During the first week of school my freshman year, I brought my first non-Catholic to mass with me. The boy had asked me what I was doing currently and if I wanted to hang out, and I told him I was headed over to daily mass, though he could join me if he would like. To my surprise, he said he would.
So there I was, with a boy who was basically still a complete stranger to me, bringing him to his first ever Catholic mass. As the mass started, I remember feeling a little proud of myself for bringing the guy there; what a good little Catholic I was. As the mass progressed however, I began to view it through the eyes of someone who had never been to mass before. When the Liturgy of the Eucharist began, I was keenly aware of how the priest’s words and actions might appear to someone unacquainted with the beautiful Catholic theology of the Eucharist. I became extremely conscious of every movement made by the boy next to me, because I was half-convinced he eventually would jump up, call me a weirdo, and walk out. Thankfully he didn’t do that, although after the mass when I asked him if he had any questions (in the hopes of clarifying to him that I was in fact, not a weirdo) he quickly answered that he did not and left the church at the nearest opportunity. Our friendship has not progressed much since then.
That experience my first week of college was only the beginning of a string of experiences that has made me realize something:
To non-Catholics, Catholics may seem kinda crazy.
Being in college has given me a new type of lens with which to view all the Catholic traditions I have grown up with, and provided me with a lot of opportunities where I awkwardly struggle to explain Catholic beliefs.
Explaining Saints: “Why do Catholics have so many saints?”
“Yeah so, it’s like we have this whole group of dead people in heaven who we can pray to for intercession, and they all have special things they’re patrons of as well, like St. Anthony is like the patron of finding lost things, St. Fiacre is the patron saint of people with STDs, St. Drogo is the patron saint of unattractive people…”
Explaining Mary: “Why do Catholics worship Mary?”
We don’t worship Mary, she’s just a big part of Catholicism. We do celebrate her Immaculate Conception. Oh and her Assumption. Then there’s your basic Mary Mother of God feast day (the reason why those Catholics yank themselves out of bed on January first to head to mass), your Mary Queen of Heaven feast day, Feast of the Annunciation, Feast of the Visitation, feast of… Yeah we just have a lot of Mary; what can I say she’s the mother of God, she’s a big deal.
Explaining Relics: “What’s a relic?”
So we keep around pieces of the bodies of dead saints. Yup. Wanna go see the head of St. Catherine of Sienna? (who lived during the 1300s) You totally can!
And the number one toughie, Explaining the Eucharist: “Why can’t I receive your Eucharist at the Catholic mass?”
Wellll… I don’t really know how to put this, but we believe the Eucharist is the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ… Soooo unless you believe that too it’s kinda an insult to receive Him.
That one always gets the most fun reactions. People usually look like they no longer know how to respond to me, like they’re trying to decide in their head whether I’m playing some weird joke on them or if I really am just stupid. Because, you know, no non-stupid person would ever believe in something like that.
While I could go on for ages about the theology, philosophy, and beauty of the Eucharist, that’s not really what I want this post to be about, and anyways I hardly think I’m qualified to write on a subject that possesses such depth. I’m still constantly learning about it myself.
But with all and any of these above topics, a common thought people I meet will have is that I have ‘bought into’ Catholicism. There’s a very common conception that if you’re Catholic, the only way you’d actually go along with these beliefs is if you didn’t ever think about them or question them, and this yields the conclusion that Catholics are these people who don’t think for themselves. I’ve had a number of instances where I’ve been told to ‘question the authority’ or ‘look beyond the system’, because most people assume the only reason I’m Catholic is because I haven’t done that yet. To be fair, I’m sure there are Catholics like that, who devote themselves to the dogma without really appreciating it.
But I think one is much more likely to go along with these beliefs, that may at first sound crazy, if you did question them, explore them, figure out why the Church teaches them. I mean the institution has been around for over 2000 years, and doesn’t really make sudden decisions; everything they teach they teach for a reason.
Living out Catholicism in college makes you a bit of a weirdo, and can be difficult sometimes. Not because anyone makes fun of you or anything, but simply because you end up doing a number of things alone. Those crowded Sunday car rides to mass with my entire family squished in our mini van are gone, replaced with a solitary walk across campus to church. Evening prayer is no longer said with siblings but instead alone, and there are no friends to help remind you not to eat meat on Fridays during Lent.
However, college has also pushed me to learn about my faith, and shown me how important it is to me. It has made me ask “why?” to many facets of my faith, especially the ones that seem crazy to others. And upon finding the answer to my “why?” I realize that those crazy things are what make me love Catholicism so much.