I am a cradle Catholic, and an only child. Both my parents were Catholic, however only one, my mother, practised her faith. It was from my mother that my faith sprang. The two of us always attended Mass, but we did not pray together at home. I was educated at Catholic schools, but essentially I was a 50min a week Christian. Jesus rarely entered my thoughts throughout the week. However, I always had a strong sense of God’s presence in my life, as if he was always just waiting around the corner, anxious for me to bump into Him and start a relationship! As I child I felt a strong affinity with Our Lady, perhaps because I was dedicated to her as a baby.
At the age of 12 I was fortunate enough to go on a holiday to Europe with my parents. One of the stops on our bus tour was Lourdes. We were only able to stay for a few hours, but I believe that that short visit has had a lasting impact on my faith journey. I was in awe of the place. I bought a Rosary and a little book about St. Bernadette and never forgot what my soul experienced that day.
As I went through the teen and early adult years the secular world took over. I still attended Mass, even if irregularly, but I followed the world’s plan for my life, not Gods. This was probably because for the most part I was ignorant of that God wanted to offer me. From where I stand now I look back and wonder how things may have been different had I met Jesus then, and known the whys behind all the you shall nots.
When I was 22 I met James and we fell in love. Within weeks we had informally decided that we would be married. On the day we looked at engagement rings I sat him down and told him what I wanted from marriage. I told him that for me divorce was not an option. I wanted to be married in a Catholic church, and I wanted any children we would be blessed with, to be baptised in the church and to attend catholic schools. Even though James was not Catholic and had for the most part been raised in a secular home, he was willing to go along with my wishes. We were married in a nuptial mass and started our life together.
Six years later we had two boys, and I was still attending Mass every other week but a little unsure if I should be there. I had difficulties accepting the church’s stance on contraception, but was not curious enough to find out why it took such a firm stance. I occasionally considered jumping ship and attending an Anglican service but didn’t feel comfortable actually doing it!
For some time I had noticed something on the bulletin called a Celebrate Love weekend. It was advertised as a weekend for committed, loving couples, exploring sexuality in marriage. My mum encouraged us to go, and as she offered to baby sit our 4 and 2-year-old sons, we decided to go along. Not without some hesitation on James’ part. He was somewhat fearful of there being an attempted conversion agenda!
Without my knowing it walking into that Celebrate Love weekend was the start of my own conversion. Not only did I start to understand why it was that I was so adamant that out marriage was for life, but other things became clearer to me. I began to see that God wanted to be a part of EVERY aspect of our marriage and my life. As I got to know the presenters and the helpers on that weekend I saw the body of Christ in action. The love those people radiated was palpable. I wanted to be a part of it. I began to see that perhaps the church had something to offer me. Maybe it wasn’t just full of older people.
But perhaps the most life changing thing on that weekend was when one of the presenters included references to natural family planning in her talks. I’m sure my mouth was open in disbelief. In my ignorance I had assumed that NFP was for ignorant, uneducated women who blindly towed the line. But here was a highly educated, dynamic young women who believed that contraception was not ok. Without her knowing it she challenged me to look deeper. That week end and in the weeks and months to come my misconceptions about church teachings began to crumble under my newfound curiosity. I began to read and listen to speakers who explained why the church was against contraception. And it just made so much sense. The Holy Spirit was certainly at work, but I still didn’t know it.
I began to seriously consider if I wanted to really become a Christian. For me it was no longer enough to just turn up at Mass and then go home as before. I decided to make a decision to either leap in or bail out. So I started asking myself and others who Jesus really was and what he wanted to offer me. I asked a priest, family and friends some difficult questions. I listened to several tapes by Fr. Richard Rohr, and I started to understand. Joy began to leak into my heart with each new piece of truth I took in.
One book I read called "Why I’m still Catholic" made a real difference. In it many women shared their reasons why they were Catholics and what they loved about their church. In the first few paragraphs of almost every story they mentioned the same word, the Eucharist, the Eucharist, the Eucharist. To my embarrassment and disappointment I realised I had almost forgotten about Jesus truly present in every Catholic church. Intellectually I understood about the Real Presence, but only from a childish perspective. As it began to sink in I was blown away! It changed everything.
Another book I read represented another turning point. "Frozen Earth, Healing Fire". It was all about Lourdes and other placed where miraculous healing had taken place. Those stories profoundly touched my soul. If I accepted the healing hand of God was at work in the people I read about, then nothing could be the same. How could I be the same when I had proof as it were that God was real and that he was trying to shout it to the world with these healings and Eucharistic miracles. I had to take notice.
So my re-version is more of a drip, drip, drip affect than a thunderbolt. I desperately wanted and prayed for a thunderbolt, but I guess God knows best!
Since I have accepted Christ, it’s as if He’s turned the lights on! I understand why I’m here, life has purpose, meaning and beauty. Even in those moments when my old doubts surface, I still have His peace, and I wouldn’t give that up for anything! In the difficult times I know that he is with me and that all things will work together for good. I’m still searching and wanting more, but I also know that He loves me just as, and just where I am.
Incidently, James decided to enter the church when our youngest son was baptised! Through our involvement in Celebrate Love, James began to wonder what it meant to be a Christian. He met Jesus in the people we began to mix with. One of whom, after many months, was brave enough to come straight out and ask James, "So when are you becoming Catholic?" This was the push James needed to ask himself the same question! What followed were many conversations with family and friends, about Jesus, the church, the Bible and so on. You can imagine what a wonderful celebration we had to mark James and Roo's entry into the church!