It’s that time of year again. The 40 days (and nights) of hell that they call Lent where I will once again be sacrificing an abundence of indulgences due to eternal Catholic guilt.
When my (English Protestant) dad asked my mum’s (Italian Catholic) dad for her hand in marriage it was given on the proviso that any children would be brought up in the Catholic faith.
As a youngster I got christened, received my first holy communion and was confirmed into the Catholic Church. I was sent to the Convent for catechism lessons and on a retreat to deepen my connection with my faith. There was even a time that I thought I wanted to be a nun. Yes, really.
So what have I learnt from being brought up with my faith that’s helped me in life?
1. Doing the right thing. Yes sometimes the Bible may feel like a set of stories but a great Priest has the gift of turning them into messages that resonate in our contemporary lives, helping make sense of our Christian purpose. One of my favourites is about when Jesus heals the leper. Ultimately it serves as an excellent metaphor for encouraging us to be the person that proactively seeks to help those who have been ostracised in some way, be it socially or in the workplace. Always be the one who seeks to welcome, involve and do the right thing by others, even if sometimes it means you may face being excluded in some way for doing so. We all have a different measure of what’s right and wrong but staying true to my own morals and beliefs so that I live my life through integrity is what’s most important to me.
2. Teamwork. Never before had I felt the sense of people coming together to achieve a goal than I felt when we’ve lost family members. It’s never too much trouble for the regular church goers to turn up and make everything happen so that the family has the opportunity to focus wholly on saying their farewells. There’s a role for everyone, respecting each other’s strengths and the contribution they’re making to the task. From the florists to the cleaners, the readers to the musicians, there is no hierarchy; people just seem to get on with it.
3. Presenting. I love an audience. From the age of 11 I was on the reading rota in our church, reading bible passages to large Sunday congregations, learning how to deliver the messages in a meaningful way. I also learnt a lot from listening to the sermons of my priests over the years, some good and some less good. This experience set me up well to speak in public as head girl of my secondary school and again to audiences of thousands in my role as Vice President of the University of Bath Students’ Union before taking on the most special role of all – reading at the weddings and funerals of those closest to me. Needless to say, the skills and confidence I gained from an early age in the church have put me in great stead for presenting with impact in the business world. Yes I get anxious before a big presentation but more because I’m fuelled by the adrenaline of wanting to perform well than the fear of the audience itself.
Whilst nowadays I would describe my relationship with the church as fair weather, going only when I feel I need some time for quiet reflection, ultimately I am thankful for being brought up with the church in my life.
And as for the Catholic guilt at Lent?
This year I’m giving up sweets, chocolate, crisps, chips, cake, biscuits, ice cream, Lucozade (red cap), pizza and McDonald’s. Basically, all of my indulgences. I’ve also contemplated throwing alcohol into the mix but I have a hen do and wedding during Lent, not to mention England v Wales in the Six Nations.
If Moses did it so can I. The chocolate bunnies will simply have to wait.