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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Part 5: Catholic Guilt

In the aftermath of the situation, one of the biggest things I have struggled with is my faith. This is not to say that I was ever angry with God nor is it that I felt less connected to my own personal beliefs. The thing I have continued to struggle with the most is finding a home for those beliefs.

I was raised Catholic, attended Catholic grade school, taught religious education in my parish through high school, and sought out a Catholic religious group in college. For the majority of my life, Catholic was a large part of my personal identity. It was, in essence, my home. It wasn't until my merit as a Christian was questioned that I really began to wrestle with this aspect of my life.

I found myself rereading those Bible quotes that were sent to me. I questioned whether or not I really wanted to be associated with people who identified with a faith they used to make me feel guilty for being, well, human. I attended services with my family and could not focus on anything, but the negative association I had with my family. I found myself getting angry at church. I didn't mean to, but I had let them ruin my faith identity.

I now realize that it was a blessing in disguise. I have used this time to explore my own personal beliefs as well as other faiths and churches. I can't say I have found my home yet, but I will continue to use this time as a self-reflection.

The following poem was one that I wrote to sort out all these hostile feelings I had about not only the people who were using my faith to hurt me, but the faith I had associated with for so long. It was also the poem that sparked my aunt's rant about how I "should just go write another poem about it."

Whether they agreed with me writing about our family or not, this poem was the stepping stone towards my current journey of faith exploration and for that, I am grateful.

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Part 5: Catholic Guilt

The Lord is my light and my salvation
Of whom should I be afraid?
Psalms 27:1

A sign above the sink in the teacher’s lounge
warns that God is always watching.
This is why all the dishes are clean.

It is the same reason that we were taught
to always ask ourselves what Jesus would do
so we could “decide” were our values lied,
why I always sang in church,

why when I turned 13
and began wearing mascara to school
and rolling my uniform skirt,
my teacher thought it appropriate
to stop the entire class and inform me
that I didn’t have to try so hard
to get God’s attention.

I didn’t tell her that her God is not mine.
I couldn’t afford one more sin on my conscience.

I was raised to believe that all I have to do
is openly admit my sins, ask for forgiveness
and they would be cleansed.

So why did I spend my whole life
feeling so guilty for being human?

Sometimes I still find myself wondering
what Jesus would do in my shoes
and I remember the one day each year
that we spoke about the story of Him in the temple
how He screamed for the disrespectful people
to leave His presence.

So when she pretends her intentions are pure
as she tells me that she will never forget
the image of my great-grandmother
throwing herself on my great-grandpa’s coffin
and begging for his forgiveness,

when she reminds me that by then it was too late
and attempts to leave me speechless with a Bible quote
about how I won’t get into heaven unless I forgive,
I will picture this Jesus.

I will remember His teachings
that we are to treat others the way we want to be treated
and that if I were to be as hateful as you were
I would never expect to be forgiven.

I will remind myself of the stories my mother tells
of me sitting in high chairs at dinner time
and trying to show her and my father the angels
watching over us from the corner.

There is something more significant in this
than in the out of context Bible quotes,
passive aggressive notes convincing me
to clean my dishes or feel God’s wrath,
the overdramatic stories about our family.

And I cannot let guilt be the reason I try to forget
because I know that when I am standing
at the gates of my God’s heaven
He won’t have to ask why I never spoke to you again.

He will smile, knowingly,
remembering the time that He got angry
and cast the ignorant out, too.

So keep telling me
that I don’t need to try so hard
to get your God’s attention,

but my God knows what I’m going through
and He likes a little spunk,
would rather me stand up for myself
than feel guilty
for being what He made me.

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