What I learned after 12 years of Catholic school

It’s Friday morning and I’m 4 years old, lining up with my classmates to walk three blocks to church.

Little did I know I would be doing this for the next 11 years.

I always thought it was normal, but my school was also right across from a public school. The kids would watch us line up for church on the other side of their school’s fence.

My entire elementary school would walk to church every Friday morning.

Some would point, laugh or just stare as we walked by. This was my first memory of realizing that the world around me was not exactly normal.

Attending Catholic school for most of my childhood gave me a different view of spirituality.

I was raised in a Mexican family that’s practiced Catholicism for decades, so it wasn’t really my decision on what my religion would be. My mother decided to send me to a Catholic school so I could get a good education while also becoming more connected to my faith.

But the exact opposite happened. I came out of school completely disconnected.

Growing up in this kind of environment your beliefs aren’t formed, they are given. When you are so young that you believe everything someone tells you, you never really question what you’re being taught.

In school, we would pray before and after every class period, had church every week and religion class every day. As a kid, I viewed these things more as chores.

I believed in God, but I got bored with all of it, which I felt guilty about. My teachers would always tell us that they became closer to their faith the older they got.

This is what I expected would happen to me. When I entered high school though, that is when my spirituality really came into question.

After all the prayers and visits to church, I still did not feel closer to my faith. I started to form my own beliefs and I started to realize that my beliefs went against my religion.

This is when I began to disassociate from being Catholic.

When I would go to church or have to pray with my class, I would just stand there in silence. I received judgmental looks from my teachers and especially my mother, but it felt right to me.

This was my first step on my own spiritual journey. As I grew older, I desperately wanted the freedom to explore my spirituality in ways that my school and family did not allow.

My high school offered a four-day religious retreat for seniors and it was considered to be a huge step in a student’s spiritual journey.

Those who attended weren’t allowed to share what happened, but they all would rave about how much their views had changed. Friends of mine who were once not secure in their beliefs would come back more faithful than ever.

In my curiosity and confusion about where I stood, I decided to go.

We stayed at a religious campground for four days. One of the nights we had an activity where we were asked serious questions about our faith.

Everyone around me seemed to have some connection to their faith, a connection that I did not feel. Classmates and teachers around me started crying and hugging each other. I felt weird amongst it all.

At that moment I realized I was not Catholic, but that realization did not bring me the peace I thought it would.

They were right when they said this retreat was a big step in a student’s spiritual journey. It made me understand that mine would be different from everyone else’s.

As an adult, I now have the freedom I wished for while I was younger. No longer being in Catholic school feels good but strange at the same time.

The one thing about religion is that it is very community-based. Catholicism has always been ingrained within my family’s culture as well as many of my friends from back home.

With all that being said, I realize that I will never fully leave that community.

When I returned home for winter break, one of my friends invited me to a church service with some of our old classmates. I was hesitant but I decided to go anyway to help out.

When we were setting up, it felt nostalgic, almost like no time had passed. We lined up outside the church just like we did in kindergarten but now as adults.

There was some comfort to it all which surprised me. It was weird that something I once fought so hard against would return to me so easily.

I understand now that I never hated my faith, I just hated the people who would use it as a justification to behave or treat others poorly.

When someone asks me what my religion is today, I respond with “I was raised Catholic.”

I still don’t know exactly where I stand spiritually, but everyone is on a different journey. I learned that my journey is to follow the path that I create for myself, not the one that was already paved for me.

It’s Friday morning again and everyone is lining up for church, except this time I’m on the other side of the fence.

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