asking how I found it: "Quite welcoming, too much singing, friendly people and far different to what I imagined." That kinda says it all really.