I am what is known as a ‘cradle Catholic’ and am fortunate enough to have parents who actively practice their faith. I do not believe that I ever lost my faith in the existence of God, yet my faith has at times been rather turbulent. But God made use of such turbulent events.
I was brought up in a Catholic household, where both of my parents practice the faith. During my childhood, we would all go to Church on Sunday and often prayed together at home. From a young age, I witnessed my parents practising their faith which went beyond the obligatory presence at Mass every Sunday. From personal retreats, or being part of the Teams of Our Lady, quite soon it became clear to me that ‘being Catholic’ for my Mum and Dad was not something done out of mere habit, but something which was to be nurtured and treated as the centre of one’s life.
I remember when getting up early to go to school, I would pass my Dad in the lounge who was listening to the daily Gospel and reflection on his I-Pad whilst doing his daily dose of press-ups.
Secondary school was the time when my faith entered some turbulent and ropey times. Naturally I was sent to a Catholic school, where I suppose the basic aspects of the faith were upheld. Mass a few times a term and prayer at the start and end of the day became a question of habit, just like morning registration or whole school assembly.
Most of my peers were not Catholic and the few who were, were by no means hasty to admit it or even to talk about it. For the majority of the students (and no doubt most teachers), the practised aspects of faith like Mass and prayers were nothing more than an old-fashioned ritual, upheld only for the sake of tradition.
Catholicism was barely mentioned in conversation, with the occasional exception of it being portrayed in a negative light (especially on Fridays, when there were no BLT sandwiches in the canteen). As a then 14/15 year old, I tried to fit in with this trend and rebel against this “old-fashioned institution [the Church] that only told people what to do”.
The influence of school began to rub off into home life, where I’d whinge every Sunday when being taken to Church. At the time, things at school began to take a turn for the worse; I would lose control over numerous situations which made me increasingly angry. At the same time I would become more envious of those I saw in Church; those who seemed happy and content for somebody else (i.e. God) to influence their lives. At the time, I highly despised the idea of ‘trust’, as, based on my experiences at school, I convinced myself that the only reliable person I should trust was myself. God was soon to show me how wrong I was.
Around that time, the school was offering confirmation courses for our year group. I wanted to join, but the real purpose of the Sacrament was certainly not the motive for me doing so. I simply liked the idea of an event being based around me and then receiving presents and money for simply taking part in that event.
My Mum and Dad managed to decipher my motives for Confirmation and had already noticed my general attitude towards Catholicism and concluded that I was not ready and should receive the Sacrament at a later time. I grudgingly agreed, yet this was a decision I have never regretted since.
Sometime later, I moved to another parish. There the priests were much more welcoming and by their own witness to faith, showed that being a Catholic was not about being part of an elitist clique, or just any other local ‘community’ made up of tea-drinking, biscuit-eating pensioners. Around a year after, the parish priest recommended that I should prepare privately for Confirmation. There I had the chance to fire away with all the questions I had about the Faith, the answers to which the priest gave clearly, with reference to the Catechism and scripture, as well as to reason.
During this time I came to realise that being a Catholic guy was more than just about ‘being nice’, as some people seem to imply. All aspects of Catholic teaching seemed to come together like a puzzle, and if held together, would create an individual who is “living his life to the full”. The parish priest later gave me a copy of Peter Kreeft’s ‘Back to Virtue’. I soon came to realise that Catholicism strives for virtue and that virtue is worth striving for. It’s as simple as that.
Not long before this I had began attending a new school. The school was Catholic by name, but unfortunately it’s catholicity remains strongly debatable, to say the least. The move there certainly did not extinguish my rebellious self. I became increasingly appalled when food from the canteen was thrown away into landfill, when it could have been sent to the homeless shelter down the road. My friends and I became more concerned when an a HIV charity worker gave a talk in the chapel (which contains the Blessed Sacrament), encouraging people to use contraceptives, informing where to buy them and how to use them. Rebelling against this (which involved complaining to the principal), I knew that Catholic teaching was on my side.
Very soon after, I realised that if one is to use Catholic teaching as a weapon against immorality, one must grow in the Faith. And expanding my Faith meant doing more than automatically saying an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory be once a day and attending mass once a week. God helped me realise, through me rebellious self, that Faith is always a ‘work in progress’. It’s about always asking yourself “What more can I do to grow it?”.
So to sum up, I think there were both good and bad male role models who influenced me as a boy. There were the bad, who promoted the idea that being a virtuous Catholic was synonymous with ‘misogyny’ and ‘naivety’. There were the bad teachers who described Catholic teachings as only rough ‘guidelines’, not staple ingredients for a spiritually-healthy life.
However, there were the good men, like my parish priest and my Dad (the spiritual and biological fathers!) as well as other priests, who are not ashamed of their faith and boldly live it out in their everyday life. It is the good men who have made the strongest impression on me.