I’m delighted to post this moving testimony from Emma, a parishioner in our diocese, of her story about becoming a Catholic. Having come from another church community, she speaks of what our faith sometimes looks like ‘from the outside’ and how God called her, despite misgivings and barriers, into the heart of His Church.
“There are times when I have so much to say that my mind cannot put its thoughts into order quickly enough for me to be able to write them down. This is one such occasion. I have so much to say that I shall simply have to start at the beginning…
God made me. He made me for a purpose; He knows it and, although in His infinite wisdom He has yet to show me that specific purpose, I know it too. Whatever the beginning circumstances of your life, your family situation or indeed the place you find yourself in now, you can be certain of that too. How can I know this for sure? Because the God I know is love; it is not a knowledge that can be gained in any other way except through hard won experience.
My spiritual life began the moment I was baptised in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I don’t remember it but it must have been a ‘good show’ since the Lord never does things half-hearted! The grace afforded to me at my baptism was the gift of faith. Since faith is the “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1) it has proved very useful in my search for the truth. That is not to say I have never doubted. I have had several periods in my life where there has seemed nothing but darkness. Through these times the fire in me was merely an ember, barely noticeable. But here is the thing about embers, they may be tiny but they are fiercely hot. The smallest of encouragement fans them into flames. A slight wind ignites a near unstoppable force of nature – the Holy Spirit is a formidable force.
I am certain that God had been with me throughout my life thus far but I can remember the moment it all made sense, 13th November 2000. It was one of those ‘light bulb’ moments when clarity reigned. The next sixteen years were a rollercoaster of emotions as I first became a wife and a mother not long after. Looking back, God used all these experiences, as He always does, to prune and grow me. He pruned hard and it was painful but no act of refinement is ever easy. Would I go through those difficult moments again? Yes I absolutely would. You may think that is ridiculous. You may think I am just being dramatic but I can tell you that no amount of pain or hardship could sway me from being where I am now.
I was 35 and happy. I had 4 lovely children and an amazing husband. I went to church every week and was part of the most wonderful church family. My life revolved around Jesus and I enjoyed studying the bible and learning from the Sunday sermons. My faith had grown slowly but surely and, despite a period of illness, the roots of my spiritual life had stood firm. Still, I felt something was missing. Instead of having fewer questions about my faith, I was having more. These were not doubts but reasonable theological questions that I had a burning need to explore. I had stagnated and I needed to grow.
One of the hardest things in the last year has been leaving my previous church family. The place I was married, my children baptised and the friendships that saw me through those tough times. It was not a decision I made lightly and it took a lot of courage to finally do it. I had no safety net, no other church to go to. If I left and it was the wrong thing then I was afraid I would lose my faith. But if there was one thing my church had taught me it was that ‘if you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat’. I had to fix my eyes on Jesus and walk towards Him unflinchingly and without looking down! It could have gone horribly wrong but it didn’t. I listened to God calling and as always He was faithful. I trusted in his provision and He blessed me abundantly in ways I never expected.
I began going to a different church, it was a place where I knew a couple of people but on the whole everyone was a stranger. On top of not knowing many people, the church was Catholic and so the service was totally different. There was no worship band, the words were unfamiliar and more than once I found myself looking at the Mass sheet back to front and upside down, trying to figure out what was going on! I couldn’t receive communion as I was not Catholic and this broke my heart. There was no high energy children’s groups and absolutely zero for my teenage son. My 6 year old was used to being with his friends and found the whole thing boring.
But God is always faithful. He knows what we need before we do and in the coming months the transformation in our hearts was to be enormous. There were the practical things like the parish advertising for a Youth Worker and gradually I set about becoming more familiar with the Mass. We went to as many social events as we could and, despite being shy, I made myself talk to lots of new people. I signed up for the Right of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) which is a course exploring the Catholic faith. I never had any intention of becoming Catholic, it was simply so I could understand why the Mass was the Mass; why people at my new church did what they did and said what they said. God, however, is the creator of all things seen and unseen, one of which is His sense of humour!
One by one God moved in each of us. My son had a yearning to become an altar server. My other children enjoy singing in the choir and my little one is content these days simply to listen and cuddle on my lap. God was patient with me while I wrestled with Him. He guided and nurtured me during this transient time. I gradually fell in love with the Mass, the depth and richness of the liturgy, the truth and love of His body and blood, the joy and thanksgiving of the Eucharist and the communion which it brings. The delight in receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the grace outpoured at my Confirmation. I am complete; I am home.
As I write this now it is 2.30am on a Sunday morning. I cannot sleep because I am so excited. I am looking forward so much to getting up and going to Mass, to spending time in His presence. I am excited to see my church family, to share in communion with them and sing songs telling God how awesome He is and how much I love Him.
I do not know what the future holds but I trust in God’s plan for it. I am looking forward to growing even more in my faith and to going deeper with God, to developing friendships and becoming an integral part of the church body. The last six months have been amazing and I am so grateful to those who have supported me on this journey. I still have moments when I think it is all a dream and I have to pinch myself but hey, I got out of the boat and I didn’t sink!”