Interview 2: Joe

“For me it was a very easy decision to choose to continue to grow in my faith and live by it, not just blindly following it because that’s what I was used to, but believing it because I wanted to, and importantly, trying to live based on that belief.”

I met Joe (aged 22) through work. He can be quiet at first but as he opens up, his quick wit and genuine kindness become apparent. Joe is part of the reason I started this blog–as I got to know him, I learned that he lives his life in a manner that is deeply rooted in his faith, and I couldn’t help but ask him questions constantly. I wanted to understand his faith because Joe demonstrates the values of his religion through his actions, quietly and without any desire for recognition. He is extraordinary to me and also somewhat foreign, so of course I found myself trying to comprehend every angle of his beliefs. He was patient and answered all of my questions without hesitation, further proving to me how deep his convictions are and yet how open and understanding he is. So of course, when I decided to bother lots of people with my questions and start this blog, he was one of the first people I thought to interview.

The interview below was conducted via email as Joe lives in Minnesota (though I did manage to snap some photos of him on a recent visit, there wasn’t time for me to interview him in person).

Interview 2: Joe

Could you describe for me your faith journey thus far? As in, how were you raised, and have there been any moments in your life that have changed your faith?
I was raised Catholic, the fourth child of eight (typical large Catholic family). I went to a Catholic grade school and a small private Christian high school that had a mostly Catholic student/faculty body. For my whole life, our family has always had a nightly prayer time where we say at least one decade of the rosary – it’s been very central to our lives. My parents have said that when they made the decision to do this they immediately noticed us kids getting along much better with less fighting and yelling, so it definitely had an effect on us (and on others who have said that upon entering our house, they felt a sense of peace – despite young kids shouting and running around with lightsabers).

During junior year of high school I decided to also pray a rosary of my own each day and have ever since. I decided this in response to feeling a bit down and somewhat lonely at that time in my life, and I immediately benefitted from that, including growing much closer to the people who to this day are my closest friends. Deciding to commit myself to this daily routine affected me in a behind-the-scenes way. I never mentioned it to my friends or anything, and the basis of that friendship wasn’t our religion or religious practices. 

I attended the University of Notre Dame (heyyy another Catholic school), and freshman year was probably the hardest of my life. I didn’t know anyone else at ND, I was separated from my high school friends, and had just had a falling out with my very best friend at the time, who was a girl whom I had very strong feelings for, so there was a good deal of heartbreak there. Plus, the culture shock alone of being in college was draining enough, and having no one to go to with a sense of familiarity and security was tough. I spent a lot of nights at the grotto on campus, which is a beautiful and peaceful candle lit area, and I would say my rosary before heading back to my dorm to do homework or binge-watch Scrubs.
DSC_0080With all of this, I would say freshman year was the most significant moment of my life that changed my faith, as I felt like my faith was what kept me afloat. I built up a large deal of trust in God and I greatly benefited from that. After freshman year and throughout the rest of my time on campus I continued to become more social, more confident, and felt more like a person. 

“A former boss of mine who converted to Catholicism actually said I was a major influence in that, which I found very surprising, as I didn’t talk to him a whole lot at work, and when I did it was about making ice cream malts, not faith. I suppose I just showed him something attractive about how my own faith affected my life by just going about my work as honestly and as well as I could.”

My faith has been very important to me my entire life, and college was probably the first time I felt challenged by it and felt like I really had to make a decision on how I wanted to live my life and in what shape my faith would remain. For me it was a very easy decision to choose to continue to grow in my faith and live by it, not just blindly following it because that’s what I was used to, but believing it because I wanted to, and importantly, trying to live based on that belief
So that may make me seem very uninteresting and over-religious, but I’ve never felt any abrasiveness on either side with any of my friends, ranging from Catholics to Protestants to Agnostics to passionate anti-Christian Atheists. I would actually say that the people I’ve found it hardest to get along with are those who seem to be a bit stiffly over-religious. I don’t mean to insult them in any way, but I’ve just found it harder to interact with them if they choose to make their faith too outwardly central to pretty much every interaction they have, etc. Obviously faith should be a key and central aspect of their actions, but perhaps it doesn’t always need to be an outwardly flashing display to all those around them. There’s definitely a time and a place for theological discussion, but I’d rather not have that be every interaction. It makes it a little harder to connect and relate. In my experience, the most devout people I have met have been some of the most “normal” people. Of course they’re deeply interested in their faith and that of those around them, and they give so much of themselves to others in love and service, and they’ll gladly talk about their faith, but it’s not in itself their sole means of interaction. They’re focused on being present to others and are able to share their faith without alienating, which is key. You can tell they take their faith very seriously because of how they’ve chosen to live their lives, which is a life based on love.

I’ve chosen to keep my faith central to how I live my life, and I would say the way that that has been manifested the most is just through trying to treat those around me with love. Being genuine and kind and charitable. Being honest and compassionate and making them laugh. If the conversation heads in the direction of my faith, then of course I’ll bring up my own beliefs. I’m not ashamed of my faith at all. I’m proud of it and I’ll gladly talk about it if someone is interested. I realize the way I lead my life is very different in some aspects than others, but that’s okay. My faith journey through life has led me to strive to just be the best human being I can – by loving others. I want to be holy. I want to live a life of holiness, and take the suffering that may come along with that in order to love more.

Have you ever felt isolated/ostracized because of your strong faith?
Not at all. At the most I felt a little less close to some of my college friends because they would go a bit more party crazy on the weekend than I felt comfortable with at the time. I made a decision not to drink before I was 21 – not for theological reasons or anything. I just didn’t feel like jumping into the hot, sweaty mess of a dorm room jam packed with random folks and taking shots. I feel like my relationships with family and my high school friends just taught me to expect more, and that that kind of party life seemed a bit empty. I had just become accustomed to a higher standard of relationships/social interaction I guess, and a big part of that was because of my faith-filled upbringing and how much that formed my attitude and life choices. Not choosing to partake in the fun on those weekends was good for me. It helped me grow and mature, though I realize I did miss out on some good times and opportunities to make some better relationships perhaps. It made me miss a large part of what most people consider a vital part of the college experience, but oh well. I don’t agree on its vitality.

Also for the record, though, I do love having a good time with plenty of alcohol (though I have moral qualms with getting blackout drunk, etc. It’s all about drinking to the point of hilarity – yeah Catechism!) 

Have you felt any impact on your relationships due to your faith?
Yes, for sure – only a positive impact, though. It’s deepened several relationships because of that shared faith. Obviously to be good friends with someone you don’t need to share the same beliefs or lead the same kind of lives. Having something like a serious commitment to faith gives you a whole lot of common ground, however, and you can take that relationship deeper. Like I said earlier, many of my good friends are not Catholic, and that may introduce some disagreement in lifestyles or add some barriers, but it’s not a negative thing. Just not as full of a relationship as it could be.

My faith has also impacted my relationships in a more indirect manner, as I have realized that others around me realize that there is something about how I live, and they interact with me in a different way. Just by going about my daily business I’ve had people comment on how I affected them and touched them. A former boss of mine who converted to Catholicism actually said I was a major influence in that, which I found very surprising, as I didn’t talk to him a whole lot at work, and when I did it was about making ice cream malts, not faith. I suppose I just showed him something attractive about how my own faith affected my life by just going about my work as honestly and as well as I could.

DSC_0064 - Version 3
When do the differences in your beliefs and the beliefs of the general population become most apparent to you?
On the internet, actually. You can’t really read any article involving the church without people uttering their disgust for it. The obvious thing that comes to mind is scandals, etc. Of course that is absolutely unacceptable, and I’m pretty sure Catholics are the ones who hate it the most. There also seems to be a general attitude that the Church is practically an instrument of hate and persecution towards those who don’t share it’s beliefs. Of course that is the exact opposite of what it is. The principle of the church, of Christianity, is love. Loving others it what it is all about. The whole fad that is going on with people loving Pope Francis is nice and all, but I don’t like it when people have this notion that “Wow he’s really changing the church around!” Most people don’t realize he isn’t at all. He’s following church teachings, and he’s not going to overturn any doctrine and pull a complete reversal of the church’s moral teachings. What he is doing right is very outwardly stressing the importance of love and service for others. The thing that disappoints me is that people around the world aren’t always seeing this already in the Catholics they interact with every day. We shouldn’t have to rely on the Pope to make the connection between being Catholic and being loving. It should already be a given. Sometimes Catholics aren’t doing a good job of living the Catholic values so there’s no connection to be seen. Sometimes they are and people just don’t make the connection.

There are many Christians and Catholics who are very outspoken and come across as hateful and condemning. Some of them are following the church’s teaching and just coming across a little too abrasive – having their heart in the right place but not really conveying that well. Some of them, though, have seemingly forgotten the extreme importance of love, and have taken too much of a “my way or the highway” approach. Either way, unfortunately, it’s often these people who make the most noise. You don’t hear much about the nuns dedicating their lives to feeding, sheltering, and caring for the poor and outcast. You don’t hear much about the college students spending their time and resources putting together baby showers for single mothers or volunteering at a homeless shelter. And honestly, that’s okay. The point of faith isn’t to parade it around and say “WOW! Look at me caring for these people! Hey guys, look what I’m doing!” Sure we want to spread the faith and be examples to others. Some of that will come out in conversation, but the reason to love someone isn’t so that you can tell everyone about it. The reason to love someone is because they are a person who deserves respect and dignity. The reason to love someone is to love them. There is a lot of humility in that. It’s not the humble ones that you hear the most about, even though they are in the majority.
One thing that many people somehow don’t seem to get is that loving someone and serving them doesn’t require cooperation of beliefs and lifestyles. One may think “oh, the church has teachings against using contraceptives. What a hateful and ignorant bunch.” Umm… excuse me? What about that belief makes me hateful? Maybe some outspoken religious go over the top, but don’t call a belief itself hateful just because a few people act violently in its name. I have a belief that the use of contraceptives is wrong. I also have a firm belief against persecuting those who don’t hold that belief, as does the church. Again, it doesn’t help that most of the time you hear about the type of people who say “ALL <insert type of people who lead lifestyles contrary to church teaching> ARE AGENTS OF SATAN AND WILL BURN IN ETERNAL FIRE” – not the belief of the church. All <those types of people…> are actually human beings and deserve the same love and respect that we all do. Now, we Catholics may believe they are doing something wrong, and we hope for them to see this, and we try to show them this, but it’s not through force-feeding the kool-aid down they’re throat. It’s not through threatening and persecuting them. It should be done out of love and respect.

One of the things that pisses me off the most is when I read an article about how some people approach Catholic folk, asking them to participate in something that they both know is against the Catholic faith. The Catholic people respectfully decline since it disagrees with their beliefs, and the first party goes off on a tirade about how the Catholics are persecuting them. They bring in the lawyers, the media, whatever. Who’s doing the persecuting and the hate there? I’m not going to go up to a devout Jewish man and ask him to split a pork chop with me and then rain down hellfire on him when he declines and suggests getting pizza instead. There’s absolutely no reason for hatred here. I fully realize that yes,some of my beliefs may be unsettling and contradictory to what many believe. But if someone is purposely jumping into situations so that they can be offended in order to believe that they’re justified in laying down the hammer and crying persecution, that’s just monstrous.

I’d like to think that the type of people who target the humble and devoutly religious ones are the ones that make the most noise, but are also in the minority, just like the kinda-crazy and abrasive religious folk whom you hear about the most. The people who comment on internet articles seem to be the most passionate either way, so those are the types of beliefs I see being expressed most often, which makes the differences with my own beliefs become the most apparent.

If you had to pick between the ‘Catholic’ and ‘American’, how would you identify yourself?
Catholic. I try to follow what I have come to believe is morally right, which is in accordance with my faith. Sure the faith has the law and the “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots”, but I don’t try to follow them just because my parents did. I follow them because I, my own individual self, believe them to be true. That was my decision. And at some times the beliefs by which I live my life conflict with the beliefs of my country. The question of which to follow – faith or country – is a no-brainer. Faith. Always. I’m pretty much expecting that the US is going to pass some laws that directly interfere with my right to religious freedom and to publicly follow my beliefs. I’m pretty sure I am going to be somewhat persecuted by strangers, coworkers, and maybe even family who are on board with those laws. I’ll live (or I’ll be killed, and then you can refer to what I believe about the afterlife near the end of this post). America is awesome and all, but it’s not nearly as important to who I am as my faith is. I define myself as a human being. To me, that means a being with the freedom and the duty to love. I happen to have been born in this great country, but it’s not more of an identifier of who I am than my faith is.

Is it important to you to marry someone who shares the same beliefs?
I’d say it’s important, as how I mentioned above it really helps with that connection and growth of the relationship, though it’s not necessary. I do want to marry a Catholic woman, as my faith is such an important part of my life and I want someone to share that with and who can help me grow in it, and likewise the other way around. I would feel a bit sad if my spouse didn’t want to say a rosary with me, or go to mass or the chapel. So yes, I want to marry a Catholic, and that’s important for me, but it’s not a complete dealbreaker if a wonderful lady comes along who isn’t Catholic. Maybe what’s actually better for me and for my faith to grow is to be with someone who tests and challenges that faith by disagreeing with parts of it. Who knows. (Though part of the vows of a Catholic wedding is to raise the kids according to the faith, so my wife would at least have to be cool with that).
I can’t marry someone who is completely neutral to dad-jokes, though. If they laugh at them, great. If they can’t stand them, awesome. But when I say the most awful pun in the world and I get no reaction, DEALBREAKER.

Do you believe in souls?

What do you believe a ‘soul’ is?
I like what the catechism says about the soul here: “The spiritual principle of human beings. The soul is the subject of human consciousness and freedom; soul and body together form one unique human nature…” I believe that the soul is what makes man “made in God’s image”. I think the soul is one’s personality and heart and really one’s engine. The body+soul aspect of our nature is what makes us human, and intelligent, rational beings capable of choice and free will. It’s what draws us to truth, beauty, and goodness. The soul should be one’s most precious and cared for commodity. Maybe that means persevering through some physical suffering, or just not giving into every physical desire one encounters. That’s not to say that the body is bad and the soul is good. Both are good, but the body is perishable while the soul is immortal. Physical pleasure is a good thing, though it’s much more important to preserve the soul than it is to satisfy every desire that comes your way, since some may involve questionable morality. That’s going to mean a lot of sacrifices, and it’s going to be hard, sure, but the reward from that is well worth it. That reward will pay off in the short term in making you more disciplined and more able to perhaps choose what’s best for you versus what you want to do the most, but also in the long term, where our life leads us to after death.

What do you think happens to us after we die?
I believe in Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. I also believe that after we die, we’re going to have some sort of choice. I don’t think it’s going to be a “Hey, you can choose to burn in a fire and constantly be stabbed by pitchforks, or you can fly around in the clouds and have an endless supply of Dunkaroos for the rest of eternity. Which one?” That’d be a bit of a no-brainer. How we lived out lives is definitely going to have an influence on the choice. For example, we may have lived by the law, doing what was right, and never hurting anyone, and when we die we come to a place where perhaps we are confronted with or at least see someone who severely wronged us in life and whom we never really forgave for that. We see that they are now in Paradise, and we are presented with an opportunity to join them there. We can then accept that invitation and proceed onward, letting go of the injury they had caused us, or we can say “if going on to Paradise means being with THAT person, I don’t see how that is Paradise. I just can’t accept that they are here and not suffering. I don’t agree with this injustice and I don’t want this.” and then choose not to proceed but to do what we want, which is to choose ourselves and choose Hell. I do not believe Hell is a punishment where God says “hey, you didn’t do life well, sorry bud.” or even “hey, you need to forgive this guy or I’m sending you to Hell.” I believe Hell is your own damn choice (oh yes, pun intended. Pun so intended.)

C.S. Lewis has a great interpretation of Hell and the choice we have there. One quote of his is “I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.” Basically what happens to us after we die is what we want to happen. It’s not what God declares for us. I believe God gave us freedom, and while he wants with all his being to be with us, he loves us so much that he honors that freedom, even if it means that we say “God, for all eternity, I choose not to be with you. I don’t love you and I don’t want you.” (Again, C.S. Lewis paints an awesome picture of this in The Great Divorce. It’s a short read, and I think there’s something of great value in it regardless of whether or not you’re a Christian). 

I also firmly do not believe that only Catholics, or even only Christians, go to Heaven. Sure I think being Christian, or at least being religious makes it a bit easier to achieve Heaven since I believe that believing in a God of Love has a drastic effect on the way one lives one’s own life, but it’s not a requirement. Anyone, regardless of theirfaith, can lead a decent life and can honor, love, and serve others with humility and dignity. And I don’t believe for a second that if they did that but weren’t baptized, they’re automatically stuck on the first train to H-E-double hockey sticks.

“I believe God gave us freedom, and while he wants with all his being to be with us, he loves us so much that he honors that freedom.

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