Faith, belief and religion are, to most people, interchangeable. This misconception has been passed through generations for so many years that now, when they're read, you don't even hesitate to view them as one.
It's true that all three are deeply connected. But can a person have faith without religion? And can someone have religion without actual belief?
Growing up in the non-denominational, seemingly Protestant, Christian church genre, I dreaded going to church. I hated getting up early, I thought the service was boring, and I really didn't like the "pray and dash" mentality that so many of my fellow church-goers idealized.
Through my teens I prayed when it was convenient. Even after moving away from home and co-inhabiting in the cell block dorm room, to me, the entire practice of going to church seemed rehearsed...robotic...performed.
I watched as peers sneaked their illegal booze, sloshed over to the local bars and became too friendly with each other on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights then rose early, dressed appropriately and strode to church Sunday morning to "erase" their slate for the week ahead.
This self-righteous pattern sickened me. I wanted to experience something more concrete. I wanted to witness at least one person who believed, practiced and actually lived his life accordingly.
My whole life I have had the belief. Through trying obstacles, questions and doubts, I believed in God and I believed in Christ. I knew that my "membership" in any one specific denomination wasn't going to guarantee me a pass to eternal salvation.
However, there was something missing in my life, something that I still wanted to experience.
My conversion to Catholicism was unexpected. I wish I could pinpoint my conversion to one specific moment, but as I look back, it seems that it was growing long before I noticed any type of change.
My life was an excursion and the various stepping stones that led me to converting were the highlights of the trip.
In my junior year of college I decided to take a faculty-led, spring break tour of Italy with about 20 other students. The trip took us through Florence, Assisi and Rome.
Boarding the jet was the start of my adventure high.
Over the next 10 days we ate gelato, drank wine, toured the Colosseum, sat second row in a Papal Audience in Vatican City, climbed the Spanish steps and celebrated my 21st birthday.
Upon our return to the States I was at an all-time low that had nothing to do with jet lag. Being transported into the Catholic center of the world left me questioning...everything.
I started attending Mass, read books, changed social groups and came to a defining realization.
I wanted the community. That was the part of my spiritual journey that I was lacking.
I had witnessed "communities" in the past that I thought looked forced or fake. A religion, to me, needed to be a outlet to express my faith. I wanted a support system, a family, that held the Christian belief and I found my place in the Catholic Church.
Eternal salvation is not guaranteed to any of us. And the thought that a denominational title warrants a free pass is false.
Anyone can have religion. What we all need is faith.