My application to become a nun didn’t affect my lifestyle. I still had a few months before I entered the convent, so I continued my usual pursuit of pleasure. Then, one night at a dance, I danced with “Steve”. He was a customer where I worked and I knew he attended the same silly little Church where Wally was some sort of a leader.
Wally was the head salesman at work. He was a real oddball and the laughing stock of most of the staff who taunted him mercilessly about his religion and his Church. I joined them, but although I would never admit it, I had a sneaking regard for Wally. He never told dirty jokes or joined those who did. He never gambled or smoked or swore or drank alcohol. He treated females with respect, was quietly spoken, friendly, and well mannered. He never retaliated to the taunts and I never once saw him angry or critical. The thing I found most incredible was that he always spoke very highly of his wife. I had never known that before!
Knowing that Steve belonged to the same little Church as Wally, and knowing that Wally often spoke about the Bible, I told him I had just bought a large Douay version Bible. I was staggered by his response. He asked me if I read it. Well, of course I didn’t READ it! It must be a very silly Church if they tried to read the Bible! Only priests could read and understand it! Steve disagreed with me and after a while, I told him with a degree of pride, that I was going to enter the Grail and become a nun. His response? “What a waste!”
I wasn’t very impressed with Steve but I started going out with him, and it was only a couple of weeks later that the danger signals began. I liked him! It was time to get out. If I continued to see him, I might like him more. If I liked him, I would get hurt. Despite this, I agreed to one more date: surely just one more date wouldn’t hurt.
The girls at work asked me what I would do if Steve asked me to Church. After all, they warned, Wally was always inviting people to Church and no doubt Steve would too. I replied that he wouldn’t dare ask me, because he knew I was a Catholic and wouldn’t set foot in any other Church.
Steve never did invite me to Church. He didn’t have to because my ornery nature did it for him. His “silly little Church” was in the street where I lived and we always drove past it on the way home. On that “last” date, a Friday night, as we drove past I read the board outside the Church which advertised the topic for the next Sunday night service. I laughed out loud as I read it: “Ghosts, demons and evil spirits” I ridiculed it, the Church and him. I mean to say, what sort of a Church would talk about ghosts, demons and evil spirits? I asked him what they could possibly talk about on that subject but he simply replied: “Well, there is only one way to find out.”
I told Jean and Paula the next morning and couldn’t believe it when they urged me to go with Steve. “Just think! We can find out what they do there and we can have a really good laugh at Wally. Can you imagine the fun we’ll have at his expense? Go, and tell us all about it on Monday.” They continued to encourage me and actually pleaded with me to go. It made me feel important! For once I had the chance of being a hero. They had never been friends – just workmates. Was this an opportunity to make a friend? Did I dare? The thought of entering another Church was abhorrent, but would it be worth it?
On the way home on Saturday night I again criticised the sermon topic and the Church and again demanded to know what could be said about such things. Once again I received the same quiet reply: “Well, there is only one way to find out.” I couldn’t believe it when I heard myself say I would. I guess the thought of becoming a hero outclassed the fear. I’d have to do extra penance, but pleasing Jean and Paula might be worth it.
Oh how guilty I felt the next morning. I went to early mass but my conscience stopped me from taking communion. I needed to go to confession but I couldn’t. I changed my mind about going to Church with Steve a dozen times that day, but when he called for me Sunday night I was ready. When Steve arrived I felt so pleased to see him and I realised that those emotional barriers I had set up were starting to break. I liked him and that was bad. I determined that this was DEFINITELY the last date. I would be able to puff myself up in the eyes of Jean and Paula and poke fun at Wally. Anyway, I reasoned, when Steve found out what I had done, he wouldn’t want to see me again, so the problem would be solved.
As we arrived at the Church I wanted to run away but I concentrated on being a hero the next day. I concentrated on remembering everything clearly, especially the weird things. As we entered the building, I completely forgot all those things. I was conscious of a warm, peaceful feeling surrounding me.
I wasn’t even aware of the stares. I wasn’t conscious of the fact that they stopped singing or that the songleader had to tell them to keep singing. (I was told about it weeks later and many times since). My mind did register the fact that there was no altar, no holy pictures, no statues and no candles. It didn’t seem like a real Church. They sang a lot and everyone seemed to enjoy it. I know I found the sermon interesting but I couldn’t remember anything that was said. After the sermon they sang again and the pastor (as I later found out he was called) kept interrupting the singing and said some very strange things. As I recalled it, he asked everyone who believed in Jesus to walk to the front. Now that was really weird! I mean, doesn’t everyone believe in Jesus? And why didn’t everyone walk to the front? Didn’t Wally and Steve believe in Jesus? They were still in their places.
I was trying to figure it out when something else happened. A couple of people did walk to the front and one by one, the pastor took them by the hand and asked them “Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God; that He died for your sins and is your personal Saviour?” A few people were crying. What did it mean? Weird!
Those words began to haunt me. I couldn’t remember them all, but “died for your sins” and “your personal Saviour” kept ringing in my ears. What did they mean? The next morning I went to early mass before work. I felt guilty about going to another Church. Throughout the mass, those words “died for YOUR sins” and “your personal Saviour” kept echoing in my head. Of course Jesus died: everyone knows that. What did they mean? Is there more? Why wouldn’t they leave me alone?
I avoided the girls at work. They probably thought I hadn’t gone to Church with Steve. I couldn’t do a thing because those words were haunting me. Eventually, when no one was around, Wally asked me if I was alright. I told him I was puzzled by what the speaker had said the previous night. Wally suggested I talk to “Brother O’Reilly” and gave me his phone number. I rang Patrick O’Reilly and made an appointment to talk with him that night, though I had no idea what on earth I would say to him. In a way I felt even worse. I should ask the priests what “died for your sins” and “your personal Saviour” meant. They would enlighten me! If only I could forget those words, but they gave me no peace.
Throughout that week I was in a turmoil. I spoke to Pat O’Reilly at night and I went to early mass every morning. Pat explained those words to me but they still didn’t make sense. He kept showing me things in the Bible and gave me Bible verses to look up at home. I read them several times, but I was still haunted. I was so confused! Every morning during various parts of the mass, the Scripture verses that Pat had given me to read popped into my mind and seemed to contradict what was happening. I really should talk to the priests. They would be able to explain why the Bible disagreed with the mass. After all, I was reading a Catholic Bible.
I didn’t talk to the priests. I didn’t go to confession but I went to mass every morning. By the end of the week, right at the central part of the mass, where the priest offers Christ as a sacrifice, those strange words ringing in my head changed slightly. Now they said “Christ died for MY sins” and “MY personal Saviour” Now, why would that be? I still didn’t understand!
Steve took me to Church again Sunday night. I had forgotten about not seeing him again. Those words had taken over my whole being. We were seated near the back of the Church, in the middle of the row. When Pat asked those who wanted to receive Christ as Saviour to walk to the front, I wasn’t at all conscious of moving, but I found myself there. They were singing “Jesus I come; Jesus I come” (from “Out of my bondage”) Those words echoed my thoughts. Oh how I wanted to know Jesus. How I wanted to come to Him! I had wanted to know Him for so many years, but had never found Him. Would He want me? “Jesus, I come”
Pat took my hand and asked me those words, “Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that He died for YOUR sins and do you accept Him as YOUR personal Saviour?” I understood! I understood that Jesus had taken MY place and died for MY sins. I understood those words that Pat had shown me: “He came to His own and His own received Him not, but to as many as received Him, to those who believe in His name, He gave the authority to become the children of God” John 1:11-12. Yes, I believe! Yes, I receive!
It was as though a darkness had been lifted. I saw the Lord Jesus bearing MY sin; bearing in His own body the punishment that should have been MINE. I realised that my efforts were useless, because HE had already paid the price. For the very first time in my life, I felt loved and wanted.
That was 8th June 1958 and the beginning of a new chapter in my life. Was everything rosy? Did everything suddenly change? Well, things certainly changed, but there were many difficulties to come.
For one thing, the priests were not happy and harassed me.
How could I face them? How could I explain to them?