I once set a priest on fire. This was not a radical action of protest or a fitful spell of hatred against the church. This was a clumsy entry into my teenage years. I had been chosen to light the Advent candles one March and the match slipped from my hand on to Father’s bright robe. A spark caught the fabric, which erupted into a flame, singeing a hole into the back of the robe. I frantically fanned the man (after blowing on the fire, as if he was a birthday candle on the cake of Christ), and eventually extinguished the blaze. Welcome to Adolescence, please check your elegance at the gate! Luckily, the priest was so absorbed in his homily by that point, he didn’t know or care about the forest fire I had set on him.
With the Catholic Church alight in its own inferno of scandal and criticism, it is difficult for someone growing up in a time of change to continue to adapt to the Church’s views. Especially when that someone isn’t completely convinced in the first place. My relationship status with religion, as I’d say on Facebook, is IT’S COMPLICATED. My mother, a shy member of what may have been the only Catholic family in Great Neck, Long Island during the 1970s, has always been close to Jesus. My father, an outgoing native of Rockland County, comes from a very proud Jewish family. The two, a veritable Ying-Yang, met at Hofstra University and fell in storybook love. Even though their religious differences were difficult for their families to process, somehow it all worked out. And they’re lucky it did because I am precious.
My favorite photo of the two of them was taken at their wedding: a cotton-haired, bespectacled priest sits next to a young yarmulked rabbi, with my parents framed between them—shiny, young, and painted in front of a backdrop of sobbing relatives in 80s era formal wear. Anything that almost tore my parents apart before their marriage is enough to make me suspicious, but these two spectrums of ideology fascinate me.
I was confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church, but I still attend Temple with my father. Catholicism and Judaism have differences in text and speech, but in practice I find them startlingly similar. A point made by Shakespeare (through the vehicle of mad Hamlet) rings true in both philosophies, “Our actions’ true nature is laid bare before God.”
This quote reminds me of the nature of my (and my peers’) actions. There is cattiness abound in the locker-lined halls I trudge down everyday but one of the great parts of going to a tremendous high school is that nobody really cares about theology. Nobody cares that I don’t set my sights on one religion. Nobody cares that I’m on a spiritual quest. There simply isn’t enough time in the day to worry about mysticism while Samson is breaking up with Delilah via text message, and Adam just posted the most hilarious LOLcat on Eve’s wall (ROFLCOPTER!!!).
It seems to me that the average teenager spends more time worrying about the present than about the intangibles. While high school isn’t quite Hamlet’s “paragon of animals” that I make it out to be, many teenagers my age have trudged through Religious Education Wednesdays and Hebrew School Thursdays without really soaking up the Bible or the Torah in the way they were expected to. I know I didn’t.
I know religion is important to my parents, but they would rather see me subscribe to the Church of Doing Good Things than anything. To me, religion is like a huge body of water that cuts off into thousands of little tributaries and rivers. Gusts of wind from either side of my family are guiding me gently back and forth as I sit in a canoe with nothing but a canteen of Holy Water and a moral compass to guide me along. I have graduated into thinking for myself and I’ve begun to paddle. I just wish I knew where I was headed.