Since birth, I have been raised as a Catholic. My father’s side of the family is protestant, and mother’s is Irish Catholic. My mother herself is a devout Catholic, and had my brothers and I baptized, confirmed, etc. I’m few months shy of sixteen, so haven’t had time to experience any serious religious struggles yet. My faith has not been tested. Overall, I have had a fairly smooth religious experience.
One of Ninian Smart’s seven dimensions of religion is the social aspect. For me, this dimension has been particularly important. I’ve been attending an all-girls Catholic school since preschool. Through the school’s religion classes, I’ve learned more in twelve years than many will learn in their lifetimes. In lower school, I thought the weekly masses were the highest form of entertainment. They drew us all together. Afterwards, my friends and I would talk about it endlessly. Most of the time, our conversations were made up of questions – Who was John the Baptist? Why did Mary Magdalene and Jesus’s mother have the same name as me? Did that make me special? I remember one conversation in particular. We’d heard the creation story in that day’s mass, and it got me thinking. “God made everything, right?” I asked my friend. She said yes. “Well, who made God?” This question wasn’t easy to answer. Eventually, she came up with “Well, God made Himself.” Then I asked, “How?” She said, “I don’t know! He just did!” I’d asked people questions like these before; there was never a shortage of people ready and willing to answer my religious questions at school. The most popular answer I’d received was, “God wasn’t created. He’s always been here.” To this day, I haven’t been able to grasp that concept, and I never received a satisfying answer. I stopped asking after someone told me that I wouldn’t be happy with anything I was told. He or she – I can’t remember who it was – said that I would understand it eventually, and I should learn how to read before I started asking such complicated questions.
The mythical dimension of religion has also affected me greatly. I grew up watching Biblical stories as animated movies. Today, I still adore these musical interpretations. My personal favorites are Veggie Tales. Through these, I memorized the names and stories of at least two dozen biblical characters. Living with the mythical dimension has played a major role in my life. These Biblical stories have been examples of what to do in certain situations. When I was younger, I had a horrible temper. The only way I was able to control it was by saying to myself, “Jesus wouldn’t do that!” I did this because I was constantly told that Jesus was the best human, and we should all try to be just like him – not in those words, of course. The stories taught me how to stand up for myself and others. In many of the stories – especially the ones made into musicals with anthropomorphic vegetables – the hero stands up to someone else. And the hero always wins. I got so comfortable standing up for myself that I temporarily lost respect for authority figures. I thought that by asking me to pick up my toys, my parents were treating me as a lesser human being. This phase made my temper worse. I snapped out of it in second grade, a few months before my father passed away.
I have a few things in common with Saint Augustine. For example, both Augustine and I have very religious mothers. Our fathers were not Catholic – therefor, not the same religion as our mothers. Our fathers were not particularly religious, so our mothers brought us up in their faith. And for both of us, that faith leads to Catholic guilt. Augustine suggests that humans love to sin and if they are not taught guilt, their sins will escalate over time. As an extreme sufferer of Catholic guilt, I prove his theory. If I commit even a tiny sin, it stays in the back of my mind until I tell someone. Just before Spring Break, I stole a small piece of my friend’s breakfast and I didn’t tell her. When we had confession it was the first thing I talked about. For Augustine, it took years for him to accept Catholicism. He was searching for answers and, at first, the Catholic faith didn’t have what he was looking for. Augustine spent years searching for a religion to answer his great questions; I have not. For me, Catholicism has always been the answer. Yes, I have looked at other religions and thought they were interesting, but I have never seriously considered converting. In middle school, I was talking to one of my friends about different religions and which ones would be more fun. She said she was going to convert to Buddhism when she grows up. She asked me if I would ever consider converting; I said no. I was afraid that if I converted, God would be angry and I would go to Hell. I still believe that. I always will. I blame the Catholic guilt.
I barely have anything in common with Augustine’s mother, Monica. Through most of the Confessions, Monica seems like a perfect person; she is nearly impossible for normal people to relate to. After her death, Augustine says that when she was young, Monica was a bit too fond of wine. Immediately after reading that, I was able to understand her a little better. I have always thought of saints as perfect human beings – flawless and pious. Reading Augustine’s Confessions made me question that idea. Every normal person has little “guilty pleasures.” When I heard that Saint Monica had a guilty pleasure of her own, my belief in the absolute perfection of saints was broken. This made me realize that all the saints I have ever heard about were real people. I had known that all along, but that was when it really sunk in. Monica and I both believe that if a person makes a promise, he or she should keep it. For Monica, marriage is a promise to serve and obey her husband until one of them dies. My idea of a promise is not nearly as absolute, but my view of it is. If I promise to help a friend with her homework, or do the laundry, or write a thank-you card to my grandmother, I do it. But I will never cater to my husband like his servant the way Monica did. Still, she and I both believe that promises should be followed through. If we do, good things will come back to us.
Over the years, I have developed one or two beliefs that aren’t in line with Catholic teachings. This particular belief is closer to the Buddhist mark of existence annica – impermanence. The Catholic Church says that you only live once and when you die, you are sent to Heaven or Hell until the end of time. Personally, I don’t believe that people go to Hell forever. I have always been told that God is forgiving. If He is forgiving, why would He send someone to Hell for eternity? I know better than most of my peers that life is absolutely not forever. My father passed away when I was seven years old. I didn’t think that it was fair, but I never wondered where he would go after he died. I knew about Heaven, and I knew that he would end up there. I never questioned that once. The impermanence of my father’s life brought suffering to people close to him. This Buddhist idea of impermanence leads directly to “Dukha,” suffering. The Buddhists believe that life comes down to dukha. I do agree that suffering is a huge part of human life, but I do not believe that all life is suffering. It is happiness that causes suffering – I was happy with my father, so losing him hurt. If I had not been happy with him, I would not have suffered when he died. And if we all suffer, then we all must have been happy at some point in our lives. In some way, those two balance each other out.
I am not old enough to write a full religious autobiography. I have not experienced any serious struggles that relate to my religion. I believe in Catholicism wholeheartedly. I am grateful that I go to a school that embraces religion rather than shoving it aside. My life is so heavily influenced by Catholicism that I honestly cannot picture it any other way.
Mary Buschmann, Age 16, Grade 11, Convent of the Sacred Heart, Silver Key