“Are you a Christian?”
A question so simple, yet one I’ve always struggled to find the right answer to.
Yes, of course I’m a Christian, but to me, that answer in complicated. My dad is Catholic, so I grew up in the Catholic Church. I attended mass frequently, completed my First Reconciliation, went through religious education, and completed my First Communion.
I vividly remember sitting in religious education one Sunday after mass. I was ten years old. My teacher had just reminded us to practice our prayers before First Communion the coming weekend, because if we couldn’t recite the Hail Mary or the Nicene Creed by heart, we might not be allowed to receive the Eucharist. She then proceeded to pass around necklaces (called scapulars) to the class saying:
“Be sure to always wear these. There was a man who died in a fire while wearing this necklace, and if he hadn’t have been wearing it, he might’ve gone to purgatory, or even to hell because he hadn’t gone to confession. But because he was wearing this necklace, he got into heaven!”
I remember going home, shoving the necklace under my bed in a box, and crying. Deep in my heart I knew that this wasn’t true, but I slept in fear for several nights. I memorized my prayers, finished religious education, and continued tolerating church.
However, during this time at church, I was also attending a non-denominational Christian school that I was blessed enough to start at in kindergarten and eventually graduate from. In elementary school, I was taught that it’s okay to talk to Jesus in prayer by myself, and I could confess my own sins to Him. There was this concept of grace and mercy, and works were completely irrelevant in receiving it. And I myself could have a relationship with Jesus just by acknowledging He died on the cross and rose again for my sins. No priest was necessary, just my heart.
I was afraid to tell the other kids at school I was Catholic, because I was afraid they would make fun of me, or would tell me I’m not a Christian (which definitely happened more than once). Catholicism had a bad precedence at my school, almost like it was an entirely different religion, because no one had been informed about it. I didn’t want people to associate me with it. During all of elementary school and middle school, my very best friend was the only one who I told that I was Catholic.
I was always jealous of all the kids at school who went to “normal” protestant church… who had youth group, missions trips, a worship band, and a family that attended church every Sunday. None of that was normal to me, and the closest I ever got to it was attending chapel at school on Wednesdays and sitting in Bible classes, soaking in as much as I possibly could about Protestant Christianity and Jesus.
You can probably understand why I was a really confused child.
It wasn’t until I got to high school that I really started to try to make sense of it all and became more open about sharing my faith and upbringing. A summary of what I have learned and believe to be true through the perspective of my Catholic-Christian lens is this:
Jesus came to establish relationships, not religion.
I find it difficult to believe that this truth is somehow missed by so many Christians, yet is so fundamental to understanding the God we serve.
Jesus came fulfill the law with His perfect love, so we are no longer in bondage to it. Why is it that so many Christians are still trying to work, to be good, to do right? When we focus on trying to fix and polish ourselves, we forget to do the one thing we are called to do: love God and love others.
Jesus says in John 13: 34-35: “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Galatians 5:14 tells us that “the Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself‘
Galatians 3:23-24 states that “Before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.”
And James 1: 27 tells us that “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world”
This is why I believe Christianity is much less about a religion, and is more about relationships. Religion, in a sense, died with Jesus. He came to free us from all the dos and don’ts, legalism, and laws that I felt ensnared by in the Catholic Church. This is why the tearing of the temple veil from top to bottom was so significant: because now WE can speak to Jesus and communicate freely with Him through the Holy Spirit (Matthew 27:51). We have free access to a personal relationship with Him, because He paid our sin debt… we are able to be raw, vulnerable, and personal.
The creator of the universe is desperately craving an intimate conversation with YOU. How cool is that??
There is no doubt in my mind that God uses the connections we form with others to do His work. When we have an intimate relationship with Christ and are able to reflect that in our relationships with others, incredible things happen. We can make disciples out of those who don’t believe, form meaningful, fulfilling friendships, and breathe life into the discouraged and lonely. We can confidently smile at strangers, freely give undeserved mercy, and love without limits.
Our capability to love others is a direct reflection of our understanding of the extent to which Christ loves us. We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).
All it takes is drawing near to Jesus. James 4:8 says to “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”
Graduating high school allowed me to take a huge step back and look objectively at my life and reevaluate my faith. My first semester of college was a huge adjustment period, as it is for most, and my faith took the back burner. It wasn’t until my second semester that truth clicked, and I understood what I meant to love Jesus… to truly fall in love with Him, and to leave the rules behind.
After juggling rules for years- Catholicism, Christianity, different denominations, and expectations, it was absolutely freeing to finally understand to key to Christianity is simply loving Jesus, and as a result, loving others. When you love Jesus, everything else falls into place. There is nothing we have to do besides accept the free gift of grace He gives to each of us, and to respond to it. That’s all!
Although I used to fear talking about my Catholic background, it has given me so much clarity in understanding Jesus and who He is. I now understand this part of my story that can be shared with others as encouragement, or maybe even a call to freedom. So although the answer to the question: “Are you a Christian?” is definitely yes, I prefer to tell people I am in a relationship with Jesus… and I hope to encourage them to pursue their own unique, personal relationship with Him.
Jeremiah 29:13- “You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart”
Leave the rules behind, and passionately chase after Jesus!