Catholic by Birth, Saved by Grace.

church window, stained glass, Jesus and Mary

I am now saved and a believer in Christ Jesus as Savior and Lord over my life. I now understand this in deeper dimensions than I used to before. As a continuation of the Stepping into Salvation series, I felt the need to talk in detail about my background. My former beliefs, my former fellowship. I find it necessary because it will shape and has already started shaping the flow of this narrative because I am always referring to my “former belief”. If you are here to learn about the catholic faith, I apologize in advance, this is not it today. Chances are high, I will be and I have already dispelled some of the beliefs and doctrines of the Catholic faith within this blog here and there. I would love to reiterate this disclaimer here that from this point forward, any reference to my former faith – The catholic church and its doctrines will elicit some legitimate emotional waves. It may feel like I am attacking them or something close to it but I will try to be easy as possible and with love as I share the discoveries that I made through the years. I do not come from a point of hate or bitterness. It served me and served me well in its season – it molded a large part of my young life. I say this with a lot of confidence because now, I know the difference between church hurt, peer pressure, and everything else in between.

I was born catholic. I found my parents catholic and as you would expect, there is no other way besides following your parents to the Catholic Church up to this point. My grandparents – Mum’s side is Catholic. My dad’s side is protestant. I don’t even get this. I was to ask Dad what happened. Let’s focus on the Catholics, it’s why we are here. About 98% of my mum’s side of relatives are Catholic. So Catholic; that most within the region bear Italian & Latin names. That is how deep I was in this. I was baptized as an infant, at the Kutus Catholic Church around 1990. (The cup of water on the forehead kind – I am trying to contrast it with baptism by immersion. This was not immersion). Besides cleansing me as a child and every other, of the original sin, I became a member of the catholic church. Baptism is considered the first sacrament. In addition to this, I have family links though not thick in the priesthood. Naturally, Catholicism was the only option. There was no other place I would go besides this. The only 2 times I remember a different way things were done were when we were younger and used to live at the staff quarters at AHITI – Ndomba we could attend joint Sunday school with the other kids of the estate. The church was as far as Kutus town and it was too far for us to walk all that distance. So the kids would be left behind to be taught by the college students in one of their classes, until our parents came back home from the church for ‘big people’. The second instance is that time my aunt took me to Christian Church International and I wrote about it a while back. Drama!

We then moved to Kerugoya town and here the church was nearer. Sunday school was now attended properly at Kerugoya. I do recall my Sunday school days very well. What’s interesting is that as of the writing of this article, the class I attended Sunday school at Kerugoya Catholic Church still exists. I also happened to teach kids there when I served there. I then attended Catholic catechism. I attended catechism at primary school. The Effort Schools Kerugoya, then called Effort Junior School, was founded by a Catholic family and naturally there would be a lot of preference given to matters religion aligned with the Catholic faith. We even had mandatory fellowships/ Christian instruction-kind-of program held in class, complete with a syllabus and instruction book, called PPI once every week in the morning. That is besides the normal assembly where we would sing 3 choruses and a prayer. So here we had an in-house teacher who took us through catechism classes. Catechism which we had nicknamed “Katee” is what contains the summary of the core beliefs of the Catholic faith. It was contained in a small book that the teacher used to guide us. Catechism is basically religious instruction. This is what guides the life of a Catholic believer. This is in relation to what to believe, how to pray, who to pray to, where to pray etc. This is where we began memorising specific prayers. Some to God, others to saints others to prominent people in the scripture.

If only to mention a few of the things I was taught to believe; we believed in the Holy Trinity. But there was a little oddness to it. I was taught that God exists in three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is the son of God who became human in the doctrine of the incarnation, to save humanity from sin. In relation to the Eucharist. Catholic catechism taught me that the bread and wine used in the celebration of the mass become the actual body and blood of Christ in the doctrine of Transubstantiation. Complex names I know. This one also seems usual until you really understand the ideology here. – The bread turns into the Body of Jesus, and the Wine becomes his blood but still remains in the physical form of the circular bread you know and a tot of fine altar wine. Then these last 2 had to be mentioned. Let me start with the Pope. We were taught that the Pope is the successor of St. Peter and has the authority to teach on matters of faith and morals. He is the representative of Peter the Apostle and then there is the rest of the bishops as the apostles. And then there is Mary the mother of Jesus. We were taught to believe that the Virgin Mary was conceived without sin and was assumed into heaven and that she intercedes for us with her Son. Also somewehre in between that story she appeared to a certain priest and gave him the rosary (comes as a beaded necklace with a crucifix worn on the neck or as a beaded/ notched ring, worn on the finger) and directed we use it to pray. Relax. I know how weird it sounds especially for Bible scholars reading this. I’ll be back to discuss each of these. This list is not even the tip of the proverbial iceberg. There is more to these doctrines. I just mentioned a few, especially the ones I started checking off.

After catechism, we underwent what is referred to as confirmation – the sacrament of confirmation. It is a rite of passage kind of affair, which involves the laying on of hands by a bishop, who anointed our foreheads with special oil chrism (it’s a mixture of olive oil and balsam). This confirmation was like the graduation ceremony after successfully completing your catechism classes. What’s interesting is, as of the writing of this article because I had to study again these doctrines so that I don’t lie to the people of the Lord, there are a few additional things that I don’t remember being taught in that class. There is a fresh mention of the Holy Spirit here and there and what I can confirm is that the Holy Spirit and his working is something that was trodden upon with caution. Anyway. This rite as part of 7 other sacraments allowed me to partake of the Eucharist (What we refer to as Holy Communion). With this, I was now able to serve in the church as an Altar Boy. A position I had admired for a Looooooong Time!!!

Here I was now able to assist in the mass. I wasn’t taught this by anyone. Not that I can recall, but for me, this whole altar-serving affair to me, especially how Kerugoya Catholic Church was set up looked like Jesus and the 12 disciples. The padre’s seat was on an elevated platform. The altar itself was elevated and then where the father sat was also elevated again. On his sides were 2 altar servants. That made 4 and then at the altar level, there were 4 on the right side and 4 on the left side. This made 12. Don’t come at me with guns blazing. This is how my mind operated at that level. Honestly, if you ask me, there is no other better reminder of the ministry of Jesus besides 13 men with differently styled Jewish-style vestments. And this is what I explained to my classmates at the time whenever they got curious about the Catholic faith. “We were just replicating the last supper every Sunday with a sermon on the mount somewhere in there.” Being an altar boy was the “You’re going to be a catholic priest” cue for everyone around you. Not forgetting that you seemed like the holiest of everyone around you. I don’t even know how that mindset formed. White robes could probably contribute to this.

Then I went to High school. Life was different. I never touched that altar to serve. I do not know why. I think it was around this point that I stopped receiving the eucharist for a while. This mixed with the thought that I couldn’t receive the eucharist if I had not confessed. At some point there I even lost count. “Bless me father for I am a sinner and this is my uhh hmmm… well, it has been several months since my last confession…” But what would you expect if I slept at 2 am watching movies in the hall Saturday night and then spent the first 30 minutes of the mass shoving each other for a position at the rear pew? The siesta pew. I tried attending some Saturday fellowships early in my Form 1 day but this dropped off eventually. I cannot remember a single sermon from my high school days. But I do remember the names of the interesting guest fathers who would come to hold the fort for the chaplain. By the time I was going back to Kerugoya after High School, I was no longer an altar boy. I was too old for the current generation of altar boys (Notice how flawed this mindset is). I decided to get myself another place to serve in the church. At this point, I wasn’t referring to it as serving. Serving is salvation-age language, but flow with it. I should mention that I never attended CU or a protestant service at any point in my High School time. But I did hear they were a blast. Though there were more sleep reports than miracle reports and deep inside, I was like, ‘if you are sleeping like I am sleeping at the chapel, well, it’s fine, we can all stay with our religions‘. Nobody ever approached me to try and tell me about Jesus Christ. Tell people about salvation in school man! would’ve saved some of us alot of time.

Back at Kerugoya Catholic Church and I am figuring it out. I understood too well that Sundays were for church. Actually, Saturdays and Sundays. After school on Saturday. I used to go home, eat and change and then come back and spent the rest of the afternoon at the church grounds. We could either be playing or just hanging out or planning the Sunday mass. There were also lots of practice and training and polishing the silverware. On Sundays, I would reach church very early, and set up the outfit of the father (It was usually placed in a certain order and matched the liturgical color of the season; like now it is lent. The color should be Purple I believe – you will notice there is a dash of purple in selected key areas within the sanctuary relevant to mass) anyway! I came in early and set up the vestments. If by chance they had not been brought back from the convent (Sister’s residence), I would go and pick them. The laundry and the ironing was on that side. So this was the life I was used to. Coming back home for the holidays and after high school, I had to fit into this lifestyle. So I continued going to church to spend my weekends there.

While I am here to talk of a place I left and doctrines I ceased to subscribe to, the discipline instilled by my parents to be a church mouse really saved me. For instance, I recall that with limited entertainment resources, I could only entertain myself with books or with a computer. Novels took up most of my time. Later on, PC games would take over. TV influence was limited. I used to go with my novels to the nice church grass on the hilly sides under the shade and spend hours reading and then I would go back home in the evening. Reading novels was also cheaper for me at the time as compared to the Ksh 200/- it cost to hire a movie on VCR tape. I did not have many friends. I created them afresh at this point. The church compound saved me a great deal of stuff. Honestly, God’s ways are not our ways. I hadn’t gotten a drinking crew yet, or a clique that would show me the “ways of life” – yet. I just had myself and the Lord. It was around this time that the idea of a youth group would come up. Being frequent in the church started giving people ideas. The fact that I was in church a lot of time and always on the frontline got people thinking I had found “my vocation”. Coz now everyone started talking to me Like I had told them I want to be a catholic priest when I grew up. “Who told you!!!” Including the extended family. They were so convinced I was on the way to seminary up to as late as 09′ when someone asked me if the military would allow me to pursue my dreams. I thought they were talking about aviation, but I was shocked when I realized they were reffering to me pursuing the catholic priest path in the military. The hilariousness!!!

I need to focus on the story honestly. Yes, so I was in church a lot after finishing high school. My godfather at the time approached me and asked me if I would be interested in rekindling the Kerugoya Catholic Church youth group which had been disbanded a while back by the then father-in-charge. I don’t know the fine details, to this date, else I will be speculating. It sounded like a good idea. Here I was I don’t know how to do this. Never was part of catholic action at school and here I was. But I tell you, God’s ways, are not man’s ways. I tell you I became the interim chairman of a group that wasn’t in existence and we rebuilt it from scratch. I really wanted to finish this story in one article but it seems like I have to do a second part. I will be back, the youth chairman and the Sunday school teacher.

Catholic by Birth, Saved by Grace.

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