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Going Through the Motions
My Journey from "Practicing" My Faith to Trying to Live It
Drew Stuart opens up about the meanders of his life of faith.

My faith journey, like that of many others, began with my mom, who chose to have me baptized and taught my brother and sister and me the basics of the Catholic Faith. She always encouraged us to go to Mass, emphasized the importance of prayer, and chose to send us to Catholic schools. When I was in the first grade I told my teacher and classmates I wanted to be a priest and, after this, quickly garnered a reputation for being a good Catholic kid.  I prayed often, talked about my faith with others (including my non-Catholic friends), and excelled in religion classes. This reputation continued to follow me throughout middle school and high school. Having gone to Catholic schools from Kindergarten through 8th grade, I chose to go a Catholic high school half hour from my home town instead of attending the local public high school. Several of my classmates from elementary and middle school went to the same school, which contributed to the fact that I once again became known for being "really religious.” I even became the go to guy for questions about religion classes. To top it all off, during my senior year, my classmates even voted me the most likely to become a priest.

However, contrary to all appearances, my faith life wasn’t what it seemed. By the time I finished middle school, I was facing an internal struggle. Sure, I still chose to go to Mass, managed to absorb a lot of information about the Catholic faith from my religion classes, and even joined my high school’s campus ministry, but all of this was done more for habit than any real sense of devotion. Inside, I felt empty, like something was missing. My faith life consisted mostly of going Sunday Mass and praying to God when I wanted or needed, especially in times of crisis. At Mass, I rarely paid attention, preferring to read the bulletin or think about what I was going to do once it was over. On the outside, I appeared to be “into” my faith since I continued to go to Mass and knew so much about the Church’s teaching. In reality I had serious doubts: I stopped going to confession, I didn’t  necessarily see the point in attending Mass, and I  questioned whether God truly cared about the world. While I knew a great deal about the Catholic doctrine and teaching, I hadn't really internalized much of what I had learned. I was so concerned with going through the motions and keeping up appearances that I never really took the time to think about what it would mean to live my faith. For me, faith was intellectual and not spiritual and personal. It hadn’t moved from my head to my heart. 

However, contrary to all appearances, my faith life wasn't what it seemed.

What few people realized is that, by high school, I was almost constantly wrestling with a major issue that has followed me throughout my life: I did not and still do not know who my father was. During my teenage years, this caused me to become ambivalent about or even hostile to the idea of a father figure, even as I deeply desired to have one in my life. As Christians, we follow Jesus’ example and call God Father and, as a result, I had tied God so closely to concept of father in the human sense, that I found it difficult to trust God. While I went through the motions of “practicing” the Catholic faith (ie went to Mass, memorized information about Jesus, the sacraments, morality, etc.), I held God at arm’s length, so my faith remained impersonal. To make matters worse I was afraid to reveal my doubts to anyone because I feared of what others would think. Afterall, I had a reputation to uphold.

Little did I know that my faith journey would take an interesting turn after I graduated. After years at Catholic schools, I chose to attend Huntington University, an Evangelical Protestant college in my home town. Catholics made up only one to two percent of the student population and, for the first time in my life, my faith was truly questioned and intellectually challenged by my peers. While I could often correct erroneous views of the Catholic faith and explain aspects of Church teaching to those who challenged me, there was one question that I couldn’t adequately answer: “Do you have a relationship with Jesus Christ?” At first, I would answer by saying that, yes, I had a relationship with Jesus. Afterall, I received the Eucharist every Sunday and we believe the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ. However, if any one tried to dig deeper, asking me to describe this relationship, I became frustrated because this answer was actually a cop out. My tendency to hold God at a distance prevented me from truly embracing Christ’s presence in the Eucharist and it became abundantly clear that I really did not have a true relationship with Jesus. I came to realize that there was a part of me that wanted to know and embrace Jesus Christ and that the emptiness that I had felt for so long would only be filled when I did. 

After coming to this realization, I knew that I had to actively try to live my faith, to make it relational. This being the case, I decided join an unofficial Catholic group on campus. Each week, several students who were Catholic met to pray together, talk about the Catholic faith, and discuss our personal faith experiences, especially the challenges we faced on campus. In doing so, I began to move away from point where my faith consisted of “going through the motions” towards a point where I began to develop a relationship with Christ. If I wanted to truly be Catholic, to live the Catholic faith, I had to make it my own . It could no longer be something I had inherited and practiced out of habit. At the same time, I finally understood something I had always been taught but never fully absorbed: the Catholic faith isn’t merely personal/private or internal, instead it’s meant to be lived and shared within a community. To put it simply, our faith is relational, meaning it involves a relationship with Christ, with the Christian community, and, in a different way,  with those who are outside of this community. If faith becomes purely personal, and turned in on itself, as mine had, it becomes stagnant and unhealthy. My faith, mired by my personal doubts and habitual external practice, had reached this point but now I was ready to begin living it.

I began to move away from point where my faith consisted of “going through the motions” towards a point where I began to develop a relationship with Christ.

At the end of my sophomore year, I decided transfer to Saint Francis, a nearby Catholic University. Several weeks after transferring, my faith began what I now see as the next phase of its growth. Soon after starting classes at Saint Francis, I met one of the campus peer ministers while praying in the university's chapel. She invited me to get involved with Eucharistic adoration. While initially reluctant (I had always found adoration boring in the past),  I accepted her offer and began doing one hour of Eucharistic adoration two days a week. Compared to my previously lackluster prayer life, this was a major improvement. Surprisingly, I found I loved adoration. While I had already developed the habit of speaking to God through prayer, the two hours I spent before the Eucharist each week taught me to listen to God as well. I'd usually spend 20 to 30 minutes praying the rosary and/or reading the bible. For the rest of the time, I would sit in silence, attempting to listen to what God was trying to tell me in the scripture passage or even the rosary reflections. In this way, I began to truly experience Christ’s presence in the Eucharist and was able to relate to God in deeper, more intimate manner.

Not long after I started going to adoration, I also decided to go to Confession after having refused to do so for nearly seven years. In middle school, I had a teacher who emphasized a very harsh and legalistic view of Confession. His views scared me away from the sacrament and stuck with me long afterwards, causing me to avoid the sacrament at all costs. However, when I went to Confession that night after so many years of staying away, I was struck not by judgment, but by God’s mercy and love. No matter what I had done, I came to realize that God loved me and would always forgive me. This was comforting and, along with the priest’s merciful attitude, ensured that I would continue going to Confession.

From that point on, my faith continued to grow and change for the better: I joined Peer Ministry, which gave me the opportunity to live my faith by ministering to others. About a year or so later, I felt a call to share Christ’s and all that I had learned about the Catholic Faith with others. In order to answer this call I began discerning a vocation to the priesthood and chose to work toward MA in Theology. After earning my MA, I took a major leap of faith and decided to turn down other job opportunities and left Indiana (and therefore all my friends and family) to take an internship at the Catholic Community of Ss Peter and Paul in Hoboken, NJ. Ironically, since coming to work for the parish, I’ve realized I am most likely not called to the priesthood. However, I still intend to answer the call to share my faith with others, for through baptism we are all called to bring others to Jesus Christ.

...my faith continued to grow and change for the better

While my faith has evolved, it's still far from perfect. After a period of struggle, I finally feel like I have a relationship with Jesus Christ but the doubts and fears that once threatened to destroy my faith have not completely disappeared. However, I do not allow these doubts to derail me as I once did.  I now realize that faith is a relationship. Like any relationship, it is not merely a one time life changing event or occurrence. While it is life changing, it is also an ongoing process, a continuum of growth. Christ calls each of us into relationship. How we choose to live our lives is our answer to that call. The journey of faith will have ups and downs. We will face unexpected twists and turns. Through it all, Jesus Christ walks with us, offering us his hand when we begin to fall. All we have to decided is whether we will take his hand or reject it.

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