Opinion By J1 Reporter Caroline Drew
Sitting in my creaky, second-row, Saint Margaret Mary’s desk, I lock eyes with the priest at the front of the classroom. “This,” he says, “is your decision. It’s you making a formal commitment to God and the Church.” He turns his eyes away from me now, and I am beyond relieved.
It’s my second semester of seventh grade and by now, I’m well-versed in Catholicism. I had spent every Wednesday evening since first grade at Saint Margaret Mary’s, our local parish, receiving my extracurricular religious education. I knew all the stories, I’d memorized every prayer in every prayer book, I could answer any question my teacher threw at me. But something wasn’t right. Something didn’t feel right. Because now I was nearing my Confirmation and I still didn’t believe the religion I’ve been taught.
I’m sweating in my seat, and the priest is telling the class that the Sacrament of Confirmation is our profession of our faith. “It will bond you to the Church and its teachings for the rest of your lives,” he says. I’m scanning the room, trying to find hints of the panic and dread building in my stomach on the faces of my classmates. None of them seem to be affected.
The longer I think about it, the clearer my decision becomes. I can’t be confirmed. I cannot fake that kind of devotion. I refuse to lie about my beliefs. It seems unspeakable to me that I am expected to lie to everyone around me simply because they expect me to.
So that night, when I arrive home, I tell my parents. My dad is calm, unsurprised, accepting. My mom is upset and confused. I don’t remember much of my conversation with her, except that I cried. I cried, and I didn’t have the answers she was looking for.
My mom wanted to know why. Why didn’t I feel connected to the religion I’d been raised in my entire life? What did I believe? What didn’t I believe? All of these are questions, I think, that most adults would be hard pressed to answer. My seventh-grade self was utterly unprepared. Yet, these same questions are the ones we ask all seventh graders in Catholic school to answer. Through Confirmation, we ask them to pledge a connection to the religion they’d been raised in. We ask them to recite what they’ve been taught to believe without critically thinking it at all.
When it became inevitable that I would have to inform others of my decision, my parents wanted it kept quiet. They didn’t want to disappoint my extended family or taint my brothers’ abilities to make their own decisions about religion. We told only those that needed to know. The head of extracurricular religious education at our parish scorned my mother for “allowing a 12-year-old to run the family.” She chastised her for allowing me to do exactly what was asked of me through Confirmation: make my own decision.
We changed parishes. As per the wish of my mother, I dropped down a grade in the religious education program and entered religious education my eighth-grade year as a seventh grader. I promised my mom then that if I regretted my decision later in life, I would return to the church and be confirmed then.
It’s been four years now, and I’ve never regretted my decision for a moment. It was a defining moment in my life. It was the first time I stood up for what I believed in. The first time I refused to live my life just to please other people. I didn’t have all of the answers then, and I still don’t today, but, through thinking critically about the things I’d been taught and questioning what I’d been expected to accept as fact, I’ve come closer to understanding those questions than I ever would have otherwise. My faith, or lack thereof, is not static. It continues to develop and clarify as I grow, mature, and learn and I will not compromise that process to satisfy the expectations of others.