I am a cradle Catholic (which I suppose you surmised from the title of this post). I see people on twitter and other social media outlets that joke about the cradle Catholic experience being generic. I have a problem with that. Are most cradle Catholic stories similar at one point or another? Yes. Does that mean that God put less thought or care into those stories? Or that they are not worth sharing? Absolutely not. So to help you all get to know me –my experiences, my soul, etc. – my vulnerability starts with the story that is uniquely mine from my Father.
From Kindergarten through eighth grade I attended a small private school. Growing up, Mass was a regular part of the routine for my family – me, my little brother Nolan, my Dad, and even my Mom, who is not Catholic. Since we went to the private school at our parish, Nolan and I never had to go to CCD. We took a Religion class during the day and hung out with the Brothers (I don’t remember which order) and the LIHM Sisters every once in a while. Our education was a foundation but it was not a shelter.
By the time I got confirmed in eighth grade, at the age of fourteen, I thought that I knew everything. Which is strange since it’s soooo unlike middle schoolers to be so cocky, right? Any who, I transferred to public for high school. I went from a class of 15 Catholics I had known basically my whole life to a class of 300+, almost all of whom were complete strangers and very few of whom were Catholic. In two words: culture shock.
Freshman year is a giant blur faith wise. I still went to Mass but I don’t remember doing much else. Fall of my sophomore year, however, is very clear. I had several friends from middle school who had been home schooled for multiple years but we kept in touch. That fall, they started inviting me to the youth group that they attended in Sioux City at the Cathedral of the Epiphany. After a lot of saying “no,” I got really annoyed; they just wouldn’t stop asking! Eventually I had a thought that was almost exactly as follows: “if I say yes, go once, and say I didn’t like it then maybe . . . maybe they’ll leave me alone.” *Cue sneaky smile* because fifteen-year-old Michelle thinks she’s getting away with something. (Hint: she was wrong.) So I feigned excitement and went to my first youth group in October of 2011.
That first night, I actually didn’t have fun. Looking back, I would say it’s a safe bet that my heart was just too closed off to what was going on. But as we waited for our parents to pick us up, we talked about the night. . . Well, they talked about it; I was afraid to tell them I didn’t like it. They wouldn’t stop telling me how excited they were that I had come. To make matters worse, I could see the excitement in their eyes – I knew their happiness was the real deal. Then they asked the million-dollar question: “will you come again next week?” And somehow I found myself saying yes. I continued the “one more week” mentality for about a month before I admitted to myself that I actually wanted to be there, that I was actually becoming part of that community.
In February of 2012 I attended my first retreat. Before we went home at the end, my friend invited me to join the Teen Leaders. She grabbed my arm and we ran over to the youth group leader, who enthusiastically reiterated my friend’s invitation and told me the meeting information.
The people that I met in youth group became my second family and got me through high school. I do not talk to most of them anymore, but I love each of them and cherish them in my heart and prayers. They taught me what it means to have a relationship with Christ. They taught me how to find deeper friendships with other Catholics – a lesson that was critical for my college experience, but that’s a whole other story. They showed me that the Church is young and full of life. I credit every person that I encountered at the Cathedral youth group with helping me not only stay Catholic, but to grow in my relationship with Christ and in my faith.