A Young Person's Experience of Practising The Faith
Ciaran Corrigan FAITH Magazine November-December 2009
Ciaran Corrigan, a recent Business Studies graduate of Glasgow Caledonian University describes some of the influences that helped him to stay a practising Catholic. This piece was initially given as a witness at the 2009 Faith Summer Session at Woldingham School.
I didn't exactly jump with excitement at the opportunity to produce this piece. As soon as the organiser of the Faith Summer Session said my name I thought "What does he want?" and following that phone call I thought long and hard about what I would say. Would this be OK? I'm not sure I like what I have to offer. Still, it has given me the opportunity to reflect on my faith and the importance and meaning of God in my life.
A few weeks after I was born my parents got me baptised, entering me into the family of God. I am fortunate in that my parents are still together and have encouraged me in every part of my life, teaching me right from wrong and passing on to me Christian morals and values. My parents introduced me to God from an early age and have always highlighted the importance of attending Mass every Sunday and even daily when possible, regardless of where we are, in the country or not. My faith was also influenced by my Grandparents, who I was very close to, and it was from them more than anyone else that I learnt how to pray. My Grandparents attended daily Mass and also said the rosary together every evening. We used to joke as children that their dog at the time was definitely not a Catholic as sheran to her bed as soon as she heard their rosary beads. I learned to admire the devotion my Grandad had to the Sacred Heart and respected the fact that he was a pioneer throughout his life, a devotion which my Mum also took when she was 18. When my Grandad died three years ago it was a really difficult time for me and my family, but even though I was devastated by his death I drew great strength from my faith and realised he was at peace with Christ.
The example of faith that my grandparents and parents gave me throughout my early life was really important to me. It was they who taught me to try and make God the centre of my life, rather than fit God around my life. However, as you know, there comes a point for all of us as we grow up when it is no longer acceptable to take our cars and Lego to Mass and when we have to make up our own minds about faith. For many of us, our faith is given to us through our parents and we should be thankful for this and not take it for granted. But, as we get older it becomes our responsibility to strengthen, grow and develop our faith realising that it is an essential part of our lives, and gives us real meaning.
As young Catholics today the decisions we make become harder as the temptations surrounding us become more seductive, making it easy to succumb to sin and turn our back on God. The pressure of living in a society full of distractions makes it harder for us to work out what is right and wrong, to say no to certain things and saying yes to God. We are fully aware of the different pressures and temptations surrounding us and we can all stand up and say 'I am a sinner'. The beauty and benefit for us Catholics is that we have the opportunity to confess our sins so that when we fall along the way, we have the chance to repent and get back up. I really do believe that going to confession regularly, even if it is difficult and at times embarrassing, is extremely important. I feel relieved anduplifted following my confession knowing that I have been forgiven, ready to start afresh. This does not mean it is OK to become complacent about confession and think it doesn't matter if I do this, because I can always go to confession and I will be forgiven. That's not how it works! It's important to be aware of our sins, confess them and be as sincere and honest as possible. We all know it is not easy to go to confession, I find going to confession very daunting and sometimes think 'Oh no, what will the priest think or what if he knows who I am?' But then I remember the feeling following confession and think how many confessions has a priest heard and the chances of him being shocked by my confession is not exactly high. This is why we should encourage each other and realise thatconfession is an important part of our faith.
Living as young Catholics today is difficult and this is especially true during secondary school and after, when everyone becomes subject to peer pressure. I found secondary school the worst as I was and altar server from when I was 9 up until I was 18.1 really enjoyed my time as an altar server but during those 9 years I took some amount of criticism especially from friends who no longer went to Mass. This wasn't seen as a cool thing to do and it bothered me for a while, but then I realised I enjoyed it and felt as if I was becoming closer to our Lord rather than further away like my friends. I think, that the fact that I was an altar server for so long actually helped strengthen my faith as I was more involved in the Mass and it was a great privilege to serve God in this way. I alsoremember being slagged off when I started working a part time weekend job as I told them I couldn't work on a Sunday morning due to my commitment as an altar server. I still remember their reaction as they laughed and joked at me. I'm sure we have all heard the names before such as bead rattler, bible basher or Jesus lover but these names didn't really mean anything to me and slowly even the ones who had ridiculed me began to respect me and my relationship with God. In fact throughout my five years with them I have only worked three Sunday mornings and they have always managed to let me go to Mass if need be.
When I went to university I found that my religion was never really an issue. As I stayed at home in first and fourth year attending Mass was easy, especially with the human alarm clock that is my parents. The only challenge was holy days of obligation but I always ensured I was either back home in time to go in the evening or went at university or a parish in Glasgow. It became slightly more challenging when I stayed away from home in second year and the temptations and bad habits became so much more attractive. It then became my responsibility to make my own arrangements for Mass but as there were several churches near my flat there was no excuse. It became an even bigger challenge in third year when I spent 6 months in Slovenia as I shared a flat with four friends and I was the onlyCatholic. We arrived on a Friday and as is the Catholic fashion one of the first things you do is find out where the nearest Church is and its Mass times. Being away from home in another country with people who had no interest in God was very testing. I also found it difficult going to Mass every Sunday and concentrating on the Mass as I was completely out of my usual environment. One Sunday, after a 35-minute sermon in Slovenian, I remember thinking "What am I doing here?" And what made it worse was that confession was impossible as the Priest did not speak English and I was not fluent in Slovenian. However, I did keep going to Mass, even though it was difficult, and boring, and I think I grew in my faith because of being faithful. Personally, I think it is real challenges like thesethat we face as Catholics that help us to build and work on our relationship with God. I am not standing here claiming to be perfect or sin free because I am not but it is through resisting temptation and standing firm that we grow and deepen in our faith.
Following my time as an altar server I was asked by my parish priest to become an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion and felt honoured to be asked as I did not feel myself worthy of distributing the body and blood of our Lord at such a young age. By doing this I have continued to feel closer to God and I am happy and privileged to have an active role in the parish. I must admit though that one of the biggest influences in the development of my faith was during the reign of a certain priest involved with Faith movement in Bannockburn. Attending the youth group weekly allowed me and numerous other friends to develop our faith. Because we had talks on the faith, we learnt more about the Church and what she teaches and, most importantly, we had the opportunity to ask questionsand to discuss about things we didn't understand.
It was through the Youth Group in the parish that I first started coming to Faith Sessions and these have been really important for me. Getting to know many other young normal (well almost normal....) Catholics was really important and encouraged me to keep practising the faith even when it was hard, and what I have learned through the talks (even though I slept through many...) and the discussions has helped me to grow in my faith. As for the friends I have met here, I am lucky as we are all a very close group and go on random nights out, trips and holidays. Coming to Faith has always been a good laugh and really enjoyable, but the real reason we come is the same reason we are all here today: to grow closer to Christ our Lord and help one another to do the same. Inother words, "to seek above all the Kingdom of God."