Confession. I had a fear of Catholicism up to my junior year of college. Why? Fear of the unfamiliar. Questions about this branch of Christianity that seemed so much different from mainstream Protestantism. I was not well-informed about the faith. I wondered why Catholics prayed to Mary, or so I thought they did. Why did Catholics put so much emphasis on symbols like the cross, and engage in so much rituals? Why did Catholics leave all their religious responsibilities to the priests (mind you I didn’t know a single Catholic then).
As a child I remember my older brother and cousins being just as superstitious as I was about Catholicism. I am not sure if they fueled my superstitions. But as I recall, one day they were telling each other (I can’t remember who told whom): “never take communion at a Catholic church. It will stunt your growth.” Impossible, I thought. Even at a young age I had second thoughts. But still the fear of, “they might be right” lingered. The premise for their fear was that if non Catholics participated in communion at a Catholic church, they were being deceptive so, as a punishment, the Church would put a curse on them: causing them to not grow.
Sophomore year of college. My friend invites me to visit his church. A Catholic Church. I panic. I want to go and not want to go at the same time. I want to go because I want to experience something different. I’ve never been to a Catholic church before, and I want to see how the services are really like. I don’t want to go because I’m not Catholic, I don’t agree with Catholic theology (although I did not know an iota about Catholic theology), and I’m afraid. Of what? The unfamiliar.
I expressed my concerns to my friend. Luckily, he took no offense to my ignorance. He said that he had just become a Catholic and was aware that most people, protestants in particular, shared similar views of Catholicism like the once I had. I don’t remember what he said that convinced me to finally go (maybe it was the topic of miracles in Catholicism), but I finally decided to go. I decided to put my homework aside and go to a Catholic Church. But I told myself that I will be on my guard to protect myself from being brainwashed into a Catholic convert.
I could tell my friend was hopeful that this indeed was going to happen. We took the school shuttle to the church which was a couple of miles away from the university. It actually looked like a Church with its steeple and stained glass windows. It was unlike any church I’ve ever been to. Up until then the churches that I went to were housed in art galleries, old storefronts, gymnasiums, and old ware houses. Inside, the church was ornate, decorated with an abundance of flowers for a holiday honoring a saint that I have long forgotten. The pews were made so that people could find it easy to kneel as they pray. The pastor was charismatic. He presented the liturgy with so much overflowing passion that it was difficult to tell what he was saying or when the sermon would end; he hardly took a breath. And it so happened that I visited on communion day. As a member of the Christian faith I saw no problem taking communion at a Catholic Church, after all we are all Christians aren’t we?
I knew that much, but still I walked towards the front of the Church with hesitation. Also, I was still trying to figure out why saints were so important and why we had to say a prayer to a saint. Earlier, my friend had tried to convince me that it was biblical to ask saints to intercede for us. I had a problem agreeing with this, and the accusation of idolatry was looming within consciousness.
When church was over, I felt weird. Weird because I had gone to a place that was different. A place that had challenged my beliefs and preconceived misconceptions. I decided that I would not go to a Catholic Church again.
But something happened that enabled me to change this resolve. I decided to not major in chemistry and made history my major instead. One of the classes I decided to take was a class called History of Religion in America. This class helped to change my narrow-minded views and attitudes when it comes to religion.
When I took this class, I realized that except for mainstream Protestants, almost all the religious groups that came to America were persecuted for having beliefs that was, if not entirely, just slightly different from the conventional faith of the day.
Catholics were regarded with so much suspicion that in the sixties, tracts were written and sermons were preached warning Americans that the pope was trying to take over the country. These accusations were made as John F. Kennedy, a Catholic was running for president. He had to publicly announce that if elected, he wont allow his faith to interfere with his policy making. And when he met with the pope, instead of kissing the pope’s ring as is traditionally done, he simply shook the pope’s hand to show to Americans that he would be more loyal to his country than to his faith.
Catholicism is a faith that has had its share of abuse in this country, whether violent or otherwise. And I do not want to be a contributer of this through my subtle prejudices of the faith as a result of my lack of knowledge of what Catholicism actually is. Learning about the hardship that Catholics faced, especially when immigrants from Ireland began to flock to American shores only to find that they were viewed with complete otherness and people went as far as to destroy their houses of worship, my attitudes have definitely changed about how I view Catholicism. I no longer see it as utterly different or disconcerting. Plus, I have a cool professor who teaches the Medieval Europe class that I’m in. And I could tell you this, he does not leave all his religious responsibility to the priest. Now, I’ll have no trouble going into a Catholic house of worship. In fact, I’ll gladly go any day!