Category Archives: Religion

Am I Catholic?

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The priest standing in front of us never raises his head or changes the tone in his voice as the night grows longer.  There are no inflections or breaks, but a continuous murmur of the prayers of the rosary.  Even his hand movements are perfectly executed, seemingly without thought as his fingers go from bead to bead following every “Hail Mary.”  We all murmur the same words in unison, creating a loud buzzing of prayer throughout the side room of the funeral home.

This is how the Catholic Church said goodbye to my uncle after he passed away.  I was in middle school and his daughters were younger than me, but, just like the adults, we were expected to sit in our front row seats and say our prayers.  If not, for every shift in our chair or wandering eye around the room, we got a stern look from our grandmother.  These were the rules until the end of the service.  A service that only said my uncle’s name six times throughout the hour and never addressed his life, though we were supposed to be bidding him farewell.

My grandparents are all practicing Catholics and my parents were as well when they were growing up.  I was baptized Catholic and a priest led the religious ceremony for my sweet fifteen.  I pray the rosary, believe in the Virgin Mary, and respect the Holy Trinity.  I can even say a few prayers without glancing at a page, but would I call myself Catholic?  It really depends on the day and who’s asking.

When people ask me if I’m Catholic, they see the bracelet on my hand with the saints or the rosary hanging from my rear view mirror and it is their natural assumption.  Most of the times, I’m not in the mood to talk about religion, so I say “yes.”  But there’s always the rare occasion when I’m feeling talkative and a simple “yes” won’t suffice.

Yes, I’m technically Catholic, but there are too many disparities between what the church believes and what I believe.  Things like karma and reincarnation are ignored, people who support gay marriage are deemed heathens, and, if you don’t adhere to all the rules, you’re not welcome.  So, according to Catholicism, I’m a heathen, too.  Plus, it’s hard enough trying to fit into a church while living in the U.S. when you only know the rules and prayers of your faith in Spanish.

My uncle’s service was done in my first language, so I could at least follow along with the priest, but, growing up, I didn’t even realize there were English translations to the few verses and prayers I had memorized.  I remember thinking about Catholicism as a religion that was strictly part of Hispanic culture.  It was only until a few years ago that I found out “The Lord’s Prayer” is the same thing as “El Padre Nuestro” prayer.  But I haven’t told my grandma about my early ignorance.  As a woman who watches mass on TV when she can’t physically go, she would only be ashamed that I was so uninformed about the family’s faith.

I don’t entirely disagree with my grandmother’s devoutness or the Catholic Church, but I think the organized religion lacks some moderation.  Organized faith gets problematic once it dominates your life, so there needs to be a balance.  I can’t commit to Catholicism, if it means I have to mindlessly accept all of its conditions, so, instead, I pick and choose what I value from religion until I feel like I have a well-rounded perspective on faith.

I consider myself to be very religious—or rather very spiritual.  I haven’t gone to church in months, but I feel like God and I are on good terms.  I try not to judge what I don’t understand, while I don’t automatically shut out what is unfamiliar to me.  I value tolerance, embracing new teachings, and I try to be kind to others.  My faith and salvation do not rely on how much I preach the word of God or how much money I give as an offering, but rather on how well I live my life.

I would much rather feel like faith is an experience with God and positivity than a question of how many times I’ve taken a seat in a pew.  I don’t want to robotically pray to the light that is believed to be God, but rather vent about what I am feeling and thinking in order to restore my own spiritual balance.  It seems more natural to think that people, even if they aren’t Catholic, can still lead morally good lives and be virtuous.  Wouldn’t it make sense for the principles of love and positivity to be the driving force of faith within a soul instead of how many times they’ve confessed their “sins”?

I always ask my elders for their blessing, a tradition in Puerto Rico.  I always say my prayers before family dinners and on big holidays like Easter and Christmas.  But, no, I don’t go to church and, no, I don’t use the Bible as the sole guide for my life.  These are just empty traditions that I’ve grown accustomed to.

At my uncle’s service, I was surrounded by people I had known my whole life, yet for that long hour I felt nothing.  I can’t tell you how many times I cried with my cousins over their father’s death or how heartbreaking it was to see him in a coffin, but all of that happened away from a priest.  To me, the service had nothing to do with my uncle.  It didn’t help me grieve or feel better.  I didn’t feel closer to him or my family and I certainly didn’t feel closer to Catholicism.  Instead, I felt like the priest was a stranger repeating passages he had memorized, filling in the blanks with my uncle’s name.

 

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No Shame in My Faith

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I love my faith.  Without it, I would not be who I am today.  I may not go to church every Sunday, but I know that my faith is stronger than that.  It has helped shape me into the person I am today.  No matter what, it will always be a part of me and I am not ashamed to show that to the world.

Life is Just One Big Test

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There will be times in your life when you just don’t understand why things are happening the way they are.  You’ll look at your present situation and wonder what else could possibly go wrong.  The only thing you believe is that you don’t deserve this.  These moments happen to us all.  I have surely felt this way many times.  Some people will claim that they can’t handle it anymore.  They’ll feel so tired and defeated that they give up.  But how can you give up on life?  You’re giving up on yourself, your family, your future, your legacy. You’re giving up on everything that’s bound to you and that is just not right.  Instead of giving up, you have to push through it all and pass that test.  There are definitely people who do that.

In the Book of Job, God decides to test Job’s faith, so he presents him with a series of obstacles, tragedies, issues… The list goes on.  Throughout the story, Job is told to lose his faith, his purity is questioned, and he is ultimately tormented.  Job could have “forsaken” God and he could have thrown away what little he had left, but he doesn’t.  In the end, Job never gives up.  Instead, he accepts his life and moves forward, past all of the negativity.  After proving himself, Job is given everything that he lost and more.  He passes his test.

Life will do this to you.  Life will test you to your limit and I don’t think it will ever push you past that, your limit.  I am a firm believer in the idea that you are never given a test you can’t pass.  Some people may not think this is true.  These are the people who crumble under pressure.  They never strive to move past a problem.  These are the people with no hope or faith in themselves.  On the other hand, there are people who use these moments of negativity to display their greatest strengths.  These individuals won’t question their faith.  These people won’t question their abilities.  These are the people who simply do what is needed of them.  By not succumbing to the pressure of life, they will have proven how deserving they are of the great things in life.  These people who pass the test life has given them will be the ones who gain the most.

So the next time you find yourself in the face of adversity, remind yourself that it is only a test.  A test that you cannot and will not fail.  Fill yourself with the proper strength and faith to continue forward.  Learn from past mistakes and don’t repeat them.  Maintain optimism in your mind.  You may not deserve to be tested, but, if you pass, you’ll surely deserve the reward waiting for you.  Don’t give up and wallow in your sorrow, simply accept your life and remember that it is possible for you to get through anything.

El Mes de la Virgen

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Have you ever felt purely at peace?  Has there been a moment where you have had no worries and have felt completely calm?  At least for a single moment?  There has only been one place where I’ve felt this way and it is in my hometown of Sabana Grande.  Tucked away on the Southwest side of my island you’ll find El Pozo de la Virgen.  To many, it is a sanctuary for the devout Catholics that long for the opportunity to step where the Blessed Virgin Mary was seen by three Puerto Rican children.  To some, it’s just another way to lure tourism away from San Juan and the countless beaches.  To me, it is the only place where I have felt truly at peace.

Every time I go to El Pozo de la Virgen it is absolutely serene.  There are only a handful of people around and those that are simply seek their own peace through prayers or meditation.  The wandering animals, mainly birds or coqui, provide a playlist that takes you to an exotic new world.  The island’s natural heat mixed with the towering palm trees overhead allow for a breezy yet warm environment that you can’t complain about.  The sight of an oversized statue of the Virgin, endless lit candles, and nature itself create an image that sparks the greatest peace I have ever felt.

As you may know, my religious views are complicated, but faith in the Virgin Mary is one aspect where the Catholic Church and myself see eye to eye.  Ever since I can remember, my family and I have been firm believers in Mary and I don’t see that ever changing.  My faith in her is as strong as it is in God, Jesus, and everything else that’s holy.  My faith in her is something that has never wavered in the past and never will in the future.  You all don’t have to agree with me when it comes to your faith in the Virgin Mary, but believe me when I tell you that the site dedicated to her is worth seeing.  Whenever my family and I go to Puerto Rico, going to El Pozo de la Virgen is a must.  The tranquility that we feel when we go there is incomparable to anything else and every minute I spend there is greatly appreciated.  You don’t have to be religious to appreciate natural beauty and peace.

However, for my religious buffs, yesterday marked the first day of May.  In other words, yesterday marked the first day dedicated to the Virgin Mary.  Although I am not the most pious person alive, I will always have respect for the Virgin Mary and it’s just not in my nature to doubt her.  So, if you believe in the Virgin, don’t stop now.  You don’t have to profess your belief to others (a “holier than thou” attitude is never ok), but let it be known to yourself.  Never lose sight of your faith and hang on to that peace.

For now, I have already shown my appreciation to the ones I believe look over me, instead I just want to show my appreciation for that little spot in my town that has granted me so much peace.

Jesus Was Human, Too!

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Last week, I was sitting in my Biblical Literature class where we analyze the Bible as a literary text and not as a religious one.  We were discussing the Book of Job.  The story of pious Job whose faith and good nature is tested over and over again.  Job passes each test and proves to be a good man.  He is even described as perfect.  A girl in my class spoke up about her discomfort with the use of perfect.  She believed that only Jesus Christ was perfect and that no human can be perfect.  Honestly, I can see where she’s coming from and I’m sure she’s not the only one who thinks this way.  I mean aren’t we always told that nobody is perfect, everybody makes mistakes, and that we’re only human?  What else are we supposed to believe?

However, if you’re a Christian, aren’t you supposed to strive to live like Jesus?  You have to be humble, kind, pure, and everything else that he was.  So doesn’t that mean that you are supposed to strive to be perfect?  I’m not saying that I’m perfect and I can’t say that I’ve ever met a flawless person, but I am asking if it’s appropriate to use your humanity as an excuse for your flaws?  If Jesus was human and if he can be considered perfect, then isn’t it possible for other humans to reach perfection?

Yes, Jesus was the son of God and, yes, he was considered miraculous, but that doesn’t take away from his humanity.  He was still a mortal being no matter how you view him.  He is still an important religious figure and the Christian faith isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but Jesus Christ was a human.  He was an extraordinary human, yes, but he was still a man.  And this is not a bad thing at all.  If anything it should give the human race even more hope and faith than ever before.  If Jesus was human and was able to live his life in such an inspiring way, then why can’t we?

I truly believe that seeing Jesus as the perfect human that he was should only motivate us more.  We are just as capable of striving that perfection, if we only try.  Don’t limit yourself to being flawed because you’re human.  Didn’t God father us all anyways?  Aren’t we all the children of God?  Don’t you think that we all have our own mission in our lives?  I think so.  I think that if God created us all, then he must have had a purpose for us.  We must all live up to that purpose.  Jesus Christ was a perfect human being and he serves as proof that humanity can reach perfection.  Job was a perfect human being and his narrative proves that you don’t have to save humanity’s faith to be perfect.  If two humans can be perfect, then why can’t we all?

If you never reach your perfection, then don’t fret.  As long as you genuinely tried, then that’s all that can be asked of you.  However, don’t let your humanity limit you.  Just because you are who you are doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve whatever heights you have your heart set on.  Just because you need air, water, and food doesn’t mean that you can’t succeed and be great.  Just because you’re mortal doesn’t mean that you can’t create an extraordinary legacy for yourself.  Don’t say that you’re only human because that is no factor in how great you can be.

The Chapel I Wear

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Twelve wooden rectangles, not even an inch in length, are held together with elastic string, but, at the same time, are separated by small, rounded wooden pieces.  The bracelet itself is quite simple with only twelve images breaking up the velvety brown color scheme.  Even though I have seen these pictures time and time again, they take me to a different place each time.

Slowly, turning the bracelet on my wrist is almost like walking through a church corridor adorned with classic paintings.  It’s dark, yet colorful, at the same time and you feel a sense of calm once your eyes meet the visual feast in front of you.  Of course, the only difference is that these pictures have been shrunken down to the size of a finger nail and have been cheapened to the price of three dollars for the whole set, but nonetheless the same representations are still alive.

As I walk through my personal chapel, I can see a picture representing the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a depiction commonly seen in the Catholic Church.  The son of God, clothed in red and green, stands in front of a pale blue background as a glowing heart hovers between his hands.  Another work of art showcases a more detailed image.  A large, bright figure, which I can assume to be a guardian angel, closely watches over a little girl as she is crossing a decrepit bridge that passes over a rushing river.  I also see a space that is home to the iconic scene of Jesus Christ being crucified, an image that solely defines the structure of such an institution.

The subtle, yet noticeable, tan line on my left wrist marks where this wooden bracelet lives on me.  When pulled, the elastic string has a quite rustic look to it, resembling a rusty iron rod, but somehow it still manages to maintain a hint of chocolate tint.  The rounded pieces are now more a mixture of the brown they once were with a beige that is now becoming more and more dominant.  The individual wooden tiles, interestingly enough, have maintained their dark hue and have developed a good amount of character for themselves.  One, in particular, has a deep crack travelling across its top edge.  How it got there, I couldn’t tell you.

Today, I am sitting on my couch with the MTV Jams creating an interesting and sometimes irritating background noise.  I am attempting to finish some homework, but instead my brain cells are working my memory more than my intellect.  As I twist my bracelet round and round, feeling it slither around my skin, my hall of art leads me to the beginnings of our relationship.

I was sixteen, visiting a friend in Texas, when I first saw this type of bracelet and it was one of the most amazing things I had ever seen.  It was unique, at the time, and had such a strong message, while still being so simple.  To me, it was perfection.  As soon as I got back to Maryland, I began my treasure hunt and continued searching, until I eventually found one in a small Christian store in Laurel.  Once it was paid for and I was in the car with my mom, the packaging quickly became insignificant trash… and almost just as quickly as that my mind jolted into another room.  This time my chapel had connected to Meade Senior High School during my junior year.

“What do you do with it?” one girl asked me in my Psychology class.

“Well, you don’t have to do anything with it.  It’s not really like a rosary that you can pray on.  I guess it’s more like a cross.  You wear it to show your faith and sort of as a type of protection.”

I thought this was a sufficient answer, but the questions never really stopped.  Sometimes people asked me about the Virgin Mary and other days it was about the Holy Trinity, but I remember it always going back to one question; “are you Catholic?”

As soon as I heard those words, my nerves would always tense up a little bit and my mind seemed more restless than ever.  My eyes could never seem to look at only one thing and playing with a pen quickly became a habit.  It was like I was trying to find that one encyclopedia that was always crammed between two books on the top shelf in a ceiling high bookcase… impossible to reach.

“Well, I was baptized Catholic, all of my grandparents are Catholic, and when I go to church I go to a Catholic one, which would sort of make me Catholic, but I never had a communion or anything like that.  And I don’t really agree with everything that they say like how Gay marriage is bad or how Karma and reincarnation don’t exist, so I guess I’m Catholic, but not really.”

This usually only gave me an over glazed look and an ice-cold “oh ok” and, inevitably, a few days later another asked the same question.  This time I didn’t even hesitate on what I was.

“Yeah, I’m Catholic.”

Though I might have considered this a lie right after I said it, now I really think it’s not entirely false and, if it is a lie, then it’s at least a white lie, with some pure intentions.  Why complicate things, when they don’t care that much?  Spare the details and just answer the question.

To some, religion is an explanation for the unknown.  To others, it is a manual on how to live life until the Lord welcomes you into his realm.  To many, it is the most ridiculous institution in the history of humanity.  Honestly, I think it’s a mixture of all of these interpretations, much like how many things are combinations of factors.  However, I think the key to it all is moderation.

The last time I went to church was on Easter Sunday, but I can still say my prayers and I try to live kindly.  I am loyal to God and Heaven, whatever that truly may be, and I continuously attempt to resist the “temptations” of Satan.  I may not be ready to enter The Convent of Our Lord and Savior (and I probably never will be), but, I must say, that I feel like God and I are in good standings with each other.  My faith and salvation do not solely rely on how much I preach the word of God or how much money I donate to the ornate gold churches.  I mean at least I can still remember the last time I attended a service and I can walk around my chapel, perhaps I should say wear it, without bursting into flames.  That says something, right?