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An Ex-Super Catholic’s Confession

Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice Spirituality and Religion in Higher Education
September 10, 2015 Dr. Cecilia E. Suarez

An Ex-Super Catholic’s Confession

My family knew what religion I would be even before I was born. In fact, they didn’t know my sex until I was born and did not have a name picked out for me until hours after I arrived, BUT they knew my religion. My grandmother and mother boasted about how I was baptized into the Catholic Church 22 days after my birth. I guess that made me some sort of “super Catholic” because I ended up attending Catholic school from K-12, was the first girl alter server in my neighborhood church, won 1st place in a city-wide religion scholar bowl, sung in the choir, was a Eucharistic minister, attended church on Fridays, Saturdays, AND Sundays, and if that wasn’t enough, I also shared the name of the saint my neighborhood church was named after, Cecilia.

So admitting to myself that Catholicism was no longer the right fit was challenging, but telling my mom that I no longer wanted to be catholic was petrifying. Before I told my mom of my doubts about Catholicism as it related to my life, I researched a few other religions. Mainly, I attended services with friends of other faiths and while I enjoyed the fellowship and experience, nothing seemed perfect. Before I told anyone that I wanted to no longer practice Catholicism, I had to first convince myself that I could actually still be a good person without a religion. After all, I didn’t even know how to go about switching religions. Was there some sort of paperwork I needed to fill out? Did I have to take my name off some secret Catholic registry? If I wasn’t attached to a religion, would dark angels ascend upon me and swoop me off to some dark place?! I wasn’t sure about anything other than the feeling of emptiness when I sat in church. The place that was my home for over 20 years now felt hollow to me. My entire life was connected to Catholicism and it wasn’t just faith, it was family. So leaving Catholicism also felt like I no longer wanted to be part of the family.

Upon graduation from undergrad, I moved back home to Texas to wait until graduate school started in the Fall. My mom’s best friend invited me to attend church with her, and even though I was not Baptist, I was excited to find a sense of belonging again. After attending a few Sundays, church members from the Baptist Church remembered my name, invited me to sit with them, and even fed me. I felt a connection and I didn’t know why. I would listen to the sermons and songs sung by the choir and searched to find the message that would help me throughout my week. Throughout that summer, I grew closer and closer to the people in the church and decided to become a member. After all, the community I felt was like what I remembered in the Catholic Church as a child. I hadn’t really told my mom I wanted to leave the Catholic faith but she knew that I enjoyed going to the other church. So when I told her I was going to join the Baptist Church, she demanded, “You’ll always be Catholic…you were baptized Catholic!” The day of my baptism was bittersweet. I gained a new church family, but my mother didn’t show for the ceremony. I didn’t understand why she was upset with me. I was a first generation college graduate who had just received a full ride to graduate school, had never been arrested, was decorated with awards throughout school, and had never gotten pregnant, which was of utmost importance to my mother. In all aspects of my understanding, I was a good kid. If something like religion could cause a rift between a mother and daughter, I was reevaluating its purpose in my life.

Moving away from Texas for the second time in my life, I felt lost spiritually, emotionally, and literally. The move to graduate school would allow me to see snow for the first time, earn a Master’s degree, and realize that I was still feeling a disconnect with my newly joined Baptist faith due to messages that I did not fully believe. I once again pulled away from religion and felt lost spiritually. I again researched various faiths and even read up on Agnostic practice because I just had to find a group to connect with. I didn’t want to be alone.

Years past and I resented any sort of organized religion. Feeling like a fool for believing in anything that tore countries and families apart, I pushed hard against attending church services, praying, and doing anything that resembled a religious practice…or so I thought. When I look back at those few years of being “lost”, I realize that I actually always practiced and leaned on my spirituality. In the Mexican culture, there are some beliefs and cultural practices that are interwoven with Catholicism. While I didn’t practice Catholicism, I still engaged with Mexican cultural practices when I visited home. For a moment, I felt like a traitor, a “wishy-washy” person who was simply sampling the religious buffet. However, after I broke through the internalized socialization and let go of the pressure I was putting on myself to find a religion, I began to see that through this journey, I had formed a strong spirituality. There were just some things I practiced and ritualized that made me feel safe, connected, centered, and at home. Some of these practices happened to be “Catholic” but were more so connected to my Mexican culture, and therefore, to denounce one part simply because it was attached to a specific organized religion meant I would have to cut out part of my heart. I came to realize there are no rules to spirituality (for me). I do what makes me feel connected to the community, to the earth, to my emotions, and to my center. I do that which helps me appreciate the here and now, reminds me to embrace the memories of family members past, that which helps me call on my ancestors for strength, and reminds me that at the end of the day, “I am because we are” (Ubuntu).

When I wake up, I say “Thank you” aloud while standing up from the bed, light incense to clear my space, light sage when I feel off balance or uncertain, have candles of St. Jude and La Virgen de Guadalupe, holy water, elephants and Buddha affixed on a mini altar in my house, have an ojo de venado (wooden ball that resembles a deer eye) close by at all times, attend Catholic mass with my mom whenever I’m visiting home, make an altar for Dia de Los Muertos, and cannot help but cry and be filled with emotion when someone is testifying through a liturgical dance or when I hear Marvin Sapp’s song The Best in Me. This is my spiritual practice. My spirituality has always been filled with family, love, fighting for what is just in the world, and being thankful for my time here on this earth. Looking back, I was always drawn to religion that felt like family, felt like my truth, felt like love, and felt like me. As I grew into my own and began to write my own melody of life, I began to embrace that which felt right instead of just what I was told was right.

Oh…and my mom…well I didn’t understand the situation back then, but it wasn’t that she didn’t support me. She too was transitioning and coming to learn something new. Mom had never seen me be unsure of something so she was concerned that I too was becoming lost. However, we both learned that the saying, “All who wander are not lost” holds true and that I was never really lost. I was creating a new path that was unbridled with expectations of others, but full of practices that grounded me and ultimately always had family at the center. My spirituality is mine…and while it is mine, it is centered on strengthening the self to support something much greater than me.  I can’t tell you what it’s called or how to practice it, but I can tell you that doing what your heart and gut tell you will always keep you grounded. It may not always be the easiest journey, because often hearts are braver than we know ourselves to be, but just remember, mind over matter, but HEART overall. This is my blessing for you.

Website @ http://www.drceciliasuarez.com/

Twitter @ DetermindedDrcc

Instagram @ PhDivaCC

Dr. Cecilia E. Suarez, better known as "CC", was born in San Antonio,Texas and raised by two strong women, her mother and grandmother.  She earned a Bachelors of Science degree from the University of Miami and majored in biology and elementary education.  Upon completing her Bachelors degree, Cecilia enrolled at Miami University of Ohio where she graduated with a Masters of Science in Education in 2008. After graduation, CC accepted a job at New York University, where she served as the Diversity Educator for the Department of Residential Life and Housing Services for 3 years.  In 2014, Cecilia officially became Dr. Suarez and graduated with her PhD from The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in Education Policy Studies. Her research focuses on access and equity for students of color in higher education, particularly first generation women of color. Dr. Suarez currently serves as a faculty member at the University of Illinois in the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences and teaches for the Leadership Studies Program and focuses her courses on identity development, ethics, access and equity, as it relates to leadership. Other research includes first generation college student of color experiences in higher education, perceptions and opportunities of leadership among Latina/o college students, and intersectionalities of identities among women of color in academia. Dr. Suarez also takes learning outside of the classroom by offering engaging workshops and lectures to on and off campus communities across the country focused on various topics such as identity and strength within communities of color. Committed to this labor of love, Cecilia continues to dedicate her life to educating and creating equal access to equitable education for all.