It is hard to walk a 500-mile pilgrimage trail without thinking about religion. In 2012 (the year I walked the Camino) 93% of pilgrims who arrived in Santiago reported that their reason for walking was, at least in part, religious.
I was part of that 93%. Having been born Catholic, I knew it would always be part of my past, but I had long been wondering: would it be part of my future?
I realized when I got to the start of the Camino why I was there: to see if exploring faiths other than Catholicism was okay by God. Along The Way, while some non-Catholic pilgrims I met came to appreciate and understand the faith a bit more, I was still unsure of its role in my life. I had many conversations with God. (Some call it prayer. Some call it crazy. Whatever you want to call it doesn’t matter to me.) I was reminded me that he loves all of us, no matter what building we choose to go to (or not) on Sundays. No matter which words we utter repeatedly whether in prayer or song. No matter what we do or don’t do. I was free to explore, and God would still be there as he always had been. He would still talk to me. Unless I didn’t want him to. He was fine with that, too. So by the time I finished my walk, it was clear to me that it was time for some deeper reflection on what I wanted my spiritual life to look like.
Readers followed my journey along the Camino and my spiritual search upon my return. I explored the ideas of simplicity and gratitude. I attended Unitarian services, Buddhism classes, and even a few Catholic masses. I took lessons from books, nature, and taxi drivers.
My mother told me that if I listed the things I believe on a piece of paper, I would probably find that they match pretty well with Catholicism. I thought about and wrote about (sometimes only in my journal) my beliefs about inclusion, loving your neighbor as yourself, heaven and hell, as well as those Catholic “hot-topics” of abortion, gay marriage, celibacy, and women priests. And time and time again I went back to the moment that started me on this journey of questioning the faith I was born into: the day The Boston Globe broke the story of clergy sex abuse.
Last summer, after years walking the path of a “seeker,” asking and diving into questions, listening and contemplating answers, I walked into yet another new-to-me church, but this time I found something that felt right from the moment I walked in the door. I had been attending services there for six months and twice we were invited to attend a class and become “members.” Twice I watched many of my new friends join, but I just wasn’t ready to make that commitment quite yet, and wondered why that was. Friends who had been members for years asked if I was thinking about joining, and I said I just wasn’t ready. Everyone seemed to understand, even when I didn’t. Then last month I realized why.
The sermon was titled “A Reason, a Season, or a Lifetime.” I thought about this theme in the context of my relationship to the Catholic Church. As a child, I went to church for a reason: my parents told me to. And I was one of those kids who did (for the most part) whatever my parents told me.
In college, I went for a season. The minister that day explained that people who participate in a relationship for a season do it because of a “shared consciousness.” Indeed, I sat in Madonna Della Strada chapel because friends were there, and we were all trying to reconcile the faith we grew up in with the new ideas we were learning, with the people we were meeting, with what we believed, or didn’t, anymore. The Jesuits at my Irish Catholic university did an excellent job of answering our questions not just during Mass, but over coffee, a beer, or in conversation at a retreat or evening walk.
But it wasn’t until a couple years after college that I questioned a lifetime commitment to the faith in which I was raised. According to the Church, I was already committed. I had been baptized. And then, at 13, I had been confirmed — which was explained to me as “becoming an adult in the Church.” This was quite mysterious to me as nowhere else in my life was a 13-year-old considered an adult. Temporarily I got to feel like one when babysitting, but that was about it.
I then thought about this new church I had found. I went to my first service there for a reason: because a friend invited me. And I was looking for a new faith community. I have been a part of that community for a season already. I have found a group with whom I have a shared consciousness. I don’t know if I’ll be with them for a lifetime or not. But according to the minister, that’s okay. He doesn’t mind if we’re there for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. If we become members or not. Whatever our history is, whatever our future may hold, he welcomes us regardless.
I’ve walked the path of a “spiritual seeker” for many years and have finally found my new spiritual home. While searching, I never officially left the Catholic faith — my most recent year documented here at Busted Halo.
The Catholic Church is certainly an institution that expects congregants not for a reason, nor a season, but for a lifetime. But my life (like that of many Millennials) is made up of seasons. There will be lifetime commitments, but they are few. The Catholic Church would not be the institution it is if it changed for each generation, so I don’t expect it to change for mine. I know the Church grapples with how to reach us, and I’m happy that places like Busted Halo exist to help us along that path.
And so it is that I embark on this new path in my spiritual life. I would like to thank the readers of this blog for following me on this journey — whether you commented on my posts, contacted me personally to share your faith journeys, or simply traveled this road with me. I wish each and every one of you the best along your path.
You can continue to follow me on my personal blog at www.renaissancerebecca.wordpress.com.
What beliefs, practices, or experiences have you had for a reason, a season, or a lifetime?