An Inherited Faith Becomes My Own

Catholic Campus Ministry Search XII Retreat: February 2018
by Holly Ouellette

Inherited faith can be extremely rewarding, under propitious circumstances. In other cases, like my own, it can stop bearing fruit early on.

I was brought up Catholic, but my parents’ faith was stunted. There was a limited dialogue about faith in my home, and I did not feel educated enough about my faith to identify as Catholic. I didn’t understand the order of the mass, the purpose of reconciliation, why it was necessary to cross myself with holy water, why genuflecting was the accepted form of payment to sit in the pew or why, despite the fact the Scripture readings were in English, it all sound like incomprehensible gibberish. After experiencing Holy Communion for the first time, I wasn’t offended when my family took a 7-year hiatus from attending Mass. Things changed when I was old enough to drive.

Singing became an outlet of emotional expression for me during the hiatus, and singing brought me back to God. Diane, a close friend of my mom, was a choir director at a military chapel where I’m from. She graciously gave me voice lessons and served as my accompanist for various competitions and concerts for many years free of charge.

To express gratitude for Diane’s generosity, I joined the choir, and I began to deeply encounter God through the lyrics of the hymns. In this encounter, I felt it was my responsibility to deliver God’s message of love, hope, understanding, compassion, and forgiveness through song; and it struck me one day that these messages must be present in the parts of the Mass I didn’t understand. I started listening with the intention to hear God’s voice and learn about God. He revealed himself to me through the Scripture readings, in the homily, in the consecration of the Eucharist, in the community of followers, and elsewhere. God was everywhere. All it took for me to understand God’s multitude was my desire to learn it. All of the things I formally didn’t understand were becoming clear.

My understanding and the development of my faith surpassed that of my parents when I became active in my faith. Reading the Bible, praying the Rosary, listening to Lighthouse media CDs, praying novenas, attending daily Mass, spending time in adoration, and joining the parish youth group changed me; I grew because of them.

And while I was proud of my faith progress over the course of 2 years, I kept it private. I struggled to understand how to share my faith experience with my family, who continued to see me as the belligerent, loud, angry human that I was before I connected with God. I had outgrown the faith of my parents and it felt like they saw me as a pretentious Catholic.

But my experiences with God were so incredibly healthy for me! I wanted to share God’s greatness with others, especially my family. I thus realized that when we get closer to God, we change; we are made new. It may take longer for those we are closest to accept that, and some never will; so we must remain steadfast and humble in your relationship with God and embrace the changes God is making within us through one another.