I was asked to write an article about why I became a member of the Catholic Church. That happened 4th June 1988 – 33 years to the day – so I will now share the story briefly.
During my childhood, my parents were not Christian, but they encouraged me to join the Brownies-Guides, and so I had become familiar with the life within a lively Methodist Church throughout my junior and adolescent years. I had not known Jesus personally though, until I was ‘born again’ at 12 years and baptised at 19 years, in a Pentecostal-style church.
Even as a young Christian, one of the most beautiful parts of the Bible, to me, was Jesus’ prayer recorded in John 17. I fell in love with this Jesus, who prayed that His disciples would be one with Him and with each other, but also prayed for “all who would ever come to faith” in Jesus, that they too would be one with Jesus, the Father and the Spirit and one with each other. This prayer for unity has been my deepest prayer all my Christian life.
The Trinity is a perfect example of divine unity. And Jesus, the Son, prayed:
11 “Holy Father, I am about to leave this world to return and be with you, but my disciples will remain here. Holy Father, each one that you have given me, keep them in your name so that they will be united as one, even as we are one…
20 “And I ask not only for these disciples, but also for all those who will one day
believe in me through their message. I pray for them all to be joined together as one even as you and I, Father, are joined together as one. I pray for them to become one with us so that the world will recognize that you sent me. For the very glory you have given to me I have given them so that they will be joined together as one and experience the same unity that we enjoy.
You live fully in me and now I live fully in them so that they will experience perfect unity, and the world will be convinced that you have sent me, for they will see that you love each one of them with the same passionate love that you have for me.
I have always been upset to hear Christians speaking against other denominations – usually it is ‘happy-clappy’ versus ‘institutional’ types broadly – and I find myself often defending the ‘other side’ wherever I am. At the age of 20 I moved to Germany for a couple of years and felt challenged to find a church family where I would feel at home. I used the opportunity to learn and to become a member of four very different church communities. And I loved them all! There was the Evangelische church in the village and a ‘house-group’ belonging to them; the Katholische church in the village (the Evangelisch and Katholisch churches in Germany are roughly the equivalent of our C of E and Catholic churches in UK); I joined the ‘Free-Church’ in the city of Heidelberg and a ‘Taizé prayer and praise’ group. I loved the whole concept of Taizé and made several visits to the Taizé community in France – a beautifully multi-denominational and multi-national community of Christians.
I was seeking, asking questions, participating and learning… Three years later I was kneeling in a Holy Spirit-filled, Catholic seminary, in central London, and I had a vision-type experience: I saw a mighty oak tree, with a strong broad trunk, splitting into two wide branches, spreading out into ever smaller branches, carrying simultaneously both pretty, scented blossoms and wholesome fruit. I knew it was a lesson and the Holy Spirit showed me that the beautiful fruit and blossom on the tiny branches is only possible because they are part of and feeding from the whole tree. I was shown that the root of the tree was God’s chosen people from before Abraham and was shown how Jesus planted His church there, in that rich soil of the cross on Calvary, and it grew into a solid trunk through the early Church and has split and divided, through Orthodox, Roman, Protestant and hundreds of smaller communities, but continues to bear fruit and to flourish, because it has its roots in Jesus and the purpose of God.
To this end of unity and foundation, I became a part of the Catholic Church (with a big C!) on 4th June 1988. I later married in the Catholic Church and I spent over 15 years teaching in Catholic schools. I became a Catholic to fully embrace all of the Christian church. This was the path I was led to.
As Christians today, we are part of a rich heritage of faith in Christ, stemming back to those first disciples for which Jesus prayed. Personally, I will pray and worship God with any group of believers who follow the teachings of Jesus and believe that He is the Son of the living God. But I don’t want to spread myself too thinly and relationships take time to build, so in terms of daily life and time restraints today, the church I mainly serve is an active, more evangelical-type community. But I am glad to attend Mass and worship Jesus in that community whenever I can too.
I am very much catholic Christian – with a small c – in that I describe myself as Christian first and feel myself to be one with the whole universal church in my heart. The Catholic Church has many failings and shall be judged no less than the rest of the church, for the disrepute we have brought to the house of God. As for the atrocities perpetrated in the name of religion, which have actually had nothing to do with the teachings of Jesus, but are politics of power, hatred and greed, masquerading as ‘just causes’ – these will also be judged by God, who knows the heart of man. Those first disciples failed Jesus, even that very night that He prayed, but they repented, committed themselves to Him and He never left them. The church is always imperfect, as each member is imperfect, and will be that way until Jesus returns to take His Bride to Himself. As someone once quipped – if you ever find a perfect church, don’t join it, or else you will have spoiled it. But Jesus has built His church, He is preparing His Bride, and has promised that the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.
Jesus is still interceding for His church, for us, that we be one with Him and with each other, just as He is one with the Father and Holy Spirit. We cannot afford to be divided. People are watching us – when the unbelieving world sees how much we love one another, will they not see and believe? When people witness our unity, patience, peace, tolerance, humility, service and unconditional love for our brothers and sisters world over, won’t Jesus’ prayers for us be answered? Won’t His name be glorified when our lives thus reflect His love and won’t then His Kingdom come and His will be done, on earth, as it is in Heaven?
May be be one. Amen.