I was raised Catholic, and I was never taught any different. Not only that, but I never knew any different.
I always just assumed the Catholic faith was what everyone believed and that is was the way it had to be. But, as we all know, this is definitely not the case.
As I grew older, I naturally began to question everything. I questioned who "God" was and why he was doing bad things to bad people. I questioned why he would do bad things to my family, friends and even me.
This turned me away from the Catholic religion. This turned me away from any religion, actually.
I didn't know where I belonged. I also didn't know why I needed to feel like I belonged somewhere.
"Why is there religion at all?" I would often ask myself.
For a while, being a Catholic almost felt as if I was part of a cult. I felt like I had to go to mass and say the same thing repeatedly. It felt fake and unrealistic to me. I truly felt like I was getting nothing out of religion.
Seeing people who I knew do ungodly things the night before sitting in the pew in front of me at church put me at unease. I began to distance myself from religion as a whole, and I tried looking at the big picture.
Who is God? Whether you are Catholic, Christian, Jewish, Atheist, Muslim, Buddhist — you name it — we all, in one way or another, want to have something or someone to believe in. Some of you may not mind calling it God.
As I stepped back from religion altogether, I began experimenting just to see what I was interested in. I went to several different churches of all types of denominations. It's amazing how different people practice their faith.
But after going to numerous churches, I still felt unfulfilled. I felt more lost than ever.
I was just a boy, going through life and believing everything everyone told me. Now, I was suddenly questioning it all.
So, that brings me to this question: What is religion? I feel as if maybe we all have our own definition of who God is and what religion is.
Religion, in my opinion and what I was raised to believe, is a group of people all coming together for a common belief they share. I'd often ask myself, "Why is it that religion is supposed to be about togetherness, yet it seems like a boldfaced lie?"
People kill each other and die over their beliefs. Is this what God wanted? I didn't know.
As a Catholic, I once asked a priest in confession in all sincerity, "How can you sit here and tell me that being gay, committing suicide, getting an abortion, having sex before marriage, getting drunk, etc. is all going to send me automatically to hell?"
I think this God of ours loves us unconditionally. I think this God knows we all struggle and understands we're going to mess up.
We don't always know other people's situations. We don't know what everyone is thinking.
When religion tell us, "Only God can judge," but all you do is sit here and judge, I am appalled. Just because someone committed one of these sins does not make him or her a bad person.
The priest looked at me and said simply,
When Jesus was here on this Earth, he didn't walk around and tell others to not do this or not do that. He was good to people. He said, 'Feed the hungry, clothe the naked and give drink to the thirsty. So, go forth and be good to others. I truly believe that if you are a good person at the end of the day, the God you believe in will shine through you and onto others.
This was the moment I knew. I then learned that religion itself might not be for me.
I learned that religion is structured. It's something that isn't for everyone. We should all explore our beliefs regarding faith.
It doesn't make me a bad person because I choose not to be religious, just like it doesn't make others good people because they believe in a specific religion.
I discovered what spirituality means. I created my own definition of this God figure. And in all honesty, I haven't felt more at peace in my entire life since I've realized this.
My definition of spirituality goes much deeper than religion. When people ask you if you're a spiritual person, you may instantly assume they're referring to your religious practices, but this isn't necessarily the case.
My definition of God is love. This God people speak of is everywhere and in everyone I may see, including the trees, the ocean breeze, a moment of pure bliss and simple clarity.
Oprah Winfrey once said,
I believe I don't know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future. I know who and what holds the future. I trust that beyond this space and time, all is well, and all will be well.
Some may consider this naïve. Some may completely disagree. And that's OK.
If you're struggling religiously, spiritually or just in general, I encourage you to not be afraid to explore what's inside of yourself and your outside surroundings. I've never felt more faithful or spiritually awakened than I have in this very moment, and that's what it's truly all about.
We don't all know what the future holds. But, one thing that is certain is the present moment.
So, whatever your God or higher power may be, or if you don't believe in anything at all, believe in yourself and all that you are. Have faith in the goodness of humanity when all of the world is telling you not to. Be the good in the world and spread it like wildfire.
There is so much more to life than the surface of a story. Look deeper, and you'll understand the love of life for what it really is.