By Nicole Therese Lim, SMU
Being Catholic is an every-day decision that I make because I love God. This decision is not made easily, and I don’t always experience the emotion of love. Yet, to love God and to be loved by God in return is beyond the human experience of love, and it is a relationship that is embedded in my soul. Before anything else, to be in union with God is what I was created for, and cannot be denied despite my fleeting emotions. This is what it means to be Catholic as I’ve experienced it over my past 2 years in university.
I’ve always heard the phrase ‘love is a choice’ being thrown around in the context of relationships. It is typically taken to mean that after a long time of being in a relationship with the same person, to love the person does not simply mean to feel the emotion of love, but to actively decide that you are going to love the person. That even when you feel nothing, you intentionally decide to love the person. This can be manifested through actions, words or even desires.
For me, in university, being Catholic is a choice. Loving God is a choice.
Since coming to know God just before my first year of university, I’ve experienced so many cycles of ups and downs in my faith. I started becoming disillusioned because I felt like if this is who I was meant to be, if God loved me so much, then why was it so difficult to ‘live up to the expectations’ of being a child of God? Why was it constantly a struggle to abide by the teachings of the Church? I found it very difficult to understand how the people in my Catholic community around me were so constantly fervent and steadfast in their faith. Soon, I started feeling like the issue lay within me. That I simply did not have the capacity to be faithful and love God in the way that he called me to, and therefore I was constantly disappointing him and did not deserve to partake in the joys of being Catholic (of which there are many).
Despite experiencing a vague imposter syndrome and deep sense of hypocrisy, I still had to continue with my commitments within my Catholic community in the roles that I had very willingly taken on as a disciple of Christ when I was still on fire for the Lord. Taking on these roles of service felt much like guilt-infused and obligation-driven labour, where it was a constant struggle to put Jesus at the centre of what I did. This was ironic as Jesus was the very person I was trying to bring to people; if not Jesus as the focal point, then what?
Yet, through these areas of service, I was constantly reminded of the beauty of the Catholic faith. Even if not in my heart, my mind remembered the pure joy that I felt being in love with God that was incomparable to the joy that any human experience could give me. Not just joy, but also all the virtues that followed: peace, gratitude, compassion, and solace. When I put myself in a situation where I would be consistently surrounded by people striving for the kingdom of heaven, even though I did not necessarily want to be there 100% of the time, I had no choice but to be confronted by the truth of Jesus in the lives of all these people. ‘Faith stirs faith’ is a phrase that resounds in my own faith journey. Because when disillusionment begins to cloud my hope, it is always the proclamation of faith of other Christians that is the light of Christ that cuts through these shadows of doubt.
It is not as if the struggles I experienced grappling between my own personal desires and the way of Jesus magically disappeared. They were still as constant as ever. It was foolish to expect to remain in the fresh protective bubble I was in when I first came to know God. But I think that once I knew what it meant to love God and be loved in return, even through my struggles with my identity as a Catholic, even though living as a disciple of Christ felt like a constant uphill battle, I could not help but constantly choose to fight for Jesus to be the centre of my life. God, the creator of the vast universe, including all the wondrous sights and mysteries of the whole world, seeks a personal relationship with me, someone who could have been like dust to him. Who am I to run away and deem myself unworthy?
To truly live out discipleship and union with God is not a decision I make only once. It’s a decision I have to make every single day, and a decision that is so often not easy because it’s a tiring decision to make. However, it is precisely Christian to choose to fight for our faith instead of giving up on God’s love, even if it means fighting against ourselves.