Part one in a three-part series.
I am just about to graduate from Creighton University. I love this place, tucked between downtown and Midtown Omaha. I could not have made a better choice of where to spend eight semesters learning about the universe and myself.
I knew nothing about Creighton when I applied as a high school senior, except that it was expensively private and had a good academic reputation in Nebraska. When I investigated more, I realized that it was Catholic and Jesuit. (Huh? What’s a Jesuit?)
I imagined the transition to college to be difficult in many ways: I was in the midst of a painfully shy moment of my life; I was scared to encounter the “crazy party scene” that some of my high school peers couldn’t wait to experience; Omaha is approximately 13.3 times bigger than my hometown; I was afraid I would become homesick when I couldn’t see my parents, sister or beloved childhood dog every day.
But it never crossed my mind that I would experience a culture shock. After all, I would be living a mere three hours from my birthplace, one jaunt on I-80 away. I was going to be in the same state, my beloved and detested Nebraska, which I viewed as both a prison and a paradise.
This corn-fed and Nebraska bred girl was not prepared to encounter the private school prodigies that flock to Creighton. It took me a while to get the hang of CU, and I wanted to create a guide to pass off to the other “outsiders,” which I deem people who aren’t of the Catholic faith, extraordinarily wealthy or attended private high school. (Hence, the Protestant/poor/public school alliteration which will pervade this piece.)
So today, I will focus on the Protestants, or rather not being Catholic at CU.
One thing: I know I am being slightly stereotypical here. I am painting with a broad brush, but I do not mean to offend anyone of any religion. I am trying to describe my experiences at Creighton.
Catholicism is much different than other mainstream Christian religions. If you are a Protestant, you have probably attended a variety of churches in your life. For example, I grew up Methodist but attended Lutheran and Protestant services with my grandparents. While there were some differences, like drinking grape juice versus wine during communion, the basic gist of it was similar.
But throw everything you know about Christianity out of the window when you attend a piously Catholic institution. Instead of a pristine and gleaming cross adorning a wall, there is Jesus, writhing in pain on the cross. This is called a crucifix, or rather what they hang in classrooms instead of a clock. Even the words are different: it’s “mass,” not “church service;” “priest” over “pastor” and “Eucharist” instead of “communion.” All of your favorite figures from the Bible will now have the word “Saint” placed in front of them, but rest assured that St. Joseph and St. Mary are Jesus’ parents just the same.
No matter what happens Saturday night, your devout Catholic friends will be in St. John’s church on Sunday. (Well, at least for the first two years.) They will try and persuade you to go with them, and you will acquiesce. After all, church is church, right? (Wrong. That was a pop quiz. See above note about “mass.”) It will be wildly different from what you are used to. There won’t be a real program, and everyone will recite songs, prayers and gestures by rote. You will fervently flip through books, trying to follow along, but it will be useless. You will eventually give up and be resigned to sit in silence, listening to the intonations of the faithful flock.
When you go up to take communion Eucharist, you will have to fold your arms in front of your chest in an X shape. You will feel lost and confused and stare off at the beautiful ceiling of St. John’s, trying to count all of the stars. Then, you hear something that is familiar. The Lord’s Prayer! You know this. This is your one chance to prove that you have some experience inside of a church.
“Our Father, who art in heaven,” you say with conviction, “Hallowed be Thy name.” You continue on, proud and glad to finally be able to participate. After discovering you both say “trespasses” instead of “debts” you are home free.
Except you are not.
At this point, the entire church is silent while the priest speaks. You, however, in your proud and loud voice, will continue on, oblivious to everyone’s silence. You will then turn bright red.
Mass isn’t the only place religion comes into play in the daily life at Creighton. You will take theology classes and learn about the pope. (Never say anything bad about the pope. Especially not Francis—he is cool.) Controversial topics like female clergy and birth control will be discussed, and you will resist the urge to roll your eyes.
You will have to read the Bible as a textbook, and you will learn fascinating things. You will think more about Jesus than you probably ever have before, if only for the fact that you will take two classes about him. And you will discover interesting religious figures (besides Martin Luther), like St. Julian of Norwich.
In the words of Julian, “All will be well, and all shall be well.” Even when you accidentally go the wrong way after Eucharist at mass.
Part one in a three-part series. Stay tuned to read about the other two P’s– poor and public schooled.