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The College Commandments: Stained Glass Windows

Light shines through the stained glass windows and kisses the walls of the St.Vincent de Paul Church in Petaluma, California. Like luminous lip gloss, it sticks and glistens in adoration. I sat among the molasses brown pews last weekend for the first time since my high school days, when mandatory mass sometimes started the day. 

Being a non-Catholic in a Catholic high school was an experience that taught me how to skillfully avoid things that made me uncomfortable. 

Walking through the halls on the first day of freshman year feels awkward enough, but having to walk down the red-carpeted aisle of the church with my arms crossed over my chest to be given a blessing rather than communion in a room full of religious peers — yikes. 

Since that first day, I held resentment for the church. 

I’ve recently realized that my resistance to everything to do with this institution was rooted within my own bias and insecurity in my lack of spirituality. 

While I'm not planning on converting to anything anytime soon, I feel comfortable enough in my own personal spiritual connections to start exploring the concepts. 

Father William Donahue, who became  our school pastor during my senior year of high school, stepped up to the pulpit last Saturday and began to relay the Gospel.

After explaining this week’s homily, Luke 18:1-8, Donahue said the real meaning of these words was the power of graciousness. He told the congregation that unforgiveness, self-pity, selfishness, laziness and stinginess all play a role in ingratitude. 

I sat there between the beautiful marble pillars that held the golden sand walls up, realizing how, in high school, I had let all of those things give me an excuse to hate and mock something that could have been an opportunity to grow and understand. 

I had become so lost in everything I thought was wrong with the church that I put on blinders that blocked out the light shining through the stained glass windows. 

The time I spent judging the Catholic church and its system was wasted. On days I failed to come up with an excuse to get out of it, I filled hours of mass and religion class with eye rolls and zoning out, when I could have been challenging myself by looking at what was in front of me and zoning in. 

It’s frustrating when you realize you’re the one who has been holding yourself back, but I felt grateful that going forward I can be more aware. That I can let go of my frustration with something I never gave myself a chance to understand. 

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“If hope enlarges our future, the past enlarges our past into our present,” Donahue said. 

This was my first time attending five o’clock Saturday mass, and the congregation was 85 percent made up of senior citizens. 

I wondered if all of them had been going to church since they were kids and were raised within its boundaries. I wondered how many of them wandered through the doors one day and decided to come back. As the service unfolded, I realized how much this question didn’t matter.

It’s never too late to decide to be grateful.

It’s never too late to realize you were wrong. 

It’s never too late to decide you want something.  

So yes, I spent high school being dramatic, a little ignorant and deciding to decide nothing at all. But one of the best parts of being in college is that you no longer have to be in the same state of mind. 

You’re allowed to question yourself and the reasons you are the way you are. 

With Thanksgiving around the corner, we start to consider what our answer will be when family and friends ask us what we’re thankful for. 

I’m just going to say how grateful I am for every time I’ve realized I’ve been wrong, because when it happens, I get to add another colorful and jagged little piece to my stained glass window.

wolffrg@miamioh.edu

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