By Lorna Russell
I would like to begin by telling you that I feel seriously out of my depth here today for a number of reasons. I am to talk to you about being a witness to faith. A faith that is still so new to me that I feel I have just begun to explore the wonder of it myself. I can relate however, some of the journey that got me here. Punctuated by periods of doubt, recalcitrance and fear, the faith that is now a cornerstone of my life began to blossom unbidden by me and often in spite of my actions.
In celebrating the mass, we profess our faith with the beautiful and familiar words of the Apostles’ Creed. When these words define who we are and how we live, everything in our life is reshaped, reformed and renewed. I became a Catholic as a result of coming face to face with the love of God, His infinite mercy and His unending effort to bring us to Himself where we belong and where we also long to be. This is the journey that began for me as an intellectual exercise and resulted in my spiritual conversion.
If it were this time last year, the likelihood of me speaking publicly on any topic would have been zero. But if I had been asked for an opinion, I would most probably be supporting the proposition that the church, and by that I would have meant any church, had become irrelevant if not meaningless in today’s world. Having everything that I needed in our secular society, I followed the political and philosophical editorials about the travails of other folks and the sorry state of the planet with a complacent sense of helplessness.
It was last May, while reading a particularly vitriolic accusation that all of western society was “godless”, that something snapped. I wasn’t angry because, truth be told, I couldn’t completely disagree with the accusation. Rather, I was hurt and this caused me to do some serious soul searching. I thought of myself as a Christian when I thought about it at all; I knew from my history classes that Canada was founded on Christian principles, but I also knew that aside from mouthing platitudes, I really couldn’t support this claim in any concrete way.
I engaged my friends; coincidentally all cradle Catholics who had ceased to practise their faith. While the lively discussions that occurred over a period of weeks were inconclusive, they were not unproductive. For my friends, relying on their formative training, kept referring somewhat obliquely to “THE CHURCH” and “THE CATECHISM” with varying measures of reverence and disdain. Reverence for the Church founded by Jesus Christ Himself, shadowed by the admonition that this was not an organization with which I should become involved. This being perhaps the best advice that I have ever ignored in my whole life, I found the Catechism, which I downloaded from the internet, to be a veritable gold mine that detailed everything that Christianity entailed.
It was at this juncture that things started to get a little out of hand in my intellectual exercise. There was nothing in this document with which I could find fault. Maybe I personally didn’t understand or necessarily agree with everything it said, but I was convinced that were we to take its principles on board, the world would be a better place. As I read and re-read I became aware of a rather persistent sub-text that asked, “If not me, then who? If not now, then when.” I was being moved to be the change I wanted to see. This was powerful stuff! It also signaled the first point, but by no means the last, at which I left my comfort zone, so I put the text away.
Of course that didn’t work, and I realized that I needed help here. I really didn’t know what was going on and who are you going to call? The number for the Ottawa Diocesan Office sat on my desk at home in Hammond for a couple of weeks before I succumbed. The number that I was given for Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal sat for a couple more. Progress was positive, but incremental.
Finally, and almost in spite of myself, I had an appointment. The gentle pressure of an unseen hand on my back was probably just a figment of my imagination as I entered the church for the first time, but the words with which I introduced myself to Father Tim were, “I have no idea why I’m here, but I know that this is where I need to be right now.” He listened to my story and we talked for a bit and then with one sentence he contextualized everything that I had been going through in the preceding two months. He said, “It is miraculous the lengths to which the Holy Spirit will go to make us happy.”
I know that I have never before understood so well the expression “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” The months leading to my Confirmation were filled with learning, meeting new friends and sharing in a joy that words cannot describe.
Thank-you for being here when I needed you, and thank-you for listening.