“DO NOTHING FROM SELFISH AMBITION OR CONCEIT, BUT IN HUMILITY REGARD OTHERS AS BETTER THAN YOURSELVES. LET EACH OF YOU LOOK NOT TO YOUR OWN INTERESTS, BUT TO THE INTERESTS OF OTHERS.” PhiliPPians 2:3-4
I was brought up in the Catholic faith. Religion for my father was his life. He had a very strong faith, being former Church of England he had converted to become a Catholic before I was born. It was very important to my father that my sisters and I had a good Catholic upbringing. We regularly went to Mass and Confession and we had family prayer time, saying the Rosary together every day. But as a child I didn’t embrace the faith, or experience God’s love. I believed everything I was taught by my father, but my focus was always on others, comparing myself with them and being overly concerned about what other people thought of me. I started feeling ashamed when school friends saw us going to Church and when friends came round I was ashamed of the religious items in our home. My friends seemed to have better homes, and they had many luxuries that we didn’t have. I felt different from the rest and wanted to be like everyone else. I wasn’t happy or content with what I had. I didn’t recognise the many blessings I had because my attention was always on other people.
I didn’t think that I could be happy in the way of life my father wanted for me. At that time I hadn’t encountered Jesus on a personal level. God was very distant, I felt unimportant in His eyes and I felt like a nobody. When I left school at 16 I stopped going to church. I started to desire a different lifestyle, like those I saw in television programmes. The beautiful and glamorous girls on TV seemed to be having lots of fun. They had lots of friends and were popular with the boys. I was very image conscience. My friends started going to pubs pretty soon after leaving school, and I started to join them, getting dressed up in short skirts, skimpy tops and high heels. This gave us the opportunity to meet boys. We had to make ourselves look older with lots of make-up so that we would pass for 18. I did my best to hide this from my dad because he wouldn’t have approved so I used to stay over at friends’ houses whose parents didn’t mind us going out late to pubs. I was struggling with a lack of confidence being extremely shy, but I soon learnt that alcohol made me come out of my shell and seem like a fun person. I began to binge drink and rely on alcohol for a good time.
LOOKING FOR LOVE
I never felt happy with how I looked, so I always wore makeup and keeping friends was difficult for me. I never felt fully accepted with my friends. I wanted to be loved but I never found this love in any of the boyfriends that I had. After a few years of having one disastrous relationship after another I started to lose hope of ever finding happiness. I was growing ever more aware of my emptiness, I was lonely and my life had no meaning. I was broken in so many ways. One night as I was crying on my bed, feeling my lowest, the image of the Divine Mercy came into my mind. That’s the picture of Jesus with rays issuing from His heart with the words “Jesus I trust in you” inscribed underneath the image. This picture had always been on the wall of my parent’s house for as long as I can remember. I was at the time in a relationship that I wanted to get out of because I knew it wasn’t making me happy, I was inspired to make an act of trust through the image, I prayed the words in desperation “Jesus I Trust in you” and made the decision to break off the relationship with my boyfriend and face the consequences placing my situation in the hands of Jesus.
A few months passed and the feelings of loneliness and misery were still weighing me down, so when an opportunity came up for me to go on a blind date, I took it. Before we met we tried to get to know each other a little, and to my surprise, he asked me, “Are you a practising Catholic?” I had never before found anyone searching for a practising Catholic, one that I thought I could be attracted to. This started me thinking, “Is this how God has answered my plea for help?” I felt drawn to returning to the church again with this date. As I got to know him, it turned out that he too had had a religious upbringing and had turned away from the Church. It was like looking into a mirror. He was in the same situation as me. I started to become more aware of God’s presence in my life, and He became very real to me and very close. After a few dates, he decided to call it off. He said he was still grieving over a previous relationship and was not ready for a new one. I felt very hurt and upset and didn’t understand what this meant. I was frustrated and cried out to God, “Why do this to me when I was ready to turn my life around?” Then I felt God saying to me “Forgive this person for offending you.” I had never really forgiven anyone before. I used to hold grudges against the people who had hurt me. So I swallowed my pride, and forgave the person for the hurt that I felt. Instantly I felt at peace, and my heart felt aglow. I knew that I had done a great thing and I felt free from the bitterness.
TIME STOOD STILL
After that God was on my mind constantly and I still wanted to go back to Church. When driving to work one morning, God spoke to me in a way that made me realise that I could not delay any longer my return to the Church. It was an urgent call to be reconciled to God in Confession. I went straight to my dad and told him that I wanted to go to Confession and to start praying the Rosary again. At first he was very suspicious because he couldn’t believe my sudden change of heart. The first Mass I went back to with my dad was on Ash Wednesday. I felt very nervous but everything at that Mass seemed to have a personal message for me, God was calling me back to himself in a very beautiful way that made me feel very emotional. God had melted my heart and for the first time I experienced Him pouring out his love for me. It was as though time stood still, and it was just me and God, and we were just gazing at one another. My eyes had been opened and I could see him as he really is, LOVE.
I couldn’t receive Holy Communion at that Mass because l hadn’t made my Confession yet, but I was able to go up to the priest for my ashes. The priest’s words as he marked my forehead with the ashes were, “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” That was like my first stepping stone back. I got my dad to arrange for me to see a priest and he gave me a book to help me examine my conscience. I was so nervous. I knew I had to do it, but I was fearful of telling the priest all my sins. I started to write them down, smiling to myself thinking how can I tell all this to a holy priest? But I felt someone with me, all the way, encouraging me to make this Confession to the best of my ability. I was inspired by the courage of the martyrs. If they can shed their blood for Christ then I can face my fears and make my Confession. When I had finished my list it was eight pages long! Looking back now I think that Confession was the bravest thing I’ve ever done. Inside the confessional I started to shake in fear and I was close to tears. My hands were shaking as I read out to the priest what I had prepared. When I had finished, there was a long pause, and then the priest said, “Don’t worry.” I smiled and gave a big sigh of relief. As the priest raised his hands to give me absolution, it felt like a shower of raindrops was being poured out into my soul, starting with my head and running into the depths on my being. My spirit felt lifted, as if I was floating and an immense joy filled my heart. A massive burden had left me. I had been washed and restored by the blood and water that issued from the heart of Christ. I had encountered Christ. I knew I had a saviour who had brought me back to life. Jesus is alive!
From that moment on, my whole life changed. I was no longer fearful for the future. I had hope and experienced real happiness. I knew that I was loved with a love that is just so unimaginable. Jesus is now in control of my life. Everything I do now is through Him and for Him. I have thrown out my old wardrobe and let go of being worried about my image. I am no longer trying to impress others and seeking their approval. Him love me for who I am. I have bought new clothes that are plain and let me keep my dignity. I threw out my makeup and the fake tan. Friends couldn’t understand what had happened to me and I got comments like, “You’re starting to dress like my grandmother.” But it doesn’t matter to me. I am so excited about my future with Jesus. He has become such a close and loving friend, full of surprises. Every day He proves His love for me by speaking to me and listening to my every concern, no matter how small and insignificant I think it might be. I can share everything with Jesus and He has an answer for everything. I am so content. I can’t imagine life without him now.
Written by Gillian Prince