Doubt in your denomination?
The Spiritual Journey of a Cradle Catholic
Faith gets complicated.
Especially when tension exists between your world views and the doctrine of your denomination as a Christian. I’m a cradle Catholic, which means that I have been brought up in the Catholic faith. My faith has been largely family initiated, from the moment I was dipped in that holy water of baptism as an infant. This seems fair enough but, this family initiated background to faith gets difficult as you grow because, you learn to associate spirituality with forced obligation. Not to talk of the elements of church teachings that you blindly accepted as a child and how over time, they begin to appear more and more outdated.
For me, this sense of tension derived from the contrast between my evolving personal relationship with God and the strict doctrine of Catholicism.
I asked myself what it means to be Catholic and what that meant for my Christianity.
Did I really believe that contraceptives should be banned?
Should abortion be banned?
Does purgatory exist?
Should people be conditioned to link their sexuality with guilt?
Although in Nigeria, most Christians attend church regularly as a social expectation, its fair to say that a lot of us just don’t always feel present.
Firstly, the church’s doctrine of guilt and suffering is something I struggle with. I personally don’t subscribe to the idea that someone going through hardship makes them holier than others. Instead I believe that we all go through difficult times, with the opportunity for growth; to come out of the other side having made the best of the situation. This is obviously much harder than it sounds. As cliché as it is, you aren’t alone, humans are social beings so we can also help others through their hard times. That’s , faith in action. Maybe we go through hard times to gain the knowledge to help others navigate their trauma. I’ve found great strength in this.
2 Corinthians 1:4 says that God “comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8–9).
Hold on. Trust me, I know your dark pit of misery and self-pity is comfortable but it’s doing nothing for you. Choose to persevere for your own good. You deserve to keep going so you can reap the good things that are on the way. Sometimes failure means ‘not right now’, not ‘never’.
I still struggle with most of these questions today. But, I’ve learned that this is part of the process of having an active relationship with God.
Key word: active.
At many times in my life, I’ve felt like my faith as a Christian was passive. Though passive is a relative term, I think we all know when we’re plugged into our faith, or even our sense of self and other times when we are tuned out. It’s not about shame or judgement, its about finding the ways in which you can plug in and reconnect.
But faith can never be solely about denomination.
I personally believe that spirituality and mental health are linked. So these things must be looked out for, and you are not weak for recognizing when you’re a bit down, or out of touch. As a Catholic, the refusal of the church to acknowledge modern realities can shake faith. And in the Nigerian context, this is intensified by the ignorance surrounding the Catholic faith. Questions like ‘Do you worship Mary?’ or ‘ your church isa cult’ are hardly encouraging when embarking on a spiritual journey.
But faith is a process, and if you don’t question things, you can’t grow.
Self care, prayer and meditation have helped me to regain balance and reconnect with my personal relationship with God. I don’t read the Bible much but I believe in its power of guidance and instruction in life. Therefore, when I read the Bible, some pieces of Scripture give me a sense of direction and comfort.
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid" John 14:27 RSVCE (Revised Standard Version Catholic edition) "Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer…let your requests be known to God" Philippians 4:6-7 RSVCE
Sometimes I get worked up about the past, present and future and I want to shake myself and say, Funmi. Sis. WHY WERE YOU STRESSING WHEN YOU COULD’VE JUST PRAYED??? To all my fellow humans with anxiety, stress less, pray more. That’s not to say you shouldn’t take active steps towards your goals, but if you’ve done all you can, be secure in a positive intention and you can never lose, even in the face of disappointment. You are enough. Intention is a powerful tool that can help bridge the gap between situation and expectation. Trust your intuition, pray, and act. Nothing is permanent, you will get through it. Open yourself up completely, though it means you will experience pain, you will also experience fullness of joy.
Whether we are religious or not, I’m sure we can all say that we had certain ideas about what we wanted from situations or life at large, but feel differently now. I like to think that God is all-knowing so one thing I have been implementing in my prayer and intentions is openness. And being open is partly accepting that the good and the bad won’t last forever. This takes trust and it's really hard.The change involved with life is the only thing we can be sure of.
Many things have helped me keep my head up through the ups and downs of the spiritual journey that is faith. The realization that faith is a personal concept, constantly reassures me. Understanding this has been important to my spiritual journey in that it helps me to focus on self-growth without being weighed down with the imperfections that define the church. In addition, creating safe spaces to debate elements of the Catholic faith and Christianity at large with other individuals is a healthy way to make your perspective known and share experiences. Lastly, realising that the pursuit of a spiritual journey is not all in vain is something that took a long time for me. I still struggle with belief and trusting that things will get better at times when I feel stuck. The key is accepting how you feel so no feelings go unresolved.
Religious institutions, including the Catholic church have failed in the past, and will continue to fail us. This is because they are man-made institutions that can’t be perfect, no matter how well intentioned. This is why it was important to me to personalize faith, to ensure that the very concept is not burdened with the hypocrisy and failings of these insitutions.
Getting over doubt requires trust in the constant and unconditional love of God. Spiritual journeys ultimately constitute an ongoing process and I hope that even one aspect of this resonates with someone, or at least promotes much needed conversation.