Before coming to Georgetown, I was only religious on Sundays. My family went to church every week without fail. However, once my mind shifted from church to schoolwork, I turned my Catholic switch off, not thinking about God for the rest of the week. Looking back, I cannot help but see how this separation of my faith from my “normal” life caused me to question its significance, creating a distance between me and God. I could not put my hand on the missing piece of spirituality until I came to Georgetown University.
Growing up in Mexico, where about 85% of people identify as Catholic, I felt it was normal to confidently believe and identify with one’s faith. Moving from Mexicali to Watertown, Wisc., at 7 years old, I found it increasingly harder to express my Catholic faith. None of my close friends were religious, let alone Catholic, so I internalized the notion that religion was a private matter.
As I grew older, my closest friends began to convey anti-Catholic sentiments and subtly direct them toward me. Though I told myself these comments were founded on misconceptions about Catholicism and were not truly aimed at me, I subconsciously distanced myself more and more from God and my faith because the relationships I had built were not supportive of it. Even my Catholic friends did not seem to take their faith seriously. The academic challenges of high school also did not help in keeping my faith in God strong. I couldn’t see how being Catholic would improve my friendships or help me succeed in school. Already doubting the importance of my faith, I thought I could take a break from it in college. I figured that it was natural for people to stray from their faith and rediscover it later in life, so I told myself that this break would help me get my life in order.
But after spending a week talking about identities in my pre-orientation program, Young Leaders in Education About Diversity, I realized how important my Catholic identity and faith were to me. From the start of my freshman year, I became involved with the Catholic community on campus, through Catholic Faith Communities and Catholic Women. At Georgetown, which introduced me to Catholics my age who were just as devout in our shared faith, if not more.
It was so reaffirming to finally engage with peers who take their faith seriously, as I didn’t have that during my 12 years in Wisconsin. Finding this community encouraged me to go on Loyola, the Catholic freshman retreat. This weekend getaway changed my life. Experiencing Ignatian contemplation, the Jesuit method of prayer, for the first time at the Calcagnini Contemplative Center, I felt closer to Jesus than ever. After feeling detached, confused and lonely in my faith life throughout high school, I had finally discovered the missing aspect of my faith: a relationship with God. I realized that there was more to my faith than simply being religious; I also needed spirituality. It was one thing to attend Mass and pray out of obligation; it was another thing altogether to make an effort to talk to God about anything and everything.
I started going to Mass and other Catholic events not out of obligation, but out of joy and a real sense of seeking God. I finally realized that I had been missing out on chances to become closer to God in my home life I had been going through the religious motions mindlessly, thinking that attending church was all I needed to feel God in my life. Loyola helped me realize that I truly need both spirituality and religious practices like Mass to help me get closer to God. Not one over the other, but the two hand in hand.
I am not claiming that since Loyola all of my problems have been magically fixed. I am still working on implementing a daily discipline of prayer; I am still struggling with connecting my school work with my relationship to Jesus, and I still doubt if God even listens to me. But over this year, I learned that building a relationship with him takes a lifetime. I let my faith inspire my daily actions and thoughts, and I am slowly trying to be more confident in my Catholic identity. I am working on keeping my spiritual and religious aspects of my faith together through prayer and religious practice because I now know I need both to help me strengthen my relationship with God.
Ana Ruiz is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service. Into the Feminine Genius appears online every other Monday.