Until September 2011, I had no interest in religion at all. Although I was christened into the Church of England, I did not practice and, as my father was a complete atheist, I was in fact encouraged not to practice the Christian faith. I grew up in the Southeast of England and attended Church of England schools where we had religious instruction in the Protestant faith, in which I had very little interest.
In fact, the only time I ever prayed was at school in morning assemblies or on the rare occasions I went to church for weddings or funerals. I used to find religious people a little strange and wondered why they would waste a Sunday morning attending a church service when they could have had a good lie-in.
When I left school, the little time I spent saying the Lord’s Prayer and singing hymns came to an abrupt end. Over the years, I lived in various areas of England before moving to the small Isle of Wight, just off the south coast of England. It was there I drifted into the New Age scene.
I met a lady who was a practicing medium and ran a psychic group. I had gone to her for a tarot card reading and she invited me to her group. I was searching for direction at the time and therefore I initially agreed to visit the group out of interest — and I ended up staying for seven years! In that time, I learned how to become a medium myself, channeling spirits through my own body, reading tarot cards, training to be a Reiki healer, and training others in the same field. I also taught crystal and angel workshops, which involved healing and doing certain “magic” spells in order to attract what I and others wanted to bring into our lives. In addition, I celebrated the Shabbats, the eight, quarter-moon days representing different seasons of the year during which we called upon the powers of the gods and goddesses and performed certain rituals. Ironically, I attended a naming ceremony (which is a “pagan baptism”) and a hand-fastening between two lapsed Catholics.
In January 2011, after about seven years, the woman running our group left the Isle of Wight. I was then feeling that I had gone as far as I could in that direction and had a deep sense of disquiet. I was no longer happy with my job and I finally gave my notice after applying for and accepting a position caring for an elderly couple in their own home. I was due to start in early September, but sadly the man died while I was still working out my notice.
The elderly woman’s needs were greater without her husband’s help and thus it became necessary for me to move into her home to give her 24-hour care. The experience was rather overwhelming, since it took me out of my comfort zone and drastically reduced my personal free time.
My feet carried me in
In mid-September, I did have some time to myself and I went back to my hometown in Ryde, Isle of Wight where I still had my apartment. I had planned to go straight there, but for some reason I stopped in town and decided to take a walk. While I was walking in the upper High Street, I saw an open door and my feet carried me in. I had lived in Ryde for fourteen years and, it might sound strange, but I had never noticed there was a church there, even though I must have walked past it hundreds of times.
Anyway I walked into this church while the Catholic Mass was taking place (not that I realized that it was a Catholic Church at the time). Not wanting to draw too much attention to myself, I decided to just sit down and remain inconspicuous. The priest was saying something and the people were responding, but it went straight over my head, but as I sat there listening to this Mass, something moved within me. As the Mass went on, the people knelt, stood up, and knelt again, so I joined them, pretending I knew what was happening. Then they all stood up and went to the front and the priest was distributing (what I later found out was) Holy Communion. At the time, I was just sitting and thinking: Okay, I am sitting here in a church on a Thursday morning and I really do not do churches.
The Mass ended and I went back to my job and, for a few days, life went on until I was given a few more hours off and again I headed back to Ryde. Instead of going back to the Catholic church in town, I drove to nearby Quarr Abbey, a Catholic monastery. I had only visited once when I took my mum for a visit some eight years before, but at the time it had made no impression on me at all. Like the church, it was a place I passed on the way to somewhere else and had never been inclined to stop for a visit. But on this occasion, I drove into the car park, walked up to the abbey, and sat down, wondering why I should feel so drawn; after all, I was a New Age follower with no interest in God.
I might have had no interest in God, but He had an interest in me, I think! Not that it occurred to me at that moment, but as I sat there, a deep sense of peace came over me and, again, I felt something change in me. After a while, I went outside again and saw a sign for the bookshop. I walked up to the lady behind the counter and just blurted out, “How do I become a Catholic?” I think I expected her to laugh at me, but she seemed to think it was a perfectly reasonable question. She took me over to a selection of CTS (Catholic Truth Society) books and picked up one entitled How to Become a Catholic.
That was the first religious book I ever bought. As I left the shop, I also had the number of the local church in Ryde — the very one I had entered only the week before. I did not even get out of the car park before ringing the number and being given the number of the lady who ran the annual RCIA course (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults). She was delighted to hear from me and, after taking my name and phone number, she said she would call me when RCIA was due to start probably late November.
Time went on and I left the job I had been in and started working as a domestic assistant in a nursing home; things seemed to go into suspension for a while. I did not enter my local church again, although I did visit Quarr Abbey a few times.
Then in late November I received a call to inform me that RCIA was due to start the following week. However, due to my shift pattern, I could not go to the first one, but I did make it to the second meeting and encountered some really nice people. I must admit, I was a little iffy the first time I went. I felt a little embarrassed sitting there, learning about the Catholic Faith. The third week rolled around and I argued with myself, thinking that this could not be for me. I decided not to go. As that evening wore on, a strange feeling of disquiet set in and I decided I should be at that RCIA class, not sitting at home watching the TV. The next day, I phoned the lady running the course and asked if it was all right for me to come the following week and, of course, she said it was.
That seemed to be my turning point and, to put it bluntly, I was hooked. Every Wednesday, I looked forward to going to learn more. Of course, there were some rather uncomfortable moments when I realized that a lot of things I had practiced in my New Age past were wrong. I remember learning about the Ten Commandments. The First Commandment — I am the Lord: you shall not have strange Gods before me — proved rather difficult for me to accept, at first, as it seemed to be telling me that everything I had held dear and worked hard to attain had been morally and spiritually wrong. I felt very uncomfortable and discussed this with my tutor. I think she found it a little disturbing just how far I had gone into New Age. Again when we covered the lesson on mortal and venial sin, I got very worried as I knew I had sinned badly but, as my tutor explained, although what I had been doing was wrong, I did not have full prior knowledge that what I was doing was a sin against God. That gave me great comfort, but I must admit it was not easy.
It was December when I walked into my local Catholic Church again to attend the Christmas Lessons and Carols service, which was beautiful and sung very well by the choir. (Little did I know that only five months separated me from joining that choir.) In late January, I had the strongest desire to be confirmed and I approached the RCIA tutors who were delighted. When the date of the Rite of Election came along, I was stunned: it was exactly 50 years to the day since I had been christened into the Church of England. It was as though it was meant to be!
One of the ladies in my RCIA course accepted my request to become my sponsor. She had never been asked to be a sponsor before and was very happy to accept. We went to Cathedral of St John the Evangelist in Portsmouth, U.K., and there I met the bishop, who was nearing retirement at the time. It was a moving day and I really enjoyed it.
A near miss
However, there was one thing that scared me about the process of becoming Catholic more than anything and that was making my First Confession. As time went on, I got more and more scared of the idea and towards the end of March, I decided that I could not do it and that I was going to find an Anglican church and join there instead. So one Friday afternoon, I made an appointment at the local Anglican church, but as I was walking through town, who should I bump into to but the lady who was going to be my sponsor? She had happened to come to Ryde to get something and we ran into each other. She suggested that maybe we could go up to the Catholic church and say the rosary together. Not wishing to be rude, I agreed and thought it would not matter if I delayed my visit to an Anglican church by a few minutes.
That is where I prayed the rosary for the first time and it was lovely. I made mistakes and stumbled here and there, but something happened during that rosary and I knew this lady had been sent by God to stop me from leaving the Catholic Church (before I had even entered). After we finished, we said a prayer, I thanked God, and then explained to her what I was about to do.
I never did enter that Anglican church and, a week after our encounter, I made my first Confession. As it turned out, it was not as bad as I feared. Of course I was nervous, but the priest could not have been nicer.
The following Saturday, I was confirmed into the Catholic Church and the only sad thing was that my family did not want to attend. They were rather nonplussed about my decision to become a Catholic and did not want to attend a church of any kind.
Becoming Catholic was the best thing I have ever done and now I pray the rosary every day, as well as the Divine Mercy chaplet. Coincidentally, I volunteer at Quarr Abbey in the bookshop where I had first asked about becoming a Catholic. In May of 2012, after hearing the choir singing so beautifully, I remarked to a woman at church how much I wished I could sing in it. It turned out that she is the wife of our Music Director and, after speaking to him, I agreed to come to a practice and sing at the Vigil Mass and I am still going strong. I am in the Legion of Mary, too, so my religious life is busy.
I am human and there have been some lapses, but luckily my parish priest and friends are always there to support me and I count God’s blessing every day. Every day I start my morning with prayer and I thank God that He saw a lost sheep and bought her into the fold.