As you suggested, I thought I should write down my thoughts and my ideas around my interest in learning more about the Catholic Christian faith. Where am I going with this? – a reasonable question, and I have to admit that I really don’t know the answer. So this is both to think it through myself, and to share my thoughts with you.
Working in central London, I often found it restful and calming to spend my lunch hours sitting in a church. In the City, it was the ideal opportunity to make my way around the Wren churches, all of them beautiful, inspiring works of architecture: but it was mostly in the Catholic churches, not as aesthetically attractive and a bit less polished, that it felt to me there was actually something going on – people were coming in to pray, not so much to admire. I got into the habit of lighting a candle, perhaps just to register that I was there.
After retiring, and being less often in London, I began to visit the cathedral in Brentwood, which at first I found quite forbidding, rather a cold space: but the simple act of lighting a candle and sitting quietly for a minute or two, was a peaceful and in some way balancing, stabilising thing to do. After a while, I stopped going in, reasoning that, not being Catholic or any sort of Christian, there wasn’t really any point in simulating belief.
I decided after a while to start taking the Church more seriously, not just as a convenient place for quiet reflection. This decision followed a period of depression, when I felt as if many of the things I lived by – my intellectual capacity, my interests, my photography – had deserted me, and life had lost much of its meaning. Of course, this was an after-effect of the depression, but there had to be a conscious way out.
When I started attending Mass at the cathedral, it felt emotionally right for me – I was particularly impressed and moved to see the congregation, all sorts of people, queuing quietly to receive the sacrament. At first I held back, sitting still, but now I join the queue, receiving a blessing in place of the full sacrament. Lighting a candle in the chapel suddenly felt much more meaningful when it occurred to me that all the candles represented the hopes and dreams of others – adding my own candle feels like joining in a shared experience of prayer.
In attending the Church I made a conscious decision to avoid an intellectual analysis, but to rely on my subjective response to the experience and to the people I encountered.
I also decided to withhold my criticisms of some aspects of Catholic social teaching, such as same-sex relationships, and the question of abortion. My own views on these issues have not changed. Listening to others denouncing legalised abortion has only strengthened my own belief in the right of women to make their own decisions. Whatever I may believe or live by is no justification for judgement of others’ lives.
When I joined the introductory (RCIA) course organised by the cathedral, I wasn’t sure what to expect. In all honesty, it wasn’t very impressive, and there was little serious discussion. As the only attendee with no Catholic background or association, I felt very much in a minority, and found it difficult to speak out. Other groups I have attended have been more fruitful, particularly the sessions at the Jesuit centre in London and the brief retreat in Wales (neither of which are exclusively Catholic). I am now also making friends with at least one person, and I have had several encounters and discussions which have strengthened my feeling of belonging.
I have stuck with it, perhaps to some extent from pride, more because I still find the Mass a moving experience, because it has opened for me another perspective on the world, and because I feel that in some undefined way the Church speaks to me, and welcomes me as part of it. There are some difficulties, such as the Church’s attitude to divorce, but I feel a strong affinity that will, hopefully, strengthen my faith.
The question is not whether I become a fully baptised and confirmed Catholic, but how I can best become a follower of Christ. I pray that developing my thoughts and documents in this blog will help me on the way.