Growing up, I always identified as a Roman Catholic. I was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church, I went to mass there every week, I received my “first” sacraments there, and I was confirmed there.
I knew there were other denominations of Christians, but beyond that I didn’t know much about them. In many ways, my experiences with Christianity were confined to the Roman Catholic Church.
When I came to college, throughout my first semester it was exactly the same. I attended the Catholic masses on campus most weeks, and I didn’t discuss my faith much outside of mass, so I still had limited exposure to Christianity outside of the Catholic Church.
However, during my second semester I began attending Praise and Worship on Thursday nights, and from then on my perspective has been completely different.
The only commonality between all of the students who attend, besides being students at The University, is that all of us are Christians. Not Catholics – Christians. There are students of many different denominations, but we all come together for the same purpose on Thursday night – to celebrate the sacrifice of Christ and the love that God has for us.
Truth be told, without discussion of denominations specifically, I wouldn’t know who was Catholic, who grew up in the Protestant Church or who attends a non-denominational church. They are all the same to me – fellow students who I join in worshiping the God who made us and the God who saved us.
As I attended Praise and Worship more and more, I began to think about my own identity. Growing up, if someone had asked me about my religion, I would have said, “I’m Catholic,” without hesitation. However, I started asking myself frequently if that would still be my response.
For a long time, I didn’t know the answer to that question. Do I still consider myself Catholic, or do I identify as something else now?
Today, if someone asked about my religion, I would identify myself as a Christian because first and foremost, I am a Christian. I believe in the teachings of Christianity; I was raised in the traditions of the Catholic Church, but those traditions do not define my core beliefs.
A few months ago, as I continued to think more deeply about my faith and my identity, I was home and I asked my mom, a devout Catholic, what she thought about the other denominations. Her response? “They don’t know the full truth of the Scriptures.”
That response, I think, is the reason I now identify myself as a Christian. It took me a few minutes to process that response, but once I had done so, I realized I disagreed strongly with that statement. In my eyes, that response assumes that the Catholic Church knows the full truth of the Scriptures.
The problem with that, however, is that the Scriptures were written by humans and interpreted by humans. Humans are imperfect creatures, so both their written communication of God’s message and their interpretation of that message over a thousand years later are also both vastly imperfect.
What exactly, then, makes the Catholic Church more perfect than the other denominations who interpreted the Scriptures differently?
In all truthfulness, nothing makes the Catholic Church inherently special or better.
The Catholic Church has had its fair share of issues, and as recently as the last decade has made changes to the mass. The Catholic Church is, in itself, an imperfect organization run by imperfect humans, and no other denomination is any different in that sense.
As I have grown in my faith and my understanding of the myriad of denominations, I have come to realize that I don’t necessarily identify with the Catholic Church, but that rather I will always identify as a Christian. It matters that I can give myself fully to the mass, not whether I go to a Catholic mass or a Protestant service or a non-denominational Christian service.
It matters that I share the love of God which I have come to know with those around me, not that I share one specific denomination’s interpretation of the Scriptures with them. It matters that I am active in my faith and my Christianity wherever I am, not that I am going through the motions within one specific denomination but never really moving anywhere.
Now, nothing is wrong with being a Catholic, just as nothing is wrong with being a member of any other denomination of Christianity. I only mean to say that straying from one denomination does not make me a better Christian or a worse Christian. It does not make me a traitor to Catholicism.
It merely makes me a Christian searching for the best way I can praise God and serve God in my everyday life.
Because in the end, it won’t matter whether I went to a Catholic mass every Sunday morning, it won’t matter how loyal I stayed to any specific denomination and it won’t matter if I fully agreed with a denomination’s interpretation of the Scripture.
In the end, the only thing that will matter is whether I was Jesus to everyone I came across and whether I shared God’s love everywhere I went.