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Spirituality in the in-between

Bianca Almada | Wednesday, March 6, 2013

As most people involved with this Catholic university know, the Catholic Church is currently in the liturgical season of Lent. This fact is impossible to miss on this campus, as the combination of ashes displayed on student’s foreheads Feb. 13, the dining halls’ not serving meat on Fridays and the commonly-heard phrase, “I can’t eat that, I gave it up for Lent,” make it pretty obvious.
Like many Notre Dame students, I have been Catholic for my entire life. I was baptized at my local church as a baby, taken to Mass with my family every Sunday and enrolled in Catholic school since kindergarten. My parents taught me the Ten Commandments, read to me from a children’s Bible and made sure I went to catechism. Therefore, this season of fasting, almsgiving and repentance is nothing new or unfamiliar. Growing up, I never questioned any of it. For a very long time, I just assumed everyone was Catholic and it was the only logical lifestyle choice. Religion was just something I always did. I didn’t know of any other way.  
Of course, this little bubble of ignorance did not stay intact forever. I was exposed to reality in high school – a reality in which people practice many different religions and in which some people practice no religion at all. People asked me about my religion for the first time and I had to figure out how to answer them. After all, how meaningful can life be if you cannot even explain your own actions? You cannot go through life simply going through the motions because you become empty and purposeless.
I did not come out of this experience as a hard-core Bible-thumper. In fact, I discovered multiple Church positions with which I disagreed. Why are homosexuals denied marriage rights? Why are devoted, capable women prohibited from leadership roles as priests? Why are teachings regarding birth control so old-fashionably strict? However, I also discovered the things about the faith that I greatly appreciated. I came to truly value the existence of God, the importance of spirituality and the necessity of simple practices such as prayer and confession. I am still working to figure out the absolute best way to incorporate spirituality into my everyday life, and it is often difficult to do so.
Children often just accept at face value the beliefs of their parents and communities. College, however, is the time to look critically at those beliefs and then decide for oneself what one genuinely believes. It is the in-between time – a period of shifting from an outwardly structured lifestyle to an independently decided one. The beliefs and values of college students should still be growing and changing. They should keep in mind their upbringings and previous influences, drawing on them and identifying their truths. However, they should also be open to new opinions, ideas and points of view. This is the time to explore spirituality and to discover what works on the individual level. There is so much more to it than teaching from parents, individual experiences and strict dogma. There is much to learn from people of different backgrounds and from new life experiences.
I admit to being far from the perfect Catholic. I go to Mass when I am not bogged down with homework, I do not agree with every Church position and I accidently ate popcorn even though I gave it up for Lent. However, I also admit that this is my in-between time and that I am still trying to figure out what works for me.
The challenge for this Lent and for always is to keep an open mind when it comes to spirituality. It is realizing its importance in college life and remaining receptive to the many different ways it can find a place in our lives.   
Bianca Almada is a freshman residing in Cavanaugh Hall. She is studying English, Spanish and journalism. She can be contacted at balmada@nd.edu
    The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.