Finding Faith as a Catholic Kid in a Protestant World

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arleen-spenceley“It’s a lot harder for Catholics to get to heaven than it is for Protestants.”

My fifth grade teacher said it from in front of the white board, behind her podium, early in the school year. A couple of weeks earlier, I had walked a corridor on my first day of fifth grade, from the front of my new school to my classroom. I had switched to the school – a private, Protestant one – from the public school where I finished fourth grade because the public schools where I lived were kind of crappy. In the classroom, I met my teacher.

She was friendly and she was fun and – as I learned in the stories she told in class – she was a former Catholic. Her parents, she said, who were former Catholics too, had her baptized into the Catholic Church as a baby. But while my teacher was still a kid, her parents left the Catholic Church in favor of a Protestant one.

The day she leaned over the podium and lowered her voice to tell us how “awful” Catholicism is, how “little” the Church preached the gospel, how much “more likely” Protestants are to get to heaven than Catholics are, I stared at her, stunned and speechless at first. Finally, I raised my hand.

“I’m Catholic.” I said when she called on me.

“Oh. Uh. That’s OK,” she said, as stunned as I was, and quickly, she changed the subject.

But the subject stuck with me. Was she right? Was I, a lifelong Catholic, part of a church that makes it hard to get to heaven? So at home, I studied. I read Catholic books that belonged to my parents – books about what my Church actually teaches. I read the Bible by myself in my room. In the wake of being challenged by a teacher, I learned that the stuff she said hadn’t been true. I learned to amicably agree to disagree with her. I found a path to spirituality. With it, I discovered the Church I love and through it, how to better connect with God, with others and with myself.