I’ve heard many arguments, with varying degrees of credibility and rationality, against God and religious faith. I am not writing this to debate the existence of God, the credibility of Sacred Scripture, or the merits of one religion over another. There is one recent criticism I've seen lately that I want to address though, and this is the claim that raising a child in a religion is "child abuse".
As a devoutly practicing Catholic, I disagree with this. In order for you to understand why this is though, you need to understand me. There is far too much to write about in only one post, so I will submit two posts on the same subject for this #BATTLEROYALE. This first part will address my background, what has formed me, and my parents’ backgrounds. The second part will explain what I want to hand on to my children and why, should I be called to marriage.
I was born in Chicago in 1987. In my family, Sunday Mass was not optional. Before eating, we prayed, whether at home or in public. On long road trips, we prayed the Rosary at some point during the drive. If I or my siblings said “Oh, my God” or anything like it in a context other than prayer, we were promptly corrected.
As for our education, it was Catholic schools or nothing until college; my parents knew we might want to study fields that were either not offered at Catholic colleges or were offered at secular universities that had better programs. My older brother, who had already been rapidly losing interest in the Church, sought out and chose to attend an all-boys Jesuit high school. My parents had a different Catholic school in mind, but were so impressed by the education that they convinced me to go there too. Even if I had the choice though, I still would have chosen the then-primary Catholic high school in our area anyway because that’s where most of the kids from my class were going.
And yes, when the subject came up, we were taught that sex was for marriage. However, we were never once told that the body and sex were sinful, bad, or evil in and of themselves (any Christian church that DOES teach so has more in common with the early gnostic heretics than they do with Jesus Christ, but that’s another discussion). Quite the opposite, actually. When I was ten, my class began learning about the body and sexuality. One of my friends, upon seeing the diagrams of the sexual organs in the textbook, slammed it shut and exclaimed (sarcastically) “This book is NOT polite!” I repeated the joke to my mother, who then explained that while she knew it was a joke, I shouldn’t see the body and sex as such, but rather as beautiful gifts from God.
On a side note, I thank God for my mother having been raised in a Polish family, for it was the thought of Pope John Paul II, a son of Poland, that produced the Theology Of The Body, which revolutionized Catholic catechesis on sexual morality; Grandma was, by all accounts, beyond ecstatic upon his election. Oh, how I would love to have seen her face for his canonization. May she rest in eternal peace +
When we had problems, we were encouraged to pray. Occasionally, my father would invite me to go to Adoration with him. In fact, the first time I ever prayed the Rosary, I was eight or nine years old. I was in the front room of our house watching cartoons when Dad came downstairs and asked if I wanted to go to church and pray the Rosary with him, which I did. I don’t remember what I asked about the devotion or how he answered, but I remember how patiently and lovingly he answered.
And yes, my siblings and I were taught about the reality of Satan, the demons, and Hell.
My Parents and Their Background
My parents had also experienced various other beliefs and ideas. On my mother’s side of the family, two aunts left the Catholic Church many years ago for Evangelical Protestantism. One uncle ceased practicing the faith after he got married; as of 2010, he is regularly attending Mass again. My mother had herself stopped attending Mass for five years; she “skipped whenever [she] could”. It was on a retreat she attended that she made the decision to begin practicing again, though she has said that she felt God was calling her back.
My father grew up in a religiously mixed family. My grandmother was a devout Italian Catholic and my grandfather, with whom I had the closest relationship in the family, rarely attended Mass; as it’s been explained to me, he was “angry with God”. Religion is rarely discussed on that side. One aunt “more or less” practices, one for sure only attends Mass on Christmas and Easter, and one believes in God but practices no religion; I don’t know about the others. Mom has told me that Dad was more or less indifferent, but that his faith grew gradually as they courted and moved towards marriage.
My parents were realistic. They knew that no matter what they did and said or how, we would choose our own paths once we left home. They could plant the seeds in our hearts, but only we could allow them to grow; three of the four of us continue to be practicing Catholics.
My Faith Journey and Practice (The Short Version…REALLY Short)
As for me, I didn’t mind going to Mass with my family as a teenager. As far as I knew, it was just something we did as a family on Sundays, at Christmas, at Easter, for funerals and weddings, and on holy days of obligation. I wasn’t always thrilled about it, but I never outright rebelled against it. It wasn’t until a brief high school romance gone wrong that I started wanting a deeper meaning in my life. In 2004, I attended the Steubenville Catholic Youth Conference at the convincing of my sister, willingly embraced the Catholic faith, and got involved with Life Teen.
Two years later, I left home for a small Catholic college. I had little to nothing resembling confidence or self-esteem. Once again, I didn’t feel accepted, but this time, it was my own doing. I felt like my classmates were so much smarter and better than I was and that they knew the Church and the faith better than I did or could. They seemed to have it all together. I was so desperate to feel that they liked me that I never bothered to ask them questions because I was afraid I would be seen as challenging them or rocking the boat. My heart and my mind were so divided not only against each other, but against themselves.
I made strides in confidence and social skills as time went on, as well as in my knowledge of the faith. However, it has been through a series of deep personal struggles, as well as my service to the Knights of Columbus, the leadership of Pope Francis, and living as a Catholic in a culture that is increasingly hostile towards religious faith to help me realize why my Catholic faith is so important to me and why I want to share it with, to pass it on to - NOT "force upon" - my future children, my own flesh and blood, the fruits of selfless and unhindered love between myself and my wife, should I be called to marriage.
I will explain why in Part II.