Religion in Richard Rodriguez’s The Hunger of Memory

A critical analysis of the role that the Catholic religion plays in Richard Rodriguez’s "The Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez"

     In Credo, Rodriguez shows us what the Catholic Church meant to him. It not only gave him a spiritual path, but gave him a community and a bridge between his cultures, as well as between his family and academic lives. Catholicism reached nearly every facet of Rodriguez’s life, connecting it all together. If he was faced with something that wasn’t a part of the Church, he had no need to feel isolated as he did earlier in Aria with his language struggles.
    He grew up as a dedicated, involved member of the traditional Catholic Church; a church “something like that enjoyed before [him] by [his] parents” (81). His life centered around Catholicism, the “church filled all time” (84); anything which wasn’t a part of the Church was akin to another world. It stood as both a spiritual and physical monument in his world. He felt God through its church; the architecture, the costumes, the ritual, the words; it all brought him the Church as much as prayer did. He cared for the liturgy, the ceremony most of all. The fact that his religion touched every aspect of his life forced him “to think” (96) He felt that the ceremony and ritual was not tedious, rather it “redeemed the routine” (99). He praises the Church for all that it taught him. He said that, in his experience they did not focus on the dreaded “sins of the flesh”, but on exposing him “to the experience of life” (106). Through this the Church gave him reassurance that he was important, that his actions mattered(106).
    With its spiritual graces the Church brought him his society, and connected everything together. Being such a permeating religion, Catholicism has evolved to be inclusive, more of a culture than a belief. It connected him to his ancestors, to his family, to school, to his community, and to perfect strangers all over the world. They were the special ones, the ones “‘chosen’ by god” (82). Through his Catholic education they also assimilated him to American culture. They had many American colloquialisms, like the Pledge of Allegiance, along with the morning prayer, and he had a semi-normal public school experience within his religious one. His family had the Church, as well as his school; this help even the transition and the drastic change and pulls he felt between the two. He says, “When all else was different for me (as a scholarship boy) between the two worlds of my life, the Church provided and essential link.” (87) He elaborates greatly on the bond he felt between him self and every other person of the Catholic faith, that they are all interconnected. His community within the Church relieved him “of the burden of being alone before God”, a united front of sorts. Catholicism was the constant throughout any troubles in his youth.
    Rodriguez does not have too many terrible problems with the Catholic Church. He did touch upon their dislike of questioning authority. He tells us stories of being told off for reading books on the Index, as well as for reading the Bible without appropriate supervision and guidance. He also mentions a general fear for non-Catholics, and a lack of education on other beliefs. He does say however, that the were generally realistic and not defensive when they did light on other beliefs. In general, he loved his faith, and it was one of the most important and meaningful parts of his youth.
    As he grew up he felt the Church had greatly transformed; no longer did he experience the power and the ritual that he treasured. He admits though that “It is not only the truth that has changed; I’ve changed as well.”(110) Through college and adulthood he strayed more from the set Catholocism and became a more generalized Christian. He tells us that he is still passionate about his faith, but that much more of his faith is private, though he still attends services. Never once does Rodriguez voice any sort of regret of his religion. Even though he and the Church have both evolved and outgrown each other he still harbors a great respect and strong beliefs.

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