Shortly after I was born, I was baptized as a Catholic. Even though my parents weren’t practicing members of the Catholic church, they still had some belief in God and felt it was the right thing to do.
After my parents separated, I grew up with my dad for the most part, and we didn’t go regularly to a specific church. Our family prayed at the dinner table occasionally, but that was the extent of our worship. I didn’t have a foundation in knowing who God was or even who Jesus Christ was, but when my mom remarried, that changed as she discovered The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was baptized. Because of her example, I started learning about the Church whenever I could from both my mother and from the missionaries. When I was 16 years old, I was baptized a member of the Church.
While I was discovering my faith in God, my dad was also making efforts to reconnect with his faith. While he had grown up attending the Catholic church, he was never baptized and eventually stopped going as he got older. However, while away from home on military deployment, he met a chaplain on his base that mentored him back into the Catholic faith. For the year that he was on military leave, I saw his faith in God grow so much, more than I’d ever seen it before. He attended church, went to Bible study twice a week, and he finally was baptized before he finished his deployment.
After he returned home, I visited my dad, and he invited me to join him and my stepmom the following Sunday for Catholic mass. I agreed, knowing how much it would mean to him for me to go.
When I walked through the doors of the church, it felt foreign as I looked around at the colored stained glass windows and the engraving of Christ on the cross. Aspects of the worship ritual were, of course, different than what you’d find in a Latter-day Saint sacrament meeting. For example, in Catholicism, everyone bows before an altar in reverence to Christ before they enter the pew. Catholics also refer to the bread and the wine as the Eucharist, and when they take it, they believe they are literally uniting with Christ. Another part of the Mass is that readings of the New and Old Testament are traditionally given, otherwise known as the Liturgy of the Word.
Despite some of the major differences in tradition, doctrine, and belief, as I sat in Mass with my dad, the Spirit still spoke to me of the commonalities and truths of the gospel that I already knew and loved.
That week, and especially that morning, I had been feeling weighed down with sin and fear that my mistakes made me unworthy of God’s love. But the sermon preached in that Catholic Mass was exactly what I needed to hear. It was during the Homily (the point in the liturgy where the priest expounds on scripture) that the scripture in Luke 12:32 was shared, which says, “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” The priest proceeded to give the rest of the sermon based on this scripture, making the point that we shouldn’t be afraid to reach out to Christ (and others) with courage and faith, because that’s what this life is all about.
While hearing the scripture and the beautiful sermon that accompanied it, I felt the love of God. It was exactly what I needed to hear that morning. It brought me to the point of tears. Something that I thought I was doing as a good deed for my dad turned out to be just the thing that also helped me. Furthermore, I was able to appreciate and understand the Catholic religion in a whole new light.
“Leaving room for Holy Envy” was a phrase first spoken by Krister Stendahl, the Lutheran Bishop of Stockholm Sweden. He coined the phrase during a conference in 1985 when speaking to those who were in opposition to the building of the Latter-day Saint Stockholm Sweden Temple. He explained that “Holy Envy” is a concept that helps us learn and see the beauty in other religions without losing or giving up our own beliefs.
Rabbi David Rosen, who taught Jewish Studies at BYU Jerusalem until 1998, mentions this concept of “Holy Envy” in an article detailing his experience teaching at a school not of his own faith. The point of interfaith experiences is not necessarily for us to seek out other religions, but is described by Rosen: “See(ing) something beautiful in another’s religious tradition should not make me feel disloyal in any way to my own tradition.”
My experience at my father’s church not only allowed me to have that rich learning experience with the Catholic religion, but it also allowed me to draw closer to my family, who are also people of faith. By attending the Catholic Mass, I could see what was important to my dad and stepmom and what they valued. I could see how my dad found truth from God. Even though he doesn’t believe in my faith, it opened the door to more conversations we could have about God. And I’m grateful for that opportunity.