I’ve grown up in a Catholic faith, mass every Sunday and since
kindergarten, have been attending a Catholic school. For all of my
life, Catholicism can be found all around, whether at school or at
home, but for the longest time, I haven’t fully welcomed it in my
heart. It is currently my eighth grade year, and with a new religion
teacher, we are learning a new curriculum, Theology of the Body. I’ve
fell in deep interest with the topic and for the first time, I’ve felt
connected with my religion in all aspects of my life. Since learning
the curriculum I have truly grown closer to God. This new leaf has
lasted for close to a year now, it’s been just me and God.
Today, as I grow in my faith and as I thrive for purity, I am dying
to share my somewhat newfound perspective with close friends. After
all, my friends are influential on me and I’d love for them to
understand where I’m at with my faith. Turns out, expressing those
feelings of religion to my friends is harder than I thought. Even
though they have gone to or do currently attend the same Catholic
school as I do, when I communicate my new perspective, it feels as if
I’m speaking a different language. I want to be able to express my
religion with my friends without feeling hurt about their passive
aggressive opinions. When I talk to them it sometimes feels as if I’m
apologizing for my beliefs, knowing that my opinion is contradicting
or annoying them. How do I maintain healthy relationships with my
friends if at times they draw me towards sin? How do I express how
I’ve “opened my eyes” to my religion as not just a phase, but
something that I want to make a part of my lifestyle and hopefully the
lifestyle of others?
Thank you for any advice you can offer!
Isn’t the Theology of the Body amazing? Praise God for this new leaf in your journey of faith!!
Reading your email, two Scripture verses came to mind that I’d like to share with you. The first is from the prophecy of Simeon regarding Jesus. Do you remember the story? You’ll find it in Luke, chapter 2. Jesus’ parents bring him to the temple shortly after his birth. There is a man there named Simeon, who the Bible tells us was righteous and devout, and that “the Holy Spirit was upon him.” Simeon was told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before seeing the Messiah. And here come Mary and Joseph with their child, Jesus, and Simeon knows–through revelation of the Holy Spirit–that this is the Messiah he has been waiting for. He takes Jesus in his arms and says:
Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.
Cool! But why am I telling you this? Because of what he says next, to Mary:
and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
Reading your words about how you feel like your opinion is “annoying or contradicting” to your friends I immediately thought of Simeon.
You see, Jesus was a sign of contradiction. As His followers, we are also going to be little “signs of contradiction.” In Acts 28 we actually find this same phrase used to describe the early Christians:
…with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against. (Acts 28:22)
(contra-against, dicere– to speak; i.e. “contradicted”)
In fact, St. John Paul II (who wrote the Theology of the Body!) actually wrote a book entitled, Sign of Contradiction, in which he argued that being a sign of contradiction is “a distinctive definition of Christ and His Church.”
All this to say- from a Christian perspective, feeling like “a sign of contradiction” means you are actually doing something right! So be encouraged!
The other Scripture that came to mind was actually recently read at Sunday mass:
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna, And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.
I thought of this as I read that your friendships sometimes draw you towards sin. Now, people are not lifeless members to be chopped off and cast aside. Your friends are fellow daughters and sons of God who are created in His Image, and you are called to love them as Jesus does–regardless of their beliefs or behavior. However, it sounds like there might be elements of your relationship with them that need to be “plucked out,” so to speak. Gossip…Impure or scandalous talk/ behavior… I don’t know. Whatever it is, things that lead us to sin are not conducive to real friendship anyway, so for the good of the relationship, these things need to be “chopped off.”
My advice: Continue to be that “sign of contradiction” among those you meet, while making an effort to “pluck out” those elements of your friendship which pull all of you away from God. It doesn’t necessarily have to be one big conversation, but if something in your religion class spoke to your heart, share with your friends why you liked it and what it meant to you! If they laugh at you for it (because laughing at religion class was perhaps a fun pastime of your relationship), politely but firmly let them know that it hurts your feelings and that you’re starting to take this stuff more seriously. If the conversation turns to gossip, gently change the subject to something positive. You’re changing the rules of your friendship a little bit, so don’t be surprised when they’re, well, surprised. But don’t be wishy-washy, either.
This is exactly how evangelization happens. This is what the apostles did in the early Church. It’s what everyone who met Jesus and came to believe in Him did. They met a man who changed their lives, and He impacted them so much that they wanted to introduce Him to everyone they met–person to person, most often in casual conversations just like you have with your friends.
It is of course possible that these friends will not accept your newfound faith in Jesus, and that’s unfortunate. Sometimes when this happens, people may feel that you’re judging them because of your faith. Most often this is because they are doing things that they know in their heart are not what Jesus wants for them, and so since you’re now a follower of Jesus, they assume you will judge them as they fear Jesus has. This is all the more reason to really be Christ to these people. Be uncompromising when it comes to standing against sin, but unwavering in your love. If they draw back for a time, it’s ok. Don’t reject your friends for Jesus’ sake (He doesn’t need or want you to), but do take consolation in the fact that Jesus Himself was rejected for ours.
I hope this has helped in some small way. I will certainly be praying for you.
Jesus is so happy you have come to know Him! Cling to Him, and trust Him to guide your path and lead you to be the person He is calling you to be. And be that person! As St. Catherine of Sienna said, “Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire!”