I was raised Catholic and still consider myself to be Catholic, but prior to this year, I’d never really done Lent. As a child and teenager, I’d think of superficial (and often unimportant) things to give up, but the Lenten promises rarely lasted the entire forty days. Abstaining from meat on Fridays was usually the only practice I kept through the entire season.
Even though Catholic faith was always an important part of my life and my identity, Lent never felt particularly significant until recently.
As someone who struggled a lot with religion over the past few years, I wanted to reconnect with the Church and embrace the beliefs and practices that had been such constants in my youth. I really missed it, but was waiting for the right moment to jump back in. That moment came on Ash Wednesday.
It had been almost a year since I’d stepped foot in a church, but I felt excited about attending the afternoon mass and receiving ashes. Even though I’d only been to mass at St. Mary’s in Oxford one other time, the structure of the Catholic mass and the familiarity of the songs and prayers made me feel as though I’d just come home after a long time away.
I decided that instead of choosing to give up something for Lent, I would do something extra: I’d work to reunite with the faith I’d become so separate from. This promise included attending church weekly, praying often, and generally being intentional about practicing Catholicism and integrating it into my life.
I attended church every week, except for one during which I was very sick. I began wearing a cross necklace, which I hadn’t done in years. I paid attention to the readings and searched in the Bible for the ones I really liked so I could underline them and return to them in the future. I also worked to put more trust in God, be merciful, and understand how my queerness and Catholicism intertwined.
There’s still quite a bit of work to be done: I’m certainly not perfect at any of it and don’t expect that I ever will be. But I learned a lot about the Church, my faith, and myself in the process and realized that being Catholic is just as essential to my identity as any other facet of who I am.
In a lot of ways, coming back to the Church as an adult allowed me to develop a deeper appreciation for it and a new understanding of the traditions I took for granted as a kid. This year, the Lent, Holy Week, and Good Friday actually meant something to me. At mass on Sunday, chills crept down my back when we sung “Were You There” and I felt the significance of Christ’s death.
Sometimes, the thought of the past several weeks – and of the learning, richness, and discovery that lie ahead – causes me to tremble.