A REAL CONVERSION
I was an impressionable seventeen year old when I met David, the man I would eventually marry. I was intrigued by this tall, handsome, medical student. He was a pianist, child prodigy, exceptional writer, skier, yachtsman, and most surprisingly to me, a Catholic.
‘Why would an intelligent person like him be a Catholic?’ I asked myself. My own background was Protestant. I had been christened in the Church of England but had only attended church on a few occasions as a child, but instilled in me was the notion that Establishment Protestants were the accepted social norm, not Catholics, as was the bigotry of the times.
David and my brother shared a common interest in Vintage Cars. One Sunday morning they were both under a car investigating the engine when David jumped up and said, ‘I must go to Mass.’ I thought this was a rarity for a man to actually prefer church to the ultimate pleasure of looking at the function of a car engine. I was astounded and my curiosity to find out why Mass would hold such an attraction prompted me to ask if I could accompany him. He agreed, and took me to his Church. To my amazement it was packed with people, whereas in my local Parish the Church of England struggled to find a dozen to attend. ‘What made Catholics different?’
I was impressed with the devotion of the congregation as they knelt in prayer, the women with heads covered by mantillas or hats, while the Priest celebrated the Eucharist in Latin. It was there, in that Church where I first looked at a painting of the Holy Shroud, the first seeds of my conversion were sown.
David explained to me the significance of the Mass and the mystery of the Shroud. I had never thought about Jesus as a living God whose very body and blood became manifest in the communion bread and wine. I had never thought about an afterlife or the real meaning of existence at all. I wanted to know more.
I sought out instruction from a Priest whose holiness and intellectual capacity impressed me. The dedication of his life to the priesthood was in itself a strong personal witness hard to ignore. After much thought and without any provocation from David I decided to convert to Catholicism and later married my handsome Catholic man.
Both of us had divorced parents and we never wanted this to happen to us. But after eight years and no children, our marriage irretrievably broke down. This was traumatic for me. I then started to question the faith that I had taken on; a faith which decreed I must stay alone for the rest of my life and not remarry. I was tested.
I stopped attending Mass, but questions remained in my mind. I was forced to live in the secular world where the moral ethics I had believed in did not apply. New sexual freedom in relationships allowed people to live together as partners instead of commitment in marriage. I wasn’t prepared for this. Fresh relationships brought conflict to my mind.
The more I experienced the more I could not discount nor disprove the teachings of the Church. I was now able to verify the wisdom of the Catholic stance. I defended it with a new faith, not merely as a nice ideal, but a conviction in my mind and heart, although I felt an outsider as I no longer attended Mass.
But then I was led to a special mission Mass. Under the encouragement of my friend who had invited me, I went to confession for the first time in fifteen years. The Priest who heard my confession was helpful and understanding. I came away with a new peace and felt a wholehearted desire to once again partake of the Eucharist.
Then, what I would call, my real conversion began. I experienced spiritual growth as never before and my prayers were answered in most unexpected ways. I met holy people who led me to greater knowledge and heights of endeavour. I learnt about the power of healing and the mysteries of the saints. I felt love in the hearts of those I met. I travelled to the Vatican in Rome and to the tomb of St. Francis in Assisi. I visited the Brompton Oratory in London and the churches in Holland, France, Ireland and Spain, and for all that, I knew I was home.
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