I have long searched for Christ in my life and I struggle with practicing religion. Yet, I chose to go on a pilgrimage to Rome with 16 other students, a journalist, and two priests. I have not been doing anything relatively religious since I started college, with the exception of Ash Wednesday and Easter mass. Even then, I was waiting for the mass to be over with so I could go on with my schoolwork or see a friend.
People have wondered if my biology studies have caused me to distance myself from God and the Church. They could not be more wrong. Science has shown me proof that God does exist. The way our bodies are composed and the critical biochemical processes taking place to sustain us shows that our bodies are made perfectly. The only explanation I have for such perfection to take place is God. My problem is that I could never have this sense of excitement for mass or anything spiritual. I do not feel the need to pray because, for me, prayer ends up with me having unanswered questions that will simply burn in my mind.
My challenges with my faith started in junior year of high school. I wanted to know so much more than what I was told. For example, what does it mean when we say, “God loves you” or “I love God”? Those are such bold statements and I wanted to know the reasoning behind it. I wanted to understand the reasoning behind everything in my faith, but all I got was a Bible and was told to “figure it out”. It got to a point where everything felt so mundane and routine that there was no excitement in my faith anymore. What was exciting about mumbling the same prayers and hearing a priest talk about a passage in the Bible that everyone in church has heard at least one other time in their life?
Needless to say, I was hoping for something to revive my faith during this trip. Not just my faith, but also my life. I need something fulfilling. During the the first few site visits of the trip, I saw people weeping at major religious sites like the burial site of Saint Peter, a man who walked with Christ, but I still felt nothing. I was frustrated with myself. So frustrated that I decided to give this praying thing a chance and prayed in front of the tomb of Pope John Paul II in the basilica. I asked him to give me something to feel at peace with Christ. Anything. I wanted to feel Christ present in my life.
Days went on and I continued to feel empty. Then, on the last few days of this trip, we had mass near the crypt of St. Peter, where there was a small chapel dedicated to Pope John Paul II. In this chapel was the painting called the “Madonna of Częstochowa,” who is a major religious figure in Poland. I don’t know why, but seeing the painting made me feel at peace. There was something serene in the eyes and face of Częstochowa. I felt my chest fill up with warmth and I couldn’t control the tears escaping my eyes. I don’t know why I was crying, but I did know that it wasn’t due to sadness. I felt overjoyed.
I don’t know if this was Christ making a presence in my life, but that doesn’t matter; my prayer was answered. I felt happy to be in mass, which has not happened in years. I don’t know what this means for the future of my faith, but it gives me something to look forward to on my spiritual journey. Nataly Sanchez