As I said yesterday, I ‘became a Christian’ when I was 17. I read the Bible, prayed and went to the Baptist Church where I’d been ‘saved’. The focus was very much on ‘saving sinners’ and, thereafter, we were pretty much left to our own devices. I was soon sleeping with my new Christian boyfriend whom I’d met at the Church. I still smoked and drank and swore and stayed out all night. Was I a Christian? Well, yes. I believed and still believe in God and his plan of salvation through Jesus Christ. But I was immature and, despite my Bible reading, not being fed nourishing food to help me grow.
At the end of the summer, I went back to University and, though I tried to move in Christian circles there with my wild living and wild appearance I wasn’t accepted and soon gave up trying to fit in. Back with my old friends, it wasn’t long before the Bible was gathering dust on the shelf. But I didn’t forget about Jesus. I wasn’t living a Christian lifestyle, I wasn’t praying and he was very much on the back-burner but I still wanted some kind of connection. I just didn’t know how to find it so I began to look for it in some very strange places.
For a while, I drifted between various Churches – all Protestant – and no Church. Not finding what I was looking for, I also looked to other kinds of religious practice. Each time I tried something new, or went back to an old haunt, I’d be committed and enthusiastic for a while but would drift away after a week or a month or a year. I still hadn’t been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder so, not only was I spiritually lost, but I was getting sicker and sicker and my life was more and more complicated, more and more unhappy.
The turning point came with a mental breakdown which led to me being treated first for Major Depressive Disorder and, latterly, Bipolar. I retired from work, took my medication and learned how to manage my illness. Life was simpler and I was getting better but I was still spiritually lost, looking to this practice or that set of beliefs to satisfy my soul.
I read. Articles online, books from Amazon. I read everything I could get my hands on about God and religion. I joined web forums and groups. I chatted to people from different faith communities.
I’d been interested in Catholicism for some time when I chanced upon a Catholic Religious Sister who was willing to talk to a troubled young woman, still searching for something she couldn’t explain. Sister Joseph was very kind to me. She told me her story and I told her mine. She told me about Saints, about offering up our sufferings, about St Therese of Liseux and her ‘Little Way.’ And she persuaded me to visit the local Catholic Church, before Mass, just for a wee look round.
The Church was quiet. I slipped into a pew and just looked at the crucifix, hanging behind the altar. I sat for so long that Mass started and I had to stumble my way through it, not knowing the responses or when to kneel. No one spoke to me (which suited me fine). It was just me and God, doing our best to understand one another. I went back the next evening, and the next, hungry now for more of the same rather than something different. Somehow I knew that what I was doing was right in a way that none of the other faith practices had been.
I’m not sure what happened next. Was I scared? Bored? Ill? Discouraged? Lazy? Or maybe the truth is that I was so accustomed to drifting that, when the novelty wore off, I drifted again without putting up a fight. But now it was the Catholic Church that I kept coming back to.
Over the next few years, although I continued to drift, I also continued to read about Christianity and Catholicism. I’d go through phases of attending Mass. I learned that, quite simply, ‘being Catholic’ makes me happy in a way that nothing else does. But I had reservations. Did I really want to tell my darkest sins to a Priest? Did I really want to accept that contraception wasn’t an option? And what if they didn’t want me? Or started talking about exorcisms? So I’d go to Mass for a while, raise objections to what God might be asking of me and drift again.
Seemingly by chance, I happened to be in a Mass-attending phase during Lent one year. The Priest announced that adults would be received into the Church ‘at Saturday’s Easter Vigil.’ I decided to attend. And, having attended, I knew without doubt that I wanted what those people had received. I started attending RCIA that autumn and received Confirmation and First Holy Communion the following Easter. And I thought I would never lose what I received that night.
In a sense, I was right. Once a Catholic, always a Catholic is true in the spiritual sense. But, after the high point of the Easter Vigil I fell flat very quickly. So there followed a period in which I’d go to Confession, resolve to make a fresh start, start and fail to finish. In between, as ever, I drifted, still on that long and winding road.