A dollhouse. A Cabbage Patch kid. A luggage set. A wristwatch. My parents have given me many gifts over the years, gifts that came under a Christmas tree or wrapped in birthday paper.
They’ve also given me the kind of gifts you can’t put in a box: a college education, intellectual curiosity, the security of knowing that home would always be a safe place to fall. I’m grateful for all of these.
And, the older I get, the more I appreciate another gift, too: the gift of being raised Catholic.
I didn’t always appreciate this gift. In my college years and early twenties, I worked hard to put a certain distance between myself and my childhood faith. It wasn’t that I regretted being raised in the faith; I could (and did) get a lot of mileage out of Catholic school jokes, and it was nice to be an English major who understood any and all Catholic allusions. But my religious upbringing felt like a weight attached to the hem of my skirt, keeping me from moving easily into new experiences that I wanted to try.
I could never have imagined that I’d end up where I am today: a practicing Catholic, a woman who goes to Mass by choice, a writer who somehow can’t get away from scribbling about her faith, a mom who is as excited about her son’s forthcoming First Holy Communion as she would be about a trip to Hawaii.
I guess that’s how faith works, for many of us. Your parents give you the foundation, and you grow up knowing that it’s important, that they cared enough about it to pass it on to you. And then you have to wrestle with it at some point, maybe pull away from it for a time, maybe take some steps down another path.
But for many of us, that childhood faith remains one of the strongest influences we know. It’s part of our identity; it’s comfortable, and comforting; it’s a link with the people whom we love, the people who have always loved us.
And maybe, as we get older and talk to our parents, we find that they once did the same dance we did. They too pulled away from their faith, tried out something new, wrestled with questions. And yet they returned to their Catholic roots, drawn back to the faith they knew as children.
And they passed it on to us.
And, years later, we pass it on to our own children. We know — oh, boy, do we know — that this Catholic heritage is many different things at different times. We know that it’s mysterious, captivating, frustrating, challenging, comforting, inspiring, perplexing, beautiful, visceral. We know that it is sometimes all of these things at once, for good or for bad.
But most of all, we know that it is a gift: a gift that keeps on giving, from one generation to the next.