I was baptised a Catholic. The first time I noticed a difference was getting called out of class in my final year of primary school and being asked which secondary school I wanted to go to. I remember thinking “what a stupid question” and replied that I would go to the school just up the road, that I assumed everyone would go to, just as my older brother had done before me.
It was only when we moved house at sixteen, near to “the other” secondary school that I put two and two together. I went to a Further Education College for my A-levels and amongst my new friends were some that had been to St Peter’s, somehow it came up in conversation and I retold my weird experience in primary school. “So you’re Catholic!”, came the delighted response. “So that’s why I had the choice, still weird”, I thought.
It was after my time at Uni that I became a practising Catholic. My then girlfriend was a weekly church goer, and through her I discovered Christainity. To cut a long story short, I looked at various churches and ended up going to the Catholic one. It was when I started attending classes to “join the church” that I felt uneasy about the things one is supposed to believe to be a Catholic. I consoled myself by telling myself that faith was about trying to follow a certain path and the journey was the important thing. I met so many lovely people that were part of the church community that I joined the Catholic church because I had faith in their faith. I thought it was enough.
Shortly after I got married (in a Catholic Church) I got ill. I was so ill I ended up in hospital and unbeknown to me at the time, it was thought I would die. At least a Catholic priest thought I was going to die, because he gave me the “last rights” without asking if I wanted them. I think of him as a black vulture now: bald head, large beaked nose, black garments with a white collar. There is a part of me that feels violated and angry by his act, but it is a small part of me now. I never mentioned I was Catholic, when being admitted to a ward, after that.
Jump forward nearly ten years and I am in hospital recovering from my liver transplant, though to be honest I am not too sure of my status, it may have been during one of my longer stays in hospital pre-transplant. I have a different Catholic priest by my bedside (from the university chaplaincy I think) and it is a very different experience. It is the “sacrement of the sick” this time, it is a lovely tender moment shared between us, I feel bouyed up by the familiarity of the ritual and the thoughts of so many people thinking of me (I literally had whole covents praying for me, due to the now wife’s Catholic connections).
The transplant helped me face up to a number of things, but one was that I really didn’t have the direct faith to be a Christian. Second-hand faith was an excuse really that got me by.
I don’t go to church anymore, though my wife and one of the three kids do. I am still in touch with those wonderful people I met and none of them judge me for anything, as far as I know, let alone my lack of faith. I think I am lucky in that I am comfortable in the traditions and language of the Catholic faith, which continues to be a comfort and a barrier within the church; I just don’t believe.
There is one thing I do miss though. I miss singing in a group. I used to lead the singing, now I just belt it out at weddings and funerals I am invited to. Whether the words mean something or not, I find singing a wonderful emotion filled experience.