At the start of 2020 before the COVID-19 and the ensuing government restrictions hit us, I had rediscovered the experience of going to church and celebrating my faith with others.
Throughout my adult years while still maintaining my faith I had drifted away from my church which to my eternal shame was for no other reason than being too lazy to go.
As you get older, you become more realistic of your own fragility and when you reach that point where you have fewer years to live than what you have already lived, then your mortality can stare you down a little. At that point, I believe it’s only natural that you start thinking about your life, what you have achieved, what you haven't achieved and question your validity and purpose through your existence on this planet.
At least that is my reality.
Many others, I am sure, go through this, whether it's a mid-life crisis, a crisis of faith or just the reality of getting older quicker than you would like. Maybe others don't think this way at all and consider that they have lived a good life, that they have provided for their family and now it is time to enjoy their later years.
Is that what life is though?
If life is a succession of purchasing material things, whether that’s new furniture, new cars, trips overseas, fantastic clothes and jewellery then I can’t see that as a fulfilling existence. To be certain, I am no wet blanket and anybody who has worked hard and honestly to enjoy the trappings of life I have no issues with at all. To the contrary, I wish good luck to them, but from my perspective, you can have and enjoy all those great things but there surely has to be more to this journey that is life.
At least that's the way my mind works, maybe I am different to most others, but I don't think so. I believe we are all faced with our mortality sooner or later. What possibly is morbid about all this is that my mind often drifts to the time when it is my turn to cross from this life to the next. It's a certainty that we will all face, but I am not sure many of want to contemplate. For me I think about it most days.
My perspective is that of how death was immortalised in the novel Peter Pan; “death is life's greatest adventure”. One thing is certain when we finally pass from this life we will all finally discover the real truth.
Is there a life after death, is there a better world? will my faith be rewarded? if God knows all things as we have been told will we finally discover things such as who really killed JFK? Or did Elvis Presley actually die or fake his death?
As a Christian, the biggest revelation will be that of God and Jesus himself. Throughout our history, there has been much debate, derision and even violence for those who choose to have faith in God, whether that be of a Christian, Jewish, Islamic or atheist persuasion. I do find it strange how we spend so much time in this life arguing the subject as only when we all pass from this life to the next can that question can be resolved.
For me I choose to believe, I choose to have faith for several reasons.
While this world is wonderful in so many ways, it also has so many horrible and evil events and people within it More disappointingly much of that evil will see no justice. I am not talking here just about man's evil against his fellow man, but against all God's creatures. Some of the horrible acts committed against innocent animals are simply ungodly, let’s not even get into the debate about the evil we commit against our own unborn. A harmful act against an innocent of any of God's creatures is evil in my eyes and I witness too much of it in this life. God's word through the bible gives me hope that there will be justice for both the victim and the perpetrator.
The ultimate evil, in my opinion, is vile acts against innocents from those who claim to be of faith. Unlike some other Christians, I am also of the belief that you don't have to have faith to be godly, you simply have to live a life that is godly, my faith tells me we will all be judged by how we have lived our lives whenever we all cross over.
So this sort of thinking led me to ask myself a very interesting question about a year ago.
If I have faith in Jesus and the life he lived, I then also have to recognise the sacrifice he made for all of us. When I watched Mel Gibson’s amazing film "The Passion of the Christ" it had a significant impact on me and made me realise exactly for the first time what that sacrifice Jesus involved. If you haven’t watched it I suggest you do and ask yourself the question I did, would I have put myself through such a torturous death for people I didn’t even know. For me, the answer was a resounding no. This just made that sacrifice more profound to me.
In consideration of this sacrifice, then what questions would Jesus put before me to allow me into that next life he has promised us all?
If I were Jesus, I would be asking the following three questions?
"Why did you turn your back on my church, the one I had Paul build for my followers?"
"Despite having faith in me and my message, why did you ignore it for so long?"
"What did you do with your life to honour my sacrifice that would help spread my message and build my church?"
I would not be able to answer any of those questions very well at all, but the one question that would petrify me the most, the one I would be ashamed to answer if I was faced with it is this.
"You say you have faith in me, you say you believe in my sacrifice, you understand what I went through so all sinners could be forgiven, but when I called on you what more could you have done?"
Right now my answer would be "I could have done so much more, but I chose not to."
I dread to discover what his response would be to that answer. It may not mean much now, but we all face that moment when our time in this life is over and we will face those questions.
I envy Atheists!
so I decided at the end of 2019 to do what I can to rediscover my faith and return to church.
Now I am no saint and there is no doubt I ever will be. I have no doubt there is no calling for me to have a more holy existence. No Papal career resides within me and I think the Jesus I know would be just fine with that. The Jesus I know was a revolutionary in that he mixed with the ordinary man, he gave them hope where there was none, he encouraged them to challenge the accepted norms of the time and for us to question how they lived.
He embraced those who would never be embraced by those in higher places within society. Sound familiar?
It's why his message is as relevant today as it was over 2000 years ago. He will embrace me as I am, but he will also expect me to use the gifts he has given me to serve him.
To this point in my life, my judgement is that in many respects I have failed him miserably. I could have done so much more so.
When I pass I want to be able to at least look him in the eye and claim to have done what I could If in aiming for that lofty goal my faith doesn’t come to fruition as much as I would like at least I will have accomplished some good for humanity.
So from this point onwards, I will do as much as I can with the skills I have been blessed with to do what I can to serve him. Where that leads me to who knows, though in my life’s adventures I certainly have some ideas from the direction he has given me already. Ultimately I will leave it in God’s hands,
So I concluded that the first thing for me to do was to go back to church, to my church, the church of my mother and father, the church where I spent so much of my youth being raised with values that taught me respect, love and generosity, a church that was and is under attack and is exploring its relevance in today's world. My church is his Church, the church that Jesus had Paul build. I figured to decide on what the big fella wanted the best place to get some guidance was through his house on earth.
To begin with, I certainly had my reservations as people within that church have given reason to question my faith through their sins, but I realised not long ago that the church wasn't the people committing sins within it, nor it's buildings but the church was actually the message Jesus had to deliver to all of us.
So away I went, for three steady months, I dragged my sinful butt back to church and visited as often as I could. Every weekend both on Saturdays and Sundays and even on weekdays where I could I would attend at least three different services a week. I did this as I wanted to see if all congregations were the same, what were the different priests like at each separate parish? Were their messages different? Did I agree with the messages the church was delivering to the various congregations?
I also wanted to get a feel for what the church was like now compared to my youth. So I have ensured I have embedded visits the parishes of my youth at St Joseph's in Malvern and St Mary's in East Malvern.
Between December 2019 and March 2020 I had been to a church service at nearly a dozen different parishes. Despite starting with reservations I found myself becoming increasingly engaged, even invigorated once more with my faith. For the first time I followed the mass, the readings, the verses, the hymns and the priest’s sermons, I found myself in supporting much of what the parish priests had to say and at times in violent disagreement. I even had to restrain myself on one or two occasions from speaking out.
Here I was after an absence of forty years back in the church pews and figuring things out for myself rather than being told what to think. I actually looked forward to attending church for probably the first time in my life. The experience was uplifting as well, people were friendly and at some of the services you got to know people by name, which I know for many is not something to crow about but for me that was significant.
After years of coaching sport and motivating players, I was suddenly for all intents and purposes being mentored by the message of Christ through attending these services. For me, this was totally unexpected and in some ways quite the adventure. What I discovered was that each parish had its own personality, from those who attended, the parish priest and even those wonderful volunteers that support both the parish and their priest.
Some parishes had older congregations, some more family orientated, some had sparse attendances, and some were pretty packed. At all of them, you felt welcomed.
After a while two question that I found myself asking myself, why hadn’t I done this before? What have I been missing out on?
This sounds like I am the marketing consultant for the Catholic Church, that’s not my intent at all. As this motivation was coming from me, as my sole purpose was to listen to God’s message at all these services and as I was endeavouring to find out why others continued to attend services where I hadn’t it all became very pertinent to the initial questions I had asked of myself. This quite simply made it very empowering for me.
Then COVID-19 hit and it all was shut down. Initially, for me, it wasn’t an issue, but as time has gone on I have grown to miss those services more and more. I find the prospect of attending a church service with a mask on to be quite ghastly, so until that mask mandate is removed for now I once more am missing church services. I also believe those services play a more significant role for our elderly and families, so I don’t want to attend if it means depriving others of the opportunity to do so.
I am a poor reflection of what a good Christian should be; God will get by if I allow his more devoted followers to attend for now.
I have been surprised though by how much I have grown to miss it and its new place in my life. I look forward to being able to resume my personal adventure through my faith as soon as possible. In the meantime, I will just have to write about it.
It also irks me that our governments and politicians seem to have decided that for all of us that attending our various places of worship is not essential. Our relationship with our faith, our soul or inner being whatever we believe that to be probably is the most essential part of living. To have rediscovered it, to then only have it torn away in the same year by some overzealous bureaucrats has been more than disappointing.
I hope and pray 2021 is more fruitful for all of us in whatever way you celebrate your spirituality.
May the Christmas period and the New Year bless you and your families. God Bless!