Friday 1st April - Essay Competition for the Year of Catholic Education

Despite it being April Fool's Day I assure you that this is no joke. I entered an essay competition a while back to mark the Year of Catholic Education and found out today that I had won!

The essay title was 'What do you think you gained/are gaining from your time at your Catholic school or you Catholic university college?' Hearing no word from them I assumed that nothing had come of it. It didn't really get to me - these sorts of competitions are entered by lots of intelligent people; the competition was likely to be tough.

Writing it came naturally. I didn't plan (which for me is saying something), and I actually quite enjoyed writing it. When I came home today and found an email saying I had won, well, you can imagine I was quite pleased. I don't usually have much luck with things so it was a pleasant surprise. I've also been informed that the essay will be posted on to the Catholic Education Service's website, so I'll post a link when that's been done.

Well, there's nothing else really to tell you. I guess, if you want, you can read the essay here. It's not very long, less than 600 words so it won't be very time consuming, but kudos to you anyway if you've reached this far in the post.

What my Catholic Education means for me now

Before studying theology at university I only ever attended Catholic schools. I went to a Catholic primary school, secondary school and even a Catholic sixth form. Catholicism was all I knew, it was my life.

Being constantly surrounded by other Catholics and being brought up in what was essentially a Catholic environment (that’s not to say I did not meet other Christians), I took my faith for granted. It was not until the first year of university that I experienced my first crisis of faith. The university I attend can be regarded as ‘liberal Presbyterian’. Without the comfort of having people think the same way as me, I was challenged on a daily basis. I no longer knew why I believed such and such a doctrine, nor did I have anyone close at hand to confide in. I was out of my depth. I began to believe I wasn’t a Catholic after all.

Faced with people of different Christian denominations, some of different faiths and none at all, has made me grateful for the Catholic education I received. I am indebted to it for several reasons. Not only did I get the chance to attend one of the best Catholic sixth forms in the UK, but it was also where I decided to pursue a degree in theology. It opened my eyes to the importance religion, and Catholicism in particular, has in the world: the good it can cause, but also - when exploited and manipulated - the devastation it can bring.

Many believe that attending a faith school - and a Catholic one especially - means only learning the ‘Catholic way’. Of course I learnt about Catholicism, but I also learnt about other denominations and other faiths too. More importantly I learnt more about myself, what I believed and what I valued. This insight, at the time, made my faith stronger. I embraced everything that was naturally inherent to me as a person. I knew I wasn’t an Anglican, an Evangelical or a Quaker, but a Catholic. I lived and breathed Catholicism.

I am not saying that my Catholic education did not prepare me for the ‘real world’. What I am saying is that - ironically - it did. If I encounter a doctrine or canon law which I find myself questioning, I go and find out why this is the case. I strive to understand why I believe what I do rather than just accept it. It could be argued that if I went to a Catholic or pontifical university (something I am still discerning) I would still be so sure of myself, of my faith, and of what I believe. However I am much more appreciative of the position I find myself in now. If I remained that way I fear I would have lived the rest of my life in ‘blind faith’. I honestly believe that questioning one’s faith can only make it stronger. If someone ends up straying from his or her path, then I can only suggest that God must have a reason for this and that we should put our utmost trust that He will eventually guide us back to Him.

Although I may struggle with my faith now, it is my Catholic education which has provided me with the context to fully live my life. I am still a Catholic, but at least now I grapple much more honestly with what I believe in. Without the Catholic education I received, I would have probably strayed off my path completely.

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