My name is Lisa. I’m 21 years old, and I come from Manchester in England. I was raised as a Roman Catholic, and I entered into my first sacraments with great joy and enthusiasm. However, by the time I reached the age of 12,most of what I’d been taught about my Faith had disappeared from my mind.
There are a few reasons for this, such as a poor quality of religious education from both school and my family, but also the fact that I was in a diocese that rushes through catechesis to get the first sacraments over with in one year certainly didn’t help. Due to this weak foundation in my Faith, it was extremely easy for me to slip away from the practice of it, especially during the harder moments on my life.
Although I attended a Catholic school, it was a very harsh environment to enter into, and bullying was rife. Unfortunately, as I was a good pupil and not the loudest, I was an easy target. I felt utterly powerless as the bullying just became more and more personal, ever more vicious. In this powerlessness, I craved some form of control in my life, but my faith in Jesus was virtually non-existent, so I began to look for consolations elsewhere.
I recall that as I sat in RE class one day (which is so ironic to me now), I looked over at the girl sitting next to me. I saw that she was reading a spellbook, and what’s more, the page that she was reading instantly caught my eye as it read: “A Spell to Beat the Bullies and Make Yourself More Popular”. I remember thinking “wow, that’s just what I need!” I made a mental note to myself to look for spells. Some of the teen magazines in the UK, which are aimed at 12-15 year old girls, actually include whole sections devoted to the supernatural and a spell each week.
This is where I began my journey into the occult. A seemingly innocent teen magazine led me into very dangerous territory. After trying these spells out, I started to buy spellbooks. In hindsight, it is frightening how mainstream the occult has become today. I walked into one of the main UK bookstores, and I found a whole, massive section of the store devoted to New Age and the Occult. I was very attracted to the mystery of Wicca (Witchcraft), as I was seeking some form of control over my life. This seemed at the time to be the answer to some of my natural questions about the meaning of life and the existence of divinity. In fact, as I was not mature in my spiritual life, the philosophies and terminology that the books used impressed my naïve mind.
These books were tailored to attract teenagers who were feeling powerless and were seeking answers – which means that these books would be attractive to a huge percentage of the youth in the UK (not to mention the whole of the West). This literature is dangerous – it taught me a multitude of falsehoods and prejudices about the Catholic Faith (such as, the Church is so misogynistic that it demoted Our Lady from the status of Goddess to lowly virgin!) The most dangerous thing that it “taught” me is that Satan does not exist.
That’s the first thing that Wiccans “teach” in their books – that Satan is a myth created by the scaremongering Catholics, and that he is actually still an angel of light – Lucifer! To teach anyone, let alone a 13-year-old, that Satan is fiction, is the most dangerous thing that can be done, because once you don’t acknowledge him to be real then he can whisper all kinds of lies into your ear and you will believe them because you no longer have a clear distinction between light and darkness, right and wrong. As I “progressed” along this path, the material I was reading became more and more sinister, closer and closer to outright Satanism !
Thanks be to God, none of the spells or rituals that I cast ever worked. Because of this, the fun of the novelty eventually wore off and I got bored. I stopped practicing witchcraft, but from then onwards there was an aimless drifting. My faith in Catholicism was so weak and had been so damaged by the false doctrine that Wicca taught me that I did not turn to Christ immediately, as I should have. Instead, I slipped into agnosticism, living the life that so many young people live today – “if it feels right and it’s not harming anyone, then go ahead and do it”. A life of pure relativism, drifting along but constantly questioning “why are we here, who is God, does He exist?” Eventually, this spiraled downwards into atheism.
The last few months before my conversion seemed to be enveloped in darkness. The last Christmas was the most depressed I have ever experienced! I recall lying awake on my bed at night, my heart crying out to God without me realizing it, asking “do You exist? Jesus, are you real? Will I just die and then that’s the end of me?” I no longer believed that love existed, I saw only the badness in people, I trusted no-one and hated everyone. I was so bitter and emotionless. The only emotion I felt was anger. I wanted to die and wondered what suicide would be like. I was in “self-destruct mode’” and I even began to be physically ill, losing weight as I became more and more hopeless. I felt so far from God, yet I know He was with me every step of the way.
In the midst of all this darkness, something absolutely wonderful began to happen. Pope John Paul 11 was dying. As I was already cynical and embittered at this point in time, I was very heartless towards him. I didn’t understand why so many people, especially young people, were so upset by the possibility of his death. I knew nothing about him, other than he was the leader of a Church I despised, which I believed to be sexist and outdated, with no relevance to modern society. I thought he had wasted his life. Yet, here were all these young people living their faith, praying for him and expressing such love for him!
I just did not understand them. I laughed at them and treated the whole situation flippantly. I can vividly recall the moment that I first heard that John Paul had died. It was announced on television. He had died on the vigil of the Feast of the Divine Mercy, after praying the chaplet and after the vigil Mass. When I heard the news I stopped in my tracks.
I felt numb. I don’t understand why, even to this day, but I was shocked. Surprisingly, I felt that something really important for me had taken place. I felt that my heart was touched. Why did I feel so shocked at this elderly man’s death, someone who had been on the verge of death for days?
The more I saw of John Paul on the news coverage over the next few days, I became more and more intrigued by this charismatic man. He possessed all of the qualities that I had thought didn’t exist in human beings. In him I saw someone who was gentle, strong yet compassionate, kind, faithful and most of all – full of LOVE. He had a light shining through his eyes, a joy…all of the things that I had been looking for but believed to be impossible. I didn’t realize at the time, but what I saw in him was a reflection of Christ – he was another Christ to me. I hungered for all of these qualities that he possessed, and I wondered deep within me – “what has he got that I haven’t?” Nothing he could have said about Jesus could have converted me. It was not his words that changed me – it was the love that he allowed to work through him….he was an instrument of God’s mercy.
I grew more and more intrigued by John Paul, up until the day of his funeral. Something was changing within me, I could feel hope re-entering into my heart, yet I still didn’t believe in Jesus. I watched the Pope’s funeral in awe, trying desperately to hold back tears which were welling up within me.
The moment came for Cardinal Ratzinger’s homily. I listened to his every word, as though transfixed. Something was happening to me. He began his homily with the words “Follow Me!” and kept repeating them throughout the homily… it was as though the words were addressed personally to me! Then came the one sentence that I will never forget. The Cardinal said these words: “we can be sure that our beloved Pope is standing today at the window of the Father’s House, that he sees us and blesses us. Yes, bless us, Holy Father”. He then entrusted the Pope’s soul to Our Blessed Lady, and my heart simply could not take any more – it broke. My heart broke, I felt as though God had shot an arrow right into my heart, he had waited for just the right moment and now He had me. I broke into floods of tears.
It were as though God had shone a great light into my heart, and I saw the truth so clearly! I grabbed hold of some rosary beads and clutched the crucifix in my hand, sobbing and kissing the image of Christ, as it dawned on me that I loved Jesus and that I missed Him, and it was He that I had been looking for all of this time – and He had been right there all of the time!
I could not believe what was happening! Here I was, a 17 year old girl who had grown to be anti-Christ, a hater of religion, a cynical atheist… now kissing a crucifix with such devotion and love for Christ, sobbing over the death of a pope I had never given a thought to a week ago, and sobbing over my own blindness! How is this even explainable??? Only in the light of the Divine Mercy.
The next morning I went to Confession for the first time in years. I cried and cried as I confessed how stupid I had been to reject the Truth – Christ Himself. The priest told me that I had received a special grace from Heaven. I went into that confessional box, feeling full of sorrow. I emerged from it feeling as though a great burden had been lifted off my shoulders – a burden I hadn’t even realized was there! I stood in the church, in a daze. I looked at the tabernacle and felt as though a voice said “you’ve come home, Lisa”.
The next day, I attended Mass for the first time in months, perhaps years. The Gospel reading that day was about the Good Shepherd who goes in search of His sheep. I was full of joy! The darkness that had enveloped me before John Paul 11 died had now vanished. On the contrary, I felt as though I were living in a land of great light!
For the next few months, I felt like a child being taught by its father how to walk. So many consolations were given to me. I felt on fire with the Holy Spirit, I thirsted to know more about Jesus, I built up a relationship with Our Blessed Mother. Jesus became more and more of a reality for me. I just recall thinking, “why didn’t anyone ever tell me about all of this? It’s wonderful, and it is so plain to see that it’s the truth!” I wanted everyone to know about the treasure that I had discovered. And I felt very close to John Paul.
What Jesus has done for me in His mercy is so wonderful, I am so grateful to Him. He is my treasure. I am eternally grateful to John Paul 11 for allowing God to work through him so powerfully, for being open to his grace. I look upon him as my spiritual father. And of course I was overjoyed when Cardinal Ratzinger was chosen as his successor! I feel that it is now my duty to tell others about the mercy of God, who desires so much to draw us to His compassionate heart burning with love for us.
Finally, I would like to leave you with these words which were spoken by John Paul 11 in his last message to the world, which spoke to me so strongly at the time, which I felt were personally addressed to me in some way. I believe these are words from the Merciful Heart of Christ Himself, reaching out to His children through his servant:- To humanity, which at times appears lost and dominated by the power of evil, of selfishness, and fear, the Lord resurrected offers as a gift His forgiving love, reconciles and reopens the spirit to hope. It is a love that converts hearts and gives peace. How much need the world has to understand and receive Divine Mercy! Oh Lord, who with your death and resurrection reveal the love of the Father, we believe in you and with confidence we repeat today, “Jesus, I trust in you, have mercy on us and the entire world”. (Pope John Paul II wrote Sunday’s General Audience message on the vigil of the feast of the Divine Mercy, Saturday, April 2 2005, the day he died.)
Lisa Burns, Manchester, England.
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