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.