McLaughlin: Finding faith in college

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Will McLaughlin, Columnist

I stopped attending Mass regularly during high school. My father had taken my brothers and me to our local parish from the age we could sit still for an hour. But I increasingly became at odds with my church and religion in general. The reasons were not unique but they seemed rebellious — the time lost during a lazy weekend, the stodginess of the service and the flagging suspicion that God was as contrived as Santa Claus.

After being confirmed, I decided to give up on Mass altogether unless it was Easter or Christmas. On those days, when the pull of Mass seemed greater, I would go to church and not mind because it was something new. Also there’s some overriding sense of guilt that comes from skipping the most important holidays. The abuse scandals in Catholic parishes and the overriding sense that science held all answers left me with little choice but to slowly disengage from my faith.

In some ways, I did not feel as if I left the Church, but rather that the Church left me. I did not know any young practicing Catholics. Once Pope John Paul II died in 2005, he was not replaced with another exemplary Catholic but instead a man loosely connected to a youth fascist group in Germany. With Intelligent Design followers increasingly waging a battle of objectivity versus balance, I found myself unable to connect with or relate to much at all in Rome.

I read about atheism, agnosticism, even deism. Each seemed to make more sense than the previous model. I was convinced that the implausibility of our existence was an aberration rather than a miracle. I decided the idea of a god with ultimate powers flew in the face of reason. Add in a healthy bit of adolescent skepticism, and I was fairly convinced not only of my beliefs, but also of my certitude.

At some point, though, I realized that intelligent people have reasonably disagreed over this same question for millennia. I kept a copy of “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis on my nightstand and would skim it when I had a moment. I decided to give myself time to grow up and revisit this question when I had the time to think through it. It is an important question, one that I decided would be unwise to answer when I found myself changing my mind on smaller matters and adopting new habits.

With that, I stopped attending Mass and stopped adamantly believing its wrongness. I gave myself space to grow and explore more of the world. I would have some time to take in new ideas before I returned to the question of faith in my own life.

A friend first brought me to Mass last spring. This reintroduction to faith was far earlier than I had expected. But he had asked me several times to go, knowing that my spiritual journey was anything but straightforward. I agreed, and one Sunday we drove down to the Evanston Vineyard, a Christian Church in south Evanston. The structure and content of the Mass — with a rock band and free bagels and coffee during the service — was a world apart from the traditional, rigid Catholic Mass.

That Sunday, I found not only a younger community in the pews, but also a group of friends who worshipped with me. Vineyard sermons do not seem like medieval theological treatises but instead practical messages of kindness and decency. I saw that Mass was not a weekly obligation but instead a humble and joyful thanksgiving. I found myself not only more open to the Word, but also began to see examples of it revealed in my own life. Over the past year, I have made time for Mass instead of excuses for missing it.

College is a strange place and time in life to find religion. But at the same time, it’s the best time to find one’s beliefs by osmosis. We learn how to deconstruct theories at school. But this pursuit, if unchecked, leads to a cynical existence. It also drives young people from religion. This skeptical reflex will serve us well in our worldly pursuits, but it leaves a large hole we cannot otherwise fill.

William McLaughlin is a Weinberg senior. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you want to respond publicly to this column, leave a comment or send a letter to the editor to [email protected].