Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Coming full circle, or when a little bit of education can go a long way...

I never really wanted to write about religion, but I'm feeling an overwhelming sense that I need to release some thoughts which are, quite frankly, making me cross, what with the current debate about the teaching of religion in schools. 

You will have gathered from my post about Nellie's baptism that I am Catholic. I was baptised in 1974 by Father Bob McGuire, confirmed at St. Stephen's in Tarrawingee, and a student of Galen Catholic College in Wangaratta. My early religious education was a fairly common, non-descript and uneventful one.

Mostly I didn't mind going, but there were many times that my mother had to take my brother and I to Sunday mass using direct threats. Sometimes we resisted, but I found that if I had my missal which was given to me for my First Holy Communion, then I could read along with the readings and prayers, and stare at the macabre and pious images of the stations of the cross, and get through. The bribe of fish and chips after Saturday mass was pretty appealing, too. It's obvious to me now that it meant a great deal to my mum that we get a religious education and perhaps a chance to get in some holy brownie points before the sins she may have expected us to commit later in life, who knows.

By my mid-teens mum was probably fed up with the weekly resistance she faced from my brother and I, and thought it better for her soul, and sanity, to have some quiet time sewing on a Sunday afternoon than screaming at her kids to go to mass. Still, we occasionally did go, and I would see all the other teenagers from school there, standing dutifully with their parents, often still in bedhead hair, and there would be embarrassed but unifying nods of acknowledgement as we passed in the Communion queue.

When I left school and moved to Melbourne I was cut loose from what I considered the chore of going to mass. I lived at St. Mary's College in Parkville for three years, which has it's history in the Loreto Order of nuns, so there was still a fair bit of Catholism in the air despite it's non-denominational intake. But I heartily took to the uni student lifestyle and didn't let a 9am mass get in the way of a good time.

When I finally lived moved into a share house, responsible for myself, I completely stopped going to mass. I rarely thought about it unless I visited home in Wangaratta. Sometimes mum would ask if I wanted to go to mass, and I acquiesed for old times' sake and to keep the peace.

And this went on for some years. About 10, I suppose. But when I got engaged, and had a strong desire to come full circle and get married in the tiny church where I was confirmed a Catholic, I realised that my Catholic roots ran deep, and that I could not ignore them.

When I had my first child I was relentless in wanting to have him baptised into Catholism as well. I wanted him to have a moral compass and saw Catholism as a spiritual North.

I don't go to mass every week. In fact I probably only get there a few times a year. But I've always kept the habit of prayer, usually in bed at night, thinking over my day, my fears and wishes. It's probably a form of medition or coping mechanism for me. My religion now is a tailored form of Catholicism, one based on a core of compassion and commonsense that makes sense to me than an orthodox one. I'm happy to look at the analogies the bible presents and the key message - do you REALLY think Moses parted the Red Sea??? or is there a point to be made once you get past the semantics? And that point, that core message of how we go about our lives and interact with our community is still relevant, as I was reminded last Sunday at Nellie's baptism by Father Bob. The names and places and dates may change, but the moral of the story doesn't.

Judith Lucy's final installment of Judith Lucy's Spiritual Journey is on tonight. I can really resonate with a lot of her experience and like her am finding myself in a place now of a personalised religion or spirituality. My kids will know that the religion I chose for them, to set them off on their spiritual path, is not set in stone. They will go through all the processes of resisting and questioning and making adjustments that I went through, and still go through.

Catholicism, like all religions, has some dark history, which sadly dominates many people's idea of priests and Catholic schools, but it also offers some powerful and compelling messages and guidelines for our society today. And quite frankly, when I read the papers and watch the nightly news, it becomes apparent to me that we need those guidelines more than ever.

I know there is strong resistance to religious education in schools, but if it we adapted this program from one of a biased Christian 'indoctrination', as many are accusing, to one of objective spiritual education which explored and debated various religions and dogma and philosophies, wouldn't our kids and our community be the richer for it? I would rather my kids be able to make educated decisions about religion and spirituality than ones based on ignorance having being denied the opportunity to understand and question.

Catholicism now is not a chore for me because I don't put myself under pressure to have to go to church. I go when it feels right for me, when I know that there is a connection I need to make to settle myself spiritually . I have made it my own, in my own quiet way, and will encourage my kids to do the same. I can respect my mum's efforts to educate us every week, to develop a spiritual compass. I feel a bit guilty about making it difficult now.

But now I'm in a happy place. It's a lot like rediscovering an old acquaintance you largely ignored years ago, and then realising you have more in common than you thought, and that now a friendship based on mutual respect can emerge from the trials of the past. It gives me a place of private peace, and surely that what we all want, no matter what brand it is or who does the educating.

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