by Chelsea Rebelo

Filling a void in my early twenties was a rebellion on encroaching adulthood. I had just ended a long-term relationship which followed a barrage of alcoholic shenanigans and impulsive spending which impeded any engagement with real life opportunities. I was battling to foster lasting friendships and apply myself to my postgraduate science degree.

I carried a ton of shame and inadequacy in the relationship and friendship space – and of course in the flailing varsity workspace. I felt like an imposter in all social spheres, depression sunk in, so everyday I’d get a 20mg pop of Prozac equivalent.

I guiltily attended Mass, but would bolt out the church after the recessional hymn, skipping going up for communion, and leaving briskly, hauling the imaginary ‘Damaged Goods’ sign with me. The Catholic Church, in my mind, was a church for the pure, and I perceived that I could only receive the Eucharist and achieve “new levels of Catholic” if I’d been good that week, which didn’t happen often for me.

Wasn’t that the point of being a Catholic – to always work at being pure and holy? A feeling of connection to each other and to God was only reserved for those Christians who had it all figured out and weren’t making mistakes.

Father Daniel. P. Horan, who writes for the Huffington Post, said that the word Catholic derives from ‘katholikos’, stemming from two Greek words: kata or kath (meaning ‘through’ or ‘throughout’) and holos (meaning ‘whole’). This notion of ‘throughout-the-whole’ carries no notion of boundary or lines drawn that demarcate those who are ‘in’ and those who are ‘out.’

We can understand this boundary-less image of Catholicism through Jesus’ very short parable of “the yeast” found in Matthew 13:33 and Luke 13:21. Jesus describes the kingdom of God as yeast in bread mix: it permeates the mixture, becoming part of the bread, not destroying any molecules but giving it life and expansion. The yeast celebrates and works with all the ingredients, and this is what the Catholic faith is: inclusive, whole and infinitely embracing all creation. Catholic means the ultimate connection of life, binding all parts of it together.

God’s hand reared this awkward, isolated soul towards a course that was offered at my church. Anxiously, I went, because the issues were relevant to my life at the time – for example, how to cope as a Christian with the pressures of partying, sex, purpose and finding truth. I was also just tired of feeling worthless, alone and disconnected to life. Such heavy topics were made accessible and easy to talk about because of the sincere welcoming people at this church. I quickly felt comfortable around lots of people, got better at giving and receiving hugs and at making conversation as the friendships grew stronger. For the first time in ages, I felt like I belonged somewhere.

I had always known about Jesus and believed because I was told to, but the people I encountered participating in Church life lived in the Spirit. There are no other words. Anyone who passed for a brief moment or visited for a Mass was greeted as an old friend. The young adults lived the joy of the Gospel, and felt the excitement about the Kingdom of Heaven. They all had different gifts, life histories, and backgrounds. What I witnessed is the people’s personal desire to be a responsible role-player in the story of Creation; to take whatever God gave us, and work with it to build each other up. It’s a very literal take on “the Kingdom of God is at hand”, which I understand to be, a great call of: using what you have to build it.

For my life experience so far, this work has been carried out through gestures of invitation: “Come on the retreat; it will be great!” (It was). “Let’s go for a drink after Mass and chat”, “Let’s go make sandwiches for the school kids.” These engagements with spiritual activity in times of both personal success and drought offered so much peace and connection to the community of the Church and provided a spiritual backbone and moral compass to guide me in the working world. The subtle Spirit of Jesus, I realised, was lived by people I met and still meet today both in and out of the Church.

To experience life with God requires not isolation, purification and aspiration to some kind of spiritual and intellectual level. Rather, to live with God is to live with people and circumstances placed in our life story. Jesus’ Spirit is a spirit of invitation, of gathering together to fill up, and then disseminating out to live a life of presence, positively influencing whoever we meet. He gifts us with his nature of understanding and compassion. And the best part – we receive His greatest energy of love in our weakest moments: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

My experience of God and the Catholic Church so far can be summarised in this: God does not want us to be alone or to punish ourselves for mistakes. The Lord wants to gather us together regardless of achievement, wealth, status, relationship or family history. As a geoscientist who spends my life analysing and joining the dots, I can surmise that we, on earth, find ourselves in the mopping up mission, gathering all people together to get back to a fraction of what it feels like to be with God again – where we have a sense of community, connection and peace.

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About the Author

Chelsea Rebelo

Nothing gets me more excited than live concerts and real instruments. I am often found entrenched in music from the 70s and 80s. My mind tries always to be present while I  investigate deep time,  when early Earth was still forming its first tectonic plates.  I research rocks and minerals which are over 2 billion years old, as a part of my Masters degree.  Adoration is my favourite:  it is the ultimate form of present tense with the Lord.  Always keen to chat about Catholicism and Science!