My Conversion Story
I was baptised Catholic just a few weeks after I was born. But I was not raised Catholic.
I was my dad's girl. We would go fishing together. I would watch him play footy. I loved to wear his big maroon jacket with the faux wool lining.
|In my baptism dress|
|With my dad.|
He had been raised Catholic but ceased to believe before I was born. Though having being raised Catholic he could not help but to pass on some of the framework of the Catholic faith to me.
I saw more of the Catholic faith from his parents, my grandparents. We lived far away from them, but when we would see them while on holidays I would go with them to Mass. I remember watching how my grandma sat. The essence of a lady in her suit with the long pencil skirt, knees primly together. I would try to sit with my knees together too. It seemed impossible to copy.
I would follow what everyone else did at Mass. Sit, stand, kneel, sit. But oh! Why couldn't I go up the front with them and get whatever it was they were getting too? I would look up at the crucifix, the beautiful statues, the stations of the cross. My Grandad would take the collection. Later he would count it at home. I didn't really know what he was doing but I knew it was very important. I remember seeing my grandparents beautiful rosaries and wishing I could touch them.
One time my grandma gave me a glow-in-the-dark statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary and a small standing crucifix. I would put them under a light and then run back into my bedroom in the dark and just look and look at them as they glowed. I don't know what happened to them. They disappeared after a while. When I converted as an adult I found the exact same statue and crucifix at a shop one day, and I could not help but buy them.
|My dad's parents|
My knowledge about Jesus came from a variety of sources. From scripture classes which they would give us at the public school I went to. I don't remember much but I do remember one scripture teacher impressing upon us that using God's name in vain was a very bad thing. I think the word vain perplexed me. What did it mean?
I got a strong moral sense from my other grandparents too. They were not Catholic. My Granddad became a Mormon when I was very young, and my grandmother believed in God and being good, but not that it was necessary to go to church. This was an idea she had been raised with. She would keep the magazines the Jehovah Witnesses would bring round though and whenever I was at her house I would read them.
|My mothers parents, on their wedding day|
|A photo of us from a year ago.|
I also used to watch Christian TV programs like Sing Me A Rainbow, an Australian show, when I was a girl too.
While still young the question of God would come to me from time to time. Was He real? But by the time I was about twelve I finally managed to stifle from my mind any possibility that God existed. No, He was just imaginary. Or at least I was going to make Him be imaginary. Time to move on.
I maintained a deep respect for things religious even though I had done away with any belief. I knew on a level that I kept deep, hidden away, that I was Catholic. I would never be rude to a nun or priest. I would not use the name of Jesus as a swear word. Though in the case of the later it was because, to my mind as an atheist, a person shouldn't use as a swear word the name of someone who doesn't exist.
I became very far from God for a while, right up to my early 20's. Even so, a very strange thing. I knew Catholics had something no one else did. And I knew the rosary was powerful.
After a while, my friends, the music I liked, my life, it all didn't make sense anymore. I didn't understand the goal. What was it? What was life about? We , my friends and I, didn't seem to know for all our claims that we did. I knew something wasn't right. I was being misled. But I didn't know what to do.
Leaving my old friends and finding some new ones was what ended up happening. They were Indonesian Uni students. And they believed in God and they seemed cool. That seemed tolerable to me. I could be interested in God if it didn't have to be uncool. I was open to belief in God again. But again uncertain, what next?
I prayed, for the first time in my adult life. What did I ask? Of all things, I asked for a good husband. God didn't muck around. He answered that prayer pronto!
One of these uni students, a young Christian man, challenged me to look at the Christian faith again. But properly this time. I took up that challenge. And I ended up Christian and married ;)
We had thought about marrying in a Catholic Church. But someone told us the Catholic Church charges heaps. That would be right we thought! We got married in the Indonesian Uniting Church instead.
Then we moved to Jakarta, Indonesia for almost a year. We started out going to my husband's families local church, a lutheran offshoot. I read two books that year. A modern Bible that I had bought in Australia before leaving, and my dad's old 1950's Catholic Missal. Before long both Dh and I felt a pull to go to the Catholic Church. Dh had gone to a Catholic school while growing up. From this came his spark to become Catholic. For me it came from looking for what was missing from my protestant experience. Where was Jesus in the Eucharist? Where was He? I knew He was in the Catholic Church. We had to go there. And so we started to go to the Cathedral in Jakarta.
Soon we moved back to Australia. We started going to St. Mary's Cathedral in the city. We loved the beauty of the Cathedral, the stained glass windows and the old statues, the high Mass, the choir singing, the reverence, the tradition.
I remember reading all I could find in the library about the Catholic faith. One of the first books I read was by Mother Angelica, 'Answers not Promises'. What an important book it was for me.
We started attending catechism classes that we had seen advertised in a church bulletin. The priest asked us some questions and quickly realised that we needed a different set of classes than the ones he was running. And so he arranged for us to take private classes with him to prepare us for our Confirmation and First Holy Communion. He taught us from a book called the 'New St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism number 2. And by 'New' was meant published in the 1950's lol.
He couldn't have picked a better catechism for us!
And so at the end of 1999 we were received into the Catholic Church. I took the name of Maria Teresa for my confirmation name. After the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Teresa of Avila. Eleven months later our eldest daughter was born.
|Our Confirmation and First Holy Communion at St Mary's Cathedral (as it was before renovations)|
|Dd1 with her young parents ;)|
We moved to Sydney for almost a year. We went to St. Mary's cathedral in the city, which is larger than Perth's cathedral and has a crypt. While in Sydney I became interested in finding a third order to join. A third order is where someone wants to undertake some of the ways of a religious order without becoming a monk or nun. St. Benedict's rule caught my attention. And there was an enclosed order of Benedictine nuns far in the outer suburbs of Sydney with a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and who did perpetual adoration. I underwent a trial of a few months and then became a novice, taking the name Sister Marie Therese of the Blessed Eucharist. The Marie after the Blessed Virgin Mary again, and the Therese after St. Therese of Lisieux. We moved back to Perth not long after and so I have never become an Oblate proper because in order to do so you need to personally attend a ceremony which I could no longer do. So I do wonder if I am their longest novice ever?
To become a daughter of St. Benedict has been a defining point in my life. A blessing for which I am very thankful.
We returned to Perth and Ds2 was born not long after in early 2003. Initially we went to the Cathedral again. But then, when taking our children outside of the cathedral during Mass if they were irritable or crying we would notice people going to Mass at the little Pro Cathedral just over the road down the hill. What were they doing we wondered. I don't remember the details but we came to understand that it was the Latin Mass, the Mass that most people knew until the 1960's when it was replaced with another rite called the Novus Ordo, which is what you'll most likely find in your local Catholic Church and was all we had known up to this point.
I began reading a lot of books from here on. Books such as St. Therese of Lisieux's autobiography, St. Teresa of Avila's 'Interior Castle', 'Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence' by Fr J.P. de Caussade, S.J., 'The School of Jesus Crucified' by Fr. Ignatius of the Side of Jesus, Passionist. Ten years went by and I had a good intellectual understanding of the Catholic faith but what I didn't realise was that atheism, doubt, had not died its death in me yet.
A series of events forced this out into the open.
The first, I had what I think was an episode of severe dehydration. It was a Sunday. We always fast from the night before, before going to the 7.30am Mass. Straight after Mass we took our eldest boy to soccer. I was wearing a long sleeved shirt which had made sense in the early morning when going to Mass but was too hot to wear at the soccer. I was thirsty but had only brought one bottle of water which I gave to the children. We got home for lunch. But the baby was tired so I didn't have lunch or a drink but lay down with him for a nap. I woke at 2.30pm. I went outside the bedroom and sat in the lounge room. It was then I noticed that I felt really strange. I felt like I was in a different place to everyone else and that I might loose consciousness at any moment. I thought I might be going to die. At this point I wasn't thinking I was dehydrated. I walked around as calmly as I could and kissed everyone and told them I loved them. I didn't tell them why, though I did tell Dh that I felt really strange. I knelt in front of our home oratory and prayed. While praying I noticed that my mouth was really dry. That's when I thought 'dehydration!' I went straight away and drank several glasses of water. I felt better very quickly. Thoughts that went through my mind when I thought I was dying... I wanted a chance to teach my children more. I felt I had done so little. I regretted not praying the Rosary daily.
The next event was a neighbour sharing her grief over loosing her baby at 21 weeks pregnant. Her emotions were raw and heart wrenching.
Then I had to sit in emergency one time for something. There was a lady next to me with her husband. I had heard her relate that she was having chest pains to the triage nurse when she came into the waiting room. She was very distressed. Her husband noticed a sign nearby giving the warning signs of a heart attack. Being helpful he decided to relate them to her. And within moments she was clutching at her chest. Now as someone with many years of experience with coping with anxiety I think she was actually having a panic attack. Her husband sat looking at her in shock. Everyone else just sat minding their own business. I told him to get the nurse and sat talking to her trying to get her to calm down. She was hysterical, screaming in fear as they wheeled her away through the security doors further into the hospital. She obviously believed she was going to die. That she was just going to black out and be no more. And then the horror of what next! As I looked at her I thought, I don't want to die like that! In terror. I don't want to pass that legacy onto my children.
All these three things made the reality of death and eternity, and the smallness of my faith, came to the forefront of my mind. Finally began a terrible spiritual trial which lasted many months.
I cannot describe how awful this trial felt. I wouldn't wish the way I felt at this time on anyone. It was like a taste of hell, and since then I cannot bear the thought of anyone going to hell.
To my great relief, it felt good to pray at this time. It was such a consolation! My prayers were very simple. I would spend my days repeating over and over again, 'My God I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love Thee'. I prayed and prayed and prayed for faith. I did not feel belief, adoration, hope nor love when I prayed, I felt nothing. I asked and asked and asked. And I was at long last given. Initially I could not continue listening to the online sermons I had previously been listening to. But when I started listening to them again, and I listened to so many, they were such a blessing to me, I started to improve. The prayer was the asking for grace, the sermons helped give nourishment to my faith.
As terrible as this trial was I consider it one of the most blessed events of my life for which I shall be forever greatful! I can not tell you of the blessed relief coming to a deeper faith was. I found myself understanding Psalm 22 (in the Douay Rheims, Psalm 23 in other Bibles).
"The Lord ruleth me: and I shall want nothing.
He hath set me in a place of pasture. He hath brought me up, on the water of refreshment:
He hath converted my soul. He hath led me on the paths of justice, for his own name's sake.
For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evils, for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they have comforted me.
Thou hast prepared a table before me against them that afflict me. Thou hast anointed my head with oil; and my chalice which inebriateth me, how goodly is it!
And thy mercy will follow me all the days of my life. And that I may dwell in the house of the Lord unto length of days."
On the feast of the Visitation in July of 2014 we had our family enthroned to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. An important moment for our family. And for me personally, a declaration that I will not have the world for my master any longer, that Christ is my King!