Being a staunch anti-theist at the time, I was quite nervous walking into the church because I thought I disagreed with so much about what the Catholic church is and stood for. I don’t know what I was expecting, having never attended any religious services like that before, though I was half expecting bad words to be said or to come away in shock / horror.
Far from that, the service was very friendly, with a sermon which I found particularly fascinating (and in good spirit). One of the parishioners at that Mass recognised that I was new (this was a polite way of stating what was the case – I had no idea what I was doing or what was going on!), and after a brief chat after Mass had ended, she put me in touch with Fr Pius (the picture above is of us at my Baptism / Confirmation) who she said would be happy to answer any questions I have, given that I wasn’t Catholic and didn’t know much about what was going on.
After reaching out to Fr Pius via email, I promptly got a very polite and welcoming response. I explained my situation – that I wasn’t a Catholic, felt that I didn’t know much about Christianity but wanted to learn more and had some questions.
I was particularly surprised at how enthusiastic Fr Pius was with me reaching out and said he’d be happy for me to ask any questions I had. We met up initially at the Priory he lives in to have a chat, where I had more questions than I could think of on the spot. We must have spent over an hour together, in a rather amicable way. I was completely out of my depth in a Catholic Priory as an anti-theist, though I won’t forget the feeling I had when walking home from this initial session.
I had walked in half expecting to ask questions Fr Pius didn’t have the answers to, though each of my questions Fr Pius answered with grace. The questions in retrospect were incredibly basic, and uninformed (though I was reasonably well-versed in mainstream atheist arguments against religion; my questions were reflective of much of the ignorance that I maintain is rife in the atheist / Humanist movement, whereby many objections are made whilst misinterpreting fundamental teachings of the Church or failing to differentiate between the varying teachings of different Christian denominations); hence they came across as rather stupid.
An example of such a question was asking how Christians could believe in Creationism; the simple answer Fr Pius gave is that this is not Catholic teaching and that he agreed that many protestant denominations hold illogical beliefs or interpretations of the Bible.
Not only did I feel embarrassed in some form by asking stupid questions (which Fr Pius made a point to say was fine and that any questions were game), but I felt like a metaphorical rug had been taken from under my feet as my stances on some of the most fundamental topics in life’s philosophy were explained to be based on misunderstandings. I had a hunger to correct my misunderstandings, which led me to have several meetings with Fr Pius and onward to the RCIA course.
I found Fr Pius’s openness to debate incredibly refreshing. His approach, where he seriously considered each of the viewpoints I was bringing to the discussion (before then presenting the Catholic perspective and its basis), was rather different to the environment I experienced in the Humanist movement which seemed more reluctant to even consider different viewpoints.
Once I had got over my initial resistance to meeting a Catholic priest to discuss religion and philosophy, my ambition to try and confirm and add weight to why I disagreed with Christianity changed to a deep desire to learn from the man who had just told me with self-evident explanations why pretty much all of my objections to Christianity and faith were based on misunderstandings.
I felt like a huge gap had emerged where some of the most fundamental topics there are about life which I had felt so confident about, had been disproved so easily. I was thinking to myself, who is this man, and what more is there to Catholicism if I am so blown away after just an hour’s informal chat?
I met again with Fr Pius several times. Each time, he urged me to ask as many questions as possible, seemingly with a humble radiance of cheerful confidence in the creed of the Catholic faith. Each of his answers provided what seemed like a large chunk of mental closure on topics of life I had been trying to make sense of by myself for the past few years.
I would prepare questions and write them down on my phone which I would go through systematically in our next meet up. For some time, I was half expecting to find a smarter question that would trip him up; this moment never came. There were a small number of occasions where I asked a question which Fr Pius explained partially before saying that he would get back to me, though even then, his answers were always well structured, convincing, and well explained.
It was after a few times that we had met up that Fr Pius explained that there is a course that aims to introduce people to the Catholic faith, a program that consists of a series of weekly sessions that focus on different aspects of the faith e.g. the meaning of life, the life of Christ, the Sacraments, Matrimony, etc. This program is called the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults).
In a very generous act, Fr Pius explained how the RCIA course tends to operate annually and starts in September; and given that we were already over half-way through the current course that was ongoing, he made time for me to meet him once a week for several months on a 1:1 basis. I was incredibly blessed and thankful for this, and for the continued spiritual support and guidance that Fr Pius provides me.
There were several topics that I found particularly powerful in these discussions and contributed to my energy and enthusiasm to complete the RCIA course. The more I found out about Catholicism, the more I came to realise how utterly profound its teachings are. I was rather naïve in thinking before starting the RCIA course that Christianity is merely a set of beliefs that some people think about or use to guide their lives. It is so much more.
There are teachings (which increase the awe you get, the more you look into them; researching the context at the time they were announced by Christ and how much intellectual thought has been dedicated to them over the past 2000 years) which when given proper consideration blew my mind.
The radical notion that Jesus preached, that one should love one's enemies as well as one's neighbours, at a time when it was taught to love one's neighbours and hate one's enemies, compounded by the notion of how many people’s lives this has influenced for the better over the past two millennia, is something I struggle to get my head around. Yet this is merely one teaching of the Faith; I could write a long laundry list of all of the aspects of Catholicism that I find mesmerising! The Church is full of spiritual and intellectual treasure like this, and I can’t urge enough that people seek to discover it for themselves.
The lives of the Saints is another aspect of Catholicism that deeply impressed me; each of whom lived profoundly virtuous and holy lives that elicit the utmost respect from me. Each of whom found deep wisdom in Scripture and in Jesus Christ, and lived lives that are much more worthy of respect and awe than modern society grants them.
Whilst I was realising all of this, and falling in love with the Catholic faith, I was also coming to realise how the post-Christian society that I live in, and many other western countries (including Catholic-majority countries like Ireland) which have suffered similar spiritual fates, used to have the Christian faith in some form as the bedrock of their society.
I therefore felt like I was re-discovering my roots. I was re-learning the culture I feel society has sadly lost.
I ended up completing the RCIA course. Early on, I discerned that Catholicism was not something that I fundamentally disagreed with. At some stage during the course, I recognised that I had reached the stage where I believed, and so made the decision to be Baptised and Confirmed, which took place on 17th June 2018.
It is nearly 2 years later, and there hasn’t been once when I have regretted that decision. My life has become so much more meaningful, and it has touched my life in many positive ways (giving much more to charity is one example). I maintain that I could never let my faith lead me to be unreasonable, though I don’t think this would be possible because the Catholic Faith is more reasonable than I could have fathomed before starting my journey. It has 2000 years of rich history.
Thinking forwards, I continue to be moved as I progress my understanding of the Catholic faith. Thanks for taking the time to read my story.