Julia M. is a new writer for YAC Blog! She loves to take her dog for walks and on them you can often find her stopping to smell the flowers and take pictures of the beauty around her. Currently, she serves as a Campus Minister at a Catholic college in the Midwest. She’s learning what it means to minister to a community while also questioning many of the practices and traditions of the Church; sometimes it’s quite a challenge! She’s especially passionate about feminist theology and story-telling, particularly as they relate to the integration of sexuality and spirituality.
Today a student came into my office telling me she is confused about her faith life. She had a challenging experience lately and isn’t sure what to think anymore. So I begin by talking about the imperfect journey that we’re all on and how we all desire something more, something greater than what we currently have. I say this to reassure to her that the path to finding this is confusing and sometimes even frustrating. And then I ask her to tell her story. And as she talks, I realize that there’s much more than just a questioning of what she believes and how to practice it; her questioning stems deep into her childhood. What she was told in CCD classes and read in the Biblical stories of how she ought to be as a woman are coming back to haunt her. She doesn’t want to be just Eve or Mary. She doesn’t want to understand her sexuality in terms of “no’s” and “don’t do that’s.” She wants to be able to embrace her full self as made in the image and likeness of God and she’s not quite sure if the Catholic faith is enough to do that.
And as she’s talking, I realize that her story is my story. And our story is many other Catholic women’s stories. We need to be able to tell our stories, we decide at the end of our talk, to be heard as believers that deeply care about things, not just as “girls” divided into the “faithful” or “unfaithful” based on our sexual experiences.
So, I come here searching for a place to tell my story. And the story of other women I encounter. But for now, I’ll start with me.
I’m a 25-year-old female-identifying feminist Catholic. I come from a decently large extended conservative Catholic family (as I’m sure many of us do!) in which my grandma seems to hold the faith-approvals of the family. Most of her eight children still go to Mass regularly. Very few of her grandchildren go to Mass regularly; for a while I think I may have been the only one going without a parent strongly encouraging me. That is to say that in my “Catholic” family, I am one of the only in my generation to still identify as religious (regardless of the several traditions and teachings that don’t make sense to me).
I grew up surrounded by this large family in the Midwest, went to public schools and then chose to attend a small Catholic college about a half an hour’s drive from my family’s hometown. In college, I was fascinated by asking questions such as “who are we?” and “what ought we to do with our lives?” The Theology folks seemed to be both asking these same questions and responding to them in ways that felt challenging yet comforting. I wanted to be able to think and question and doubt in light of my experiences, not blindly call myself faithful because I was a Church-going virgin. So among the spiritual and religious intellectuals, I felt the ability to grow into my fullest self.
Because of this, during college I decided I would like to go to divinity school to continue questioning and studying theology; particularly the intersection of sexuality and spirituality. I studied for my Masters in Theological Studies at Vanderbilt University. In my program I met all sorts of wonderful people who opened up my eyes to unlimited ways to live one’s life and use one’s talents and skills in faith-filled ways. I learned what true community looks like, sharing food and drinks and conversation daily with a group of beautifully unique discoverers. I learned the importance of telling one’s story.
After divinity school I decided to move back to Midwest to be closer to my family again. As much as I loved my community in Nashville I missed my family back home. So I moved north and began working as a campus minister for a small Catholic school. At this school, I am the only minister. We no longer have any priests or Sisters who work in my department. It’s just me. As a young progressive Catholic female I love working with college students but also struggle to feel as though I can be my full self without any fear of repercussions. I don’t fear these repercussions to come from my supervisor (usually); rather, I feel like I have to be careful (to “feel someone out”) before I tell others anything about my own spiritual and/or religious beliefs or doubts. This has been a challenge for me, as I believe in sharing personal stories as a form of sharing truth.
I’m looking for a community that is a safe space in which I can continue to explore my spirituality in the ways that seem most true to me. And I’m looking for a venue in which I can share some of these intimate thoughts, reflections and stories that I’d rather not share in my current professional environment. The task of ministering un-biasedly (for now) and caring for my own spiritual health, I have found, has been a difficult one.
So… here I am. I hope to share with you snippets of my experiences about life after divinity school – and the struggle to find a similar community after, the professional/personal spiritual confusion as a minister, stories about the struggle between reconciling one’s sexuality and spirituality, bits of my own vocational discernment process(es), and just observations of the beauty I experience in the world. And I hope to grow in wisdom and spirituality by reading the stories each of you have to share.