We are in the final countdown to Christmas. My children are excited and my youngest is practically vibrating. Every morning she starts her day first looking for her elf (ugh the elf). Then, she adds another felt ornament to her Advent Calendar shaped as a Christmas tree. Finally, she adds a piece to her Advent Calendar depicting the birth of Jesus. Today she added another sheep. She will add the newborn Baby on Christmas Eve. You see, in my home, while we excitedly wait for Santa, we also talk about the religious meaning of the season.
I was raised Catholic and I attended a Catholic school for all of my elementary school years. My family went to mass most Sunday mornings and religious holidays. I received all of my sacraments. I had a crucifix hung over my bed and I owned my own Bible, several sets of rosary beads, and many pieces of jewelry with some sort of religious symbol. I attended a public high school but I earned my bachelor’s degree from a Jesuit (Catholic) University.
Until college, I never questioned my religion or my faith. It was simply a facet of my life. As part of my liberal arts education (at my chosen religiously-affiliated university), I was required to take three semesters of religion classes. Sophomore year I registered for a class titled “Feminist Theology” and my mind was metaphorically blown wide open. For the first time in my nineteen years as a Catholic I realized that the ideas and teachings of Catholicism were not exactly fair to women. Fast forward to a heated debate with my father that ended with a question that sounded something like, “So you’re telling me that I’m spending thousands and thousands of dollars for you to receive an education from a highly ranked Jesuit institution and that education has made you want to leave the church???”
Fast forward several more years, I’ve stopped attending mass but I’ve not lost my faith. I realize that there is something about church and weekly mass that I miss but I’m still wary of the Catholic church and it’s teachings for so many reasons. I’ve become an educated, fiercely independent, feminist who rejects the Catholic description of a “good Catholic woman” along with many of its other principals. I briefly consider converting to another Christian denomination but nothing seems to fit. Then, I get engaged and married–in the Catholic church. I have three children and I baptize them–in the Catholic church. Why? Well, because my parents asked me to and so I did.
Fast forward again to today. My children and I attend mass most Sundays with my parents, my sister, and her family. The kids attend religious education class after mass. My oldest daughter is an alter server. My middle daughter sings in the church’s youth choir. I am a Eucharistic Minister and distribute Holy Communion some Sundays. All three of my girls play a part in our church’s yearly Christmas pageant on Christmas Eve.
Am I still an educated, fiercely independent, feminist? Yes. I realized what I was missing, however, all of those years I was away from church. I missed that time with my family. I missed sitting with those I loved most, peaceful and quiet, for an hour every week. I missed listening to my father sing along with the organist and cantor. I missed leaning in to give my mother and siblings a hug and kiss during the “sign of peace” part of the mass. I missed breakfast at the diner and lively conversations that were often inspired by that week’s homily. I also missed my faith. I missed having a safe space to acknowledge my faith in God. I missed having a time to be alone in my head wishing for miracles, expressing thanks for my blessings, and asking for some support while sitting in a beautiful building (Catholics know how to build a church), surrounded by those who love me most. Catholicism is changing and I’m hopeful that some of the practices and teachings that I disagree with will eventually be ideas of the past. For now I go to mass almost every week to be with my family, reflect on the ideas of kindness, empathy, and love, and remember my blessings (three of which are usually sitting in the pew next to me).
It is imperative to me, therefore, that my children experience this family time as well. It’s also important to me that they explore their faith. I hope they each one day question this religion of ours too, along with Catholicism’s definition of a “good Catholic woman”. I hope they grow into whatever type of women they choose to be. I hope they question their faith as well and decide if it “fits”. I also hope they look back on these weekly hours of family, music, peace, and quiet with fondness. I hope they look back on pictures like these and smile.
Merry Christmas to those who celebrate. Happy Holidays to those who celebrate the many religious and secular holidays occurring this season. Sending peace and love from my family to yours.