Monday, 25 September 2017

Living in the World, not of the World : How to live outside of the Catholic Bubble

This time last year, I decided to pack up ship in London to head up North for good; to Edinburgh. The past four years had been the best of my life and now I was headed away and into the cold. Not for the first time, I was scared and worried that I wouldn’t fit in; wouldn’t make friends; wouldn’t find a faith community where I felt at home like at my previous one. But the decision had been made.

A few days after my graduation in September, I moved to Edinburgh with induction week and university starting pretty much immediately. I tried to go to a lot of welcome week events so that I could meet people.  I arrived with great expectations to the catholic chaplaincy, having my old chaplaincy in the back of my mind – which helped me convert to Catholicism. From the beginning, I felt awkward in the chaplaincy and I tried to fit in, going to events that were both social and religious but I just didn’t feel comfortable. I thought that maybe now that I was a postgrad, I just needed to try different communities and find one where I felt at home. To try and help myself with the faith struggles, I went to the first regional Youth 2000 retreat in Rotherham in October. While it helped me briefly and it was another amazing experience as so many Youth 2000 retreats have been, it also made me realise that I was kind of trying to cling onto my ‘previous’ life and that that wasn’t going to work or end well in the long term.

I soon fell back into old, bad habits and didn’t try and do much about them because I had felt that I had lost my connection to the Lord. Sunday Mass was a routine more than anything else and the odd adoration I went to was so boring to me I soon stopped going, not even to mention intentional prayer or confession.

Now, the big thing for me when I moved (and possibly because I wanted to ignore all the other problems I was facing) was trying a new sport: rowing. While I have always been active, I thought that after 15 years of competitive swimming, it was time to try something else and rowing was a sport friends have urged me to try for a long time. The great thing was that the novice programme at Edinburgh is amazing, so even as someone who has never rowed before, we had a chance to do well and race. I saw this as an opportunity for more friendships and bonds to form. While it meant that I didn’t have much time for anything or anyone else but that and work, I still enjoyed it. In my mind, being very busy stops me from procrastinating as much and I always feel like I am productive but unfortunately that’s not exactly how it works. As I’m only human too, I ended up napping at the most random times of the day and not being able to concentrate at work. So, to still try and feel productive, I just rowed even more.

Of course, the actual exercise was fun, it had been a while since I had enjoyed training so much. Then there was also a social side, or at least so I was told. I’m not a big party-goer but I thought a night out every now and then could be quite fun. The next event coming up was ‘Family Night’ – where some of the senior rowers acted as ‘mum’ and ‘dad’ and ‘aunt’ and ‘uncle’ and all the new rowers were the ‘children’. I got excited because I figured it was an amazing way to get to know people within the club but in a different squad which until then had been difficult with everyone’s different training times etc. Then I realised it was going to be on the weekend as a student retreat in Birmingham (CaSSU) that I wanted to go to. So, I fought with myself and eventually decided to have both, somehow. Go to the retreat, leave a bit earlier on the Sunday and get back to Edinburgh in time for the social. I was extremely excited, actually.

Each ‘family’ had a theme according to which they were meant to dress up on the night of the social. There were cool things like Vintage Olympics and then I found out mine: “Tarts and Vicars, Sluts and Nuns, Priests and Prostitutes” and the event page photo was taken straight out of some porn video. I actually lay on my bed and cried for 20 minutes.

Once I had kind of recovered I was actually shocked at my own reaction but it showed me what was more important to me – my faith and my beliefs, even if I was barely following them at the time. There was no need for me to think, I was definitely changing my train to stay at until the end of the retreat and only went home the next morning. 

This social which I didn’t go to ruined rowing for me partially. While I still enjoyed the exercise, I realised that if I didn’t turn up to socials, I probably wouldn’t be as much part of the squad as everyone else would be, but I accepted it. It made me realise just how important my faith is. And how much I really need it, even when I feel like I am losing the connection to our Lord. I learnt that what we need to do is 'Simply proclaim the Lord Christ holy in your hearts, and always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you have.' (1 Peter 3:15) And to tell those who don’t ask directly.

Having just returned from another amazing Walsingham, I have come to terms that rowing was fun but is also done for me. After I got injured earlier this year, I couldn’t wait to come back but actually, Inheritance especially, showed me that I really want to spend more time with Jesus and my friends who love Jesus and less time at the gym.


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