Morning all! It’s now 14 shopping days ’til Christmas! Raise your hands if, like yours truly, you’ll be doing the majority of your shopping and wrapping on that 14th day…and if you’re all done, with labels written and ribbons tied, PIPE DOWN. I don’t want to hear it. Thanks.
Today should be a post that I promised to you all a couple of weeks ago, a post written by an AMAZING lady who I’ve only just had the pleasure of getting to know properly. At the time of her wedding back in July she was the friend of a friend and it was only when I was shopping with said friend for an outfit for her to wear to said wedding, that I realised just how special this girly is. Scrap that, how special she is, he is, their families are and their relationship is. In the interests of being totally upfront and honest, due to both their professions, we’ve had to make the decision not to use their real names. All very Crimewatch, I know! You will shortly, therefore, be learning all about the relationship of Emily and James.
I have also made a decision. To preface their story with a whole post rather than just an introduction. Because it’s on a topic close to my heart and I have very strong opinions on it. We talked about Christmas this week, so many of you shared stories and we universally recognised that what is right for one person, one little family, might not be right for another. I wholly advocate this; to strip it right back, it’s the old adage ‘Different strokes for different folks’. We are none of us the same and it’s our experiences and morals and gut instinct that make us, us. With this in mind, I ask that you afford me the same consideration regarding what I’m going to say today. Because I KNOW that a lot of you will be able to state the conflicting argument to mine with great clarity and conviction and I am both looking forward to this and 100% ready to respect and endeavour to understand your opinions.
I was born and raised a Catholic. An Irish Catholic, no less, the first grandchild born to the youngest daughter of devout Northern Irish Catholics. My mother’s religious upbringing was, as the times dictated, strict. When she was able, she left Ireland and adopted what has become known in the media as ‘Cafeteria Catholicism’, picking and choosing the parts of her family’s religion that she was happy to live with on a daily basis. No sex before marriage was obviously left on the counter in the cafeteria, I’ve touched before on the shotgun wedding of my parents! I was baptised as a Roman Catholic, as were my brothers. My youngest brother was desperately sick as a newborn and such was my mother’s belief at the time that he was baptised on the ward, in the hospital with two random paedeatric nurses as his godparents; lest he die and not be able to enter Heaven because he’d not been cleansed of his original sin. Thankfully, he pulled through and has become a most incredibble young man. We all did our First Holy Communion and all recieved medals from our Grandparents for doing so. I went so far as to be Confirmed, at Arundel Cathedral on a blazing hot June day in 2002. Every Sunday in the years between, we went to Church. We travelled an hour to school because it was the nearest Catholic one, rather than the 10 minute walk to the local comprehensive. My Grandparents, since my Grandfather achieved remission from prostate cancer, have attended Church every day. Every single day. No matter what country they’re in, what time of day they are able to go, they go. And whilst they’ll credit medicine and science for winning the fight against the cancer-my Grandfather was a doctor-they both believe with unshakeable conviction that God was there with them.
I tell you all this not to bore you to tears, but to provide the basis for my confession. I haven’t been to church except for perversely, a wedding and four funerals, for 8 years. I haven’t actively believed in God for those 8 years and was questioning what I had spent a lifetime learning for a year before that. I don’t want this to become a massive theological discussion, I am no closer to identifying myself as an atheist or an agnostic than I was 9 years ago. I simply cannot follow the religion I was born into. With this in mind, I said from the outset that we wouldn’t marry in a church. Whilst I’ll advocate communication and compromise in a relationship until the cows come home, this was not something Phil would have been able to move me on. Perhaps if he had specific religious beliefs things would have been harder. As it is, and with his rather bland religious background, he was happy to acquiesce. To those that did raise an eyebrow and there were very few, I simply said that I would feel hypocritical. At no point did I stand on my soapbox and attempt to force my feelings on anyone else and that’s not what I’m going to do now. I just couldn’t see how I could stand in front of God (see-I subconsciously wrote that, so I must believe in SOMETHING?!) and declare myself to be committed to pursuing a life in his image.
It’s not just weddings. I have recently turned down the complete and utter honour of being a godparent to a newborn in our extended family because her parents were asking for people to help raise their daughter in the Catholic Church. How could I do that? How could I help to teach this precious soul all that I learnt in my formative years about religion and God and Heaven when I all but turned my back on it in my teens? When I declined, with a full explanation and tears in my eyes, her parents were gracious and understanding and their baby has a pair of far better qualified godparents to assist her in her spiritual learning.
I suppose that to return to my earlier metaphor, I’ve bypassed the ‘cafeteria’ altogether. Undoubtedly my schooling has shaped the person I’ve become, helped to hone my values, morals and ethics and who knows if these would be much different had I attend a non-denominational school? I like to think I’d be the same person…but I’m not so stupid as to think that of everything I learnt, nothing has stayed with me. Similarly with the effort my Mum put into my religious upbringing. She won’t mind me saying, as it’s something we’ve discussed at length, that once I had been Confirmed, she felt that she could breathe a sigh of relief. She’d done her duty and raised a good Irish Catholic grandchild for her parents. Apart from the times she has taken my Grandparents to Church when they’ve beenhere visiting, she hasn’t been to Church in 8 years either. For much the same reasons as I. General confusion, a reluctance to investigate faith too deeply for fear of the theological/psychological/philosophical arguments that arise so quickly. My Grandparents continue to pray for everyone they know; their generousity is untempered by the beliefs of others, it simply matters to them that they have their faith. ‘Different strokes for different folks’…a favourite saying of my Grandfathers!
So. I have subjected you to this rambling for a good reason, I promise. If it helps, (which it probably won’t) this is whole lot longer than I was expecting it to be! Emily and James’ story is an exceptional one in my eyes. When they married in July, they did so in front of God as Roman Catholics. And not of the ‘Cafeteria’ variety. When they came home after their honeymoon and crossed the threshold, they did so as Husband and Wife and they did so for the first time. They hadn’t lived together. They hadn’t slept together. They’d attended Church every week, prayed, confessed and in James’ case, been baptised. For he wasn’t a Roman Catholic when he started dating Emily. It’s an utterly fascinating story and it definitely wasn’t an easy ride and we’re so honoured to be sharing their story with you.
If I hadn’t written all of this today, I’d have felt compelled to do so as a ‘comment’ on Monday…that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!