What in the world could I possibly say about my friend Lauren besides the fact that she is pretty much one of the most amazing persons in the entire world (and I’m not just saying that because she reads my blog, but just in case she’s reading this right now [she will] – Hello, there!) Lauren has been a believer, a not-too-much-of-a-believer, a missionary, and a youth minister, and she’s only twenty-two years old. She has also stayed my friend through Christianity and atheism, including giving a great interview for me to post on here.
Perhaps my favorite part of the interview was when it was over and we were just discussing the differences between reality and assumptions. “Your first call as a missionary or a minister is to listen,” she explained, “People just think we’re talking about Jesus all the time. I spend most of my time giving students my attention 100%.”
And for that, I think we should all give her the attention she deserves.
Elizabeth: So despite the fact that I know, we have to set some things up for the readers. So, what denomination of Christianity to you belong to?
Lauren: I’m Roman Catholic.
E: And were you brought up in the Roman Catholic church?
E: I promise that my next question isn’t to create controversy-
L: You had better put that in your blog.
E: I promise. Anyway, most people who grow up in the church have at least a moment where they have doubts, or perhaps a rebellious period in their life. Did you ever have a doubtful or rebellious moment?
L: (laughs) I wouldn’t call it a moment; I’m pretty sure it was years and years. Well, when you’re brought up Roman Catholic, from a young age there are different rules, rituals, classes, and as a kid you don’t understand it. You go to sunday school and mass and communion, but you can’t comprehend the depths of the sacraments at that age- at least I couldn’t.
My parents were paradoxical- I was expected to go to mass and all that, but I could do whatever I wanted otherwise. I explored other “religions,” which I thought were more fascinating than Catholicism. For a long time I identified with anything New Age, and I thought that there were “many paths to God” because that’s what my mom said.
When I didn’t believe in Jesus as my savior and I wasn’t bound to the teachings of Catholicism, I did what any teenager does and I did what I felt in the moment, which caused me a lot of pain. I tried to numb the pain, but that turned into a vicious cycle. I don’t look back at that time with fond memories.
When I was sixteen, I was supposed to go to my confirmation retreat. I remember telling my mom that I didn’t want to make my confirmation or be Catholic, and so it was pointless for me to go. My mom told me to just go to the confirmation retreat and I wouldn’t have to make confirmation, so I went. During adoration (a time of deep prayer, where Christ is physically present in the eucharist) I was sitting there crying, and I remember feeling so lost, like I would never be good enough. I remember telling Jesus that I wanted to come back to him. I’ve been devout from that point on.
E: So about NET…
L: NET stands for the “National Evangelism Team.” It is a wonderful program that takes 100 Catholic young adults aged 18-28 every year and teaches them how to minister to teens on a 1-on-1 basis and retreat style ministry. You travel in a van with ten other people for a year and stay in host homes.
E: How do you feel about your experience?
L: (pause) That is a very difficult question to answer. I can’t explain what it’s like to be taken away from everything you know and be put in the middle of a cornfield, literally, not be allowed to speak to anyone you know, and be sent out to travel the country and not have any home.
For me, I idolized my parents’ past- they were hippies in a van with strong beliefs, just not in God but a lifestyle- so I saw myself like my parents but with God. It was rewarding for me. My teenage years were better after I accepted Christ, and I wanted other teens to know the same. It was just the dynamics of living as a missionary that were difficult.
E: Do you feel that you are called to be a missionary, or do you have a different spiritual gift?
L: I try to be a missionary every day- whether or not that is my formal title or what is written on my paycheck is left up to circumstances.
E: Would you do NET again in the future?
L: I wouldn’t do NET again. It represented my decision to be a devout Catholic as an adult, and I don’t need to renew that. I miss the fellowship and traveling- it’s an exotic, rewarding lifestyle, but I think there’s a time and a place for it.
E: You’ve worked with teens a lot in the past, and you work with teens now. Do you think that this is your ministry, or would you join another ministry in the future?
L: I enjoy working with teens now and in the past because I feel connected to teens- I still feel very young. I’m good at it because teens open up to me a lot. As long as I continue to be purely ministering and not trying to fill a void in my own life, I’ll continue.
E: We’ve spoken in the past- you know, like, yesterday- about different liberal movements in the Catholic church that are going on currently. Can you explain some of that to me?
L: The Catholic church is the largest organized denomination of Christianity, so you have a whole lot of people who call themselves Catholic in the world. There are a lot wh don’t follow Catholic teaching, some out of ignorance, some out of a deliberate action to undermine the Vatican and mold Catholicism to fit their views on how they should be able to fit in modern society. Some, in an attempt to separate themselves from the previous group, call themselves “Orthodox,” which I find erroneous. You’re either Catholic or you’re not, and if you are then you’re sticking to teachings of the church, and if you’re not then you’re not.
There’s a lot of controversy on whether or not to water down teachings to fit the masses, or if we should be content with a smaller group of the faith.
E: I think I already know which side you’re on, but could you say it anyway?
L: That’s so funny that you say that. Anyone who knows me at church, such as my colleagues that I work with at church, they all see me as very liberal- purely because I was raised liberally- I mean, I know what’s going on in the world, I can talk about politics and not limit it to abortion. I’m politically aware, I’m passionate about social justice, but that’s not the same as my religion. Politics, who I choose to associate with, that’s all liberal, but my faith and how I stick to doctrine- well, you could call it “conservative,” but I call it being faithful.
Jesus was friends with sinful people, I know he was friends with prostitutes and tax collections, I know he was, so I don’t choose to seclude my company to only include those who are perfectly holy. At the same time, Jesus never changed what he said or the heart of his message to better appease those he was with.
E: This has been amazing. Is there anything else you would like to say?
L: (pause) What’s mainly on my heart is Jesus said that there will always be poor. This life is not one for doing what pleases you at the moment or what makes you happy, this world will never offer everyone happiness. When I say this, this surprises people because I’m naturally cheerful and optimistic, but I know that this is because of my fortune in this life. I’ve been blessed in my station and I have a great support group, and I pray if these ever turn on me and if I experience one ounce of the pain and sorrow in the world that I’ll still believe and love God.
E: Most of my readership are either nonbelievers or headed in that direction-
L: Hence the name.
E: Exactly. Is there anything you would like to say to atheists about understanding Catholicism?
L: Catholicism teaches that God loves you based on who you are and not what you do, so it’s Catholic belief that God loved Hitler as much as Mother Teresa. I think that this fact has the ability to set you free.