by Megan Kelleher
My first memory of my Catholic faith was not an out-of-body experience, an ethereal dream of God, or a sacred conversation with the Lord. My first memory of faith was Easter Sunday 2006 and involved big hats and ugly dresses.
I was four, clad in a white puffy dress with yellow sunflowers and a big green ribbon tied around my waist. My little sister was wearing a matching outfit, and we both had peculiar British-wedding style hats atop our heads. The hats fell below our eyes, making it hard to see as we crossed the street and entered the church. I was tightly holding my mother’s hand and my sister was tugging at the back of the dress, creating a train-like situation. Ahead of us, my two older sisters gracefully glided in the massive doors, dipping their fingers in the holy water, making the sign of the cross, and bowing their heads. Watching them under the brim of my floppy hat, I stumbled in tripping over my hand-me-down white flats, dunked my entire hand in the holy water, and splashed myself in the face like I was the star of a Neutrogena commercial.
I had been to mass before. I had seen my sisters do this same motion thousands of times, but I had never done it myself… until that Sunday in April. My parents said to go ahead because it was a “special day to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection,” whatever that meant, so I went for it. I never remembered seeing my sisters as wet as I got, but I still flashed a proud smile at family as my parents laughed, my older sisters pretended we weren’t related, and my younger sister frowned because she couldn’t even reach the bowl of water. There I stood, dripping wet on Easter Sunday, grinning from ear to ear because I finally felt like I was part of the family. I was no longer one of “The Babies,” a nickname my older sisters gave my little sister and me seeing as we were the younger pair of siblings.
I usually dreaded going to church because the masses felt like they lasted for eight hours (they were two), I was always hungry (I had to wait until the end for my donut), and I could never keep track of all the characters in the priest’s stories (there was the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, Jesus, God and sometimes Luke and Matthew?). But, on big holidays like Easter Sunday, my church divided the morning masses so that the young children could go into another room, talk about Jesus, draw pictures, and play while the big kids and parents sat in the main hall. Spending time in the “kids’ room” was my favorite part of church because I didn’t have to be quiet, I could ask as many questions as I wanted, and I did not have to listen to the long, confusing stories. In this room, while I was drawing flowers on the backs of parish newsletters, I got to hear stories about heroes like Noah who saved a whole zoo of animals and Jonah who got swallowed by a whale. I laughed and I played, but I also learned that I should love everyone in the same way that I loved my favorite neighbor Gloria. I learned that forgiving your friends is very important, honesty is the best policy, and never take what does not belong to you.
Looking back on this Easter experience and the other various kids’ room experiences from my childhood, I found so much joy in being part of my religious community. I loved learning about biblical stories and hearing about Jesus, whom I was confident was actually a superhero, walking on water, and giving blind men sight. I loved coloring pictures of Mr. David and the monster he defeated. I loved laughing with my peers about a silly snake in a beautiful garden and teaching my little sister how to stand on her tiptoes to reach the holy water.
While I certainly enjoyed the donuts, the drawing, and the fun stories, I am thankful for the quality family time that church provided me. I am thankful for the laughs and memories and the embarrassing childhood stories that I have because I went to church. Religion, as a belief system, has inevitably taught me to find fun in the small moments and be creative with my interpretations of texts, but the experience of being religious has been much more formative in my life than the specific psalms and prayers. I have learned to value the people of both my local community and global community regardless of their various beliefs or ways of life. I have learned that love is so much stronger than hate, and no different way of life, religion, gender, sexuality, or race deserves to be treated as less than another.
My church’s motto is “All Are Welcome.” I used to think this meant “all Catholics are welcome;” however, I discovered that my church is a sanctuary for so many different communities. By opening my heart and making the church’s motto my life motto, I could contribute and enjoy small parts, small moments of so many different communities.
Megan Kelleher is currently a senior at Polytechnic School in Pasadena, California. Megan's hobbies include playing water polo, thrift-shopping, collecting postcards, and baking. She has a strong passion for writing and hopes to become an international journalist one day.