måndag 20 april 2009

Why I am a Catholic

Italian Church

I have not before referred to why I became a Catholic, but this Sunday's reading prompted me to go public. The reading was John 20:19-31

In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, 'Peace be with you,' and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, 'Peace be with you.' 'As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.' After saying this he breathed on them and said: 'Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.'

Thomas, called the Twin, who was one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. When the disciples said, 'We have seen the Lord,' he answered, 'Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.'

Eight days later the disciples were in the house again and Thomas was with them. The doors were closed, but Jesus came in and stood among them. 'Peace be with you' he said. Then he spoke to Thomas, 'Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe.' Thomas replied, 'My Lord and my God!' Jesus said to him: 'You believe because you can see me. Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.'

There were many other signs that Jesus worked and the disciples saw, but they are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name.

One day in 1975 some colleagues asked me to take pictures for their wedding. I agreed and asked where it was being held. I was shocked when they told me that is was to be at the Italian Church in Clerkenwell (photograph). I thought they were too intelligent to go in for that sort of thing, as nearly all my other friends had got married in registry offices. But I needed to check out the venue beforehand. The only opportunity was to join them at a Sunday mass and in any case I was a bit curious to see what happened. I had not the foggiest idea of what was going on because the whole thing was in Latin and Italian.

He showed me His hands and His feet.

The world exploded. The words of the passage above came into my head. I know that I had actually met the risen Christ and like Thomas, been reassured that there was indeed a hole in His side. I sensed that the priest was not saying the Mass just for the people present but for me, too, and in fact for the entire world. I felt overwhelmed by an outpouring of generosity. And came away feeling, in a phrase that was around at the time, "that was a really nice thing to do".

There was more. From a very young age I had always had a sense of wanting something without knowing what that something was. A relationship, perhaps? An object? A satisfying job? I had always wished something nice would happen. Now it had. The Mass was the something. I had an intense feeling of light and love.

What then? I did not want to become a Catholic. It was a religion for poor stupid peasants and members of the IRA who would let off their bombs and then go to confession. And my family and friends would not like it. But after a short while the thing started to nag at me. So I mentioned it to my friend and he arranged for me to go to a Jesuit, a Father Richard Copeland +, for instruction. That went well until the time came to make a decision. People tried to talk me out of it but in the end I had to go through with it.

It proved to be the best decision I ever made. Only I didn't make it. The decision was made for me.

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