As usual, this is an imperfect transcription.
'Jesus, let Your kingdom come here, King of heaven, come now.'
'O our Lord, how majestic is Your Name in all the earth…We behold…Your Name is a light in the darkness'.
Fr James Mallon (FJM): We want to take a few minutes this morning to introduce to you another parishioner. Let's give Laurie some welcome. Where were you 5 years ago?
Laurie* (L): I was not on any spiritual journey 5 years ago. I was a cradle Catholic and had fallen away from my faith in my early 20s. (*The spelling of this name could be incorrect. If so, my apologies.)
FJM: So how come you are now standing in front of 600 people? We had 2000 views on Livestream from yesterday morning. So there's a lot of people watching out there as well. Let's give them a wave. (they wave to the viewers) So that didn't make you nervous at all?
L: I'd do anything for Fr James. That's true.
FJM: So what happened? What was the beginning of your journey?
L: I had a very tragic marriage that ended in divorce. I am the mother of 2 beautiful children, a son 17 and a daughter 12. I'd done all the secular things to try and heal from my divorce. I went to counselling and I sought other relationships. None of these things worked. I actually woke up one morning at my boyfriend's home and I walked into the living room and I was hit so quick that I knew that I had to find God. I ended the relationship from that moment and I went on a search for God, and the only place I really knew to find God was in the church. I didn't really want to come back to the Catholic Church because I was divorced. I could never reconcile being divorced and Catholic. So I sought out a couple of non-denominationals and they were very nice, but didn't seem right to me. So I spoke to a co-worker and said, 'You know, this church search is not going so well' and her parents were members of this parish, and she said, 'You know, you should really try St Benedicts', they have a young progressive priest'. That was 5 years ago.
FJM: I was reacting to being called a progressive. We aim to be very traditional here, you know like apostolic traditional right?
L: So I decided to come to Mass one day. I could not tell you what happened that day except for when I came into this church I was given a huge sense of peace and just sat in the pew and sobbed my eyes out. I did that for about 2 months. I did not reach out to anyone in the parish, I came in and left. And finally I knew God wanted me to do this for my children – and I really, really had no idea how to do this. The only minister my children knew was the Prime Minister. So anyways, this is when I reached out to someone and asked about how to get my daughter baptised. This came with huge shame and guilt because I never baptised my daughter. So someone from the baptismal committee called me and she loved me on that phone. She did not judge me, she was just so full of joy and said, 'I cannot wait to tell Fr James this story' and we made arrangements to meet, and of course I was scared to death to meet a priest. And again, praise the Lord, Fr James was the same, he just loved me, he did not judge me, he gave me 3 directions, and he said, 'Laurie, I want you to start taking the kids to Mass (1), put your son in youth group (2) and your daughter in catechism class (3), (at that point he was 12 and she was 8), and I promise you God will do the rest': and, He has.
FJM: So what was the next step after that?
L: So my children received the sacraments, and during that year my daughter was baptised and my son received his first Holy Communion, they did it together. That was very special. My son joined the youth group and he as well was loved by the youth ministers and had a powerful experience of the Holy Spirit through a youth minister. And we just became active members in the parish, and the parish just loved us. Eventually, due to a lot of talk about Alpha in the parish and the encouragement of my priest, I did take Alpha and had a powerful experience of the Holy Spirit on the retreat weekend, and again the profound thing for me during my Alpha experience was being loved by the table helper. My table host was pretty cool, (Ron Huntley), but the table helper loved me, and that just made me want to come back.
FJM: So after Alpha, what kind of impact did that have on your life?
L: Well Jesus became my Lord and King, I gave my life to Christ, and I want to share that. My family saw complete transformation in me, including my brother who was away from his faith, both my parents were away from the church as well. So I prayed that the Lord would help me evangelise my family, and eventually my mother did take Alpha, and she had a profound experience as well, on the weekend away, and at the Holy Spirit retreat.
FJM: And what's your mum's name?
L: My mum's name is Gail*.
FJM: Is she here today? Gail, get up here. (clapping) Come and stand beside your daughter, Gail.
L: So yes my mum eventually went on to serve on Sushi Alpha and both my parents (my Dad's not here today) are active members of St Benedict's.
FJM: That's an Alpha we run in a Sushi restaurant, in case you were wondering.
L: And so my so is quite an invitational disciple, he has invited my father to prayer breakfasts, his father – who is not a Christian – to prayer breakfasts. He even brought his father to Mass on Easter, which was very healing for our family. He invited my brother to a men's prayer breakfast where there was a very profound witness shared at that prayer breakfast, and it started to stir things into my brother's life, and he started to ask me questions, and praise God he texted me in September and said, 'I just went to Mass these last 2 Sundays'. So I tried to act really cool, I went 'Cool', but I was jumping up and down in my kitchen, ecstatic, praising God. The kids thought I was crazy. And so he returned to his faith. And since then my niece, who is 10, was baptised in January, and she just had her first Holy Communion. I'm a godmother for the first time, and my son is a godfather.
FJM: Speaking of your son – well he's here. He's supposed to be at school, but he's here. We're not going to tell them. Come up here.
L: So my dad, who is a very devoted husband, came back to church with my mum, and so they attend Mass every week and it's just awesome.
FJM: Gail, can I just ask you, what difference has Jesus made in your life?
G. Well I feel it helped me understand my relationship with Jesus, and also He is the light in my life.
FJM to L's son: The first time I met you, you were about that height (double that now). What difference has Jesus made in your life? This guy had a job interview a few months ago and he invited the lady interviewing him to come to church. And she came. What difference has Jesus made in your life?
L's son: Well, I had let anxiety and fear stop me from following Christ, and when I threw that all away and got on my knees I really felt I had a purpose to be a missionary disciple, and I let that run my life now. It's amazing how I've changed. (clapping)
L: So when I completed Alpha I knew God was calling me to apply for an annulment. This as many know, is a very painful process but to me it was so healing. The Lord brought so much healing to my life through that, and then the boyfriend that I talked about before, when I woke up at his home, we always maintained contact and we'd bump into each other once in a while. So we happened to have this conversation, and he was struggling with some things related to his father having dementia, and he was asking me questions and I said, 'You should really think about taking Alpha, you might get your answers there'. And there just so happened to be an Alpha Come and See the next week, and it was just perfect timing. And I asked him to come, and he did, and he took the Alpha course – and he as well had a profound experience of the Holy Spirit on the weekend away, and again the helpers and the people on that team just loved him and just showered him with non-judgment and love, and he as well has returned to his faith. He was just confirmed this Easter.
FJM: And just to be clear. This is the boyfriend you dumped, and now you've got him back. Alan*, come up. Alan, what difference has Jesus made in your life?
A: Oooh, big question. Calm. A lot of glory, and He has let me realise that if anybody is going to bring you through anything – it's Jesus.
FJM: You know, the remarkable thing is that 4.5 years ago (family photo on screen) not one single member of this family was connected to church, and now they are all not just connected, they're living as disciples, as missionary disciples. It is an amazing grace and it doesn't stop there. Laurie, tell us a bit about what the Lord (we talked yesterday about passion and vision). What did the Lord put on your heart?
L: When I was applying for my annulment, I really wanted to know what the Catholic church said about me being divorced. So I was on the internet and I came across this beautiful website called divorcedcatholic.com , and I saw a ministry there called Journey of Hope (now called Recovering from Divorce). It is a Catholic cased ministry for divorced Catholics and there's a book on there, and I thought, 'Oooh, that looks interesting'. I applied to get the devotionals from that ministry to my emails. And those devotionals are written by people who have taken this program. So I was getting them for about a year. They were very, very powerful, very healing. This was all around the time I was going through my annulment, and a year later one of the parish staff, she saw the ministry on another church website and she said and asked me, 'Laurie, would you do this?' And I said, 'Absolutely!'. God has healed me of my deep pain of losing my marriage and He wants to use me to help others, and that is my mission.
FJM: And what has happened since then?
L: So the ministry was launched at St Benedict's 3 years ago, God provided the perfect person to help me launch it. We will be finishing our 3rd year next weekend, and through this program people who have taken it have become leaders in the ministry, and it has been a profound healing for the women who have taken the program. Also some of the women who have come were disconnected from the church, and last year in particular, 4 of the women who were disconnected from the church came to take the ministry, received some profound healing, went on to take Alpha, and one of them actually was just on our Alpha team.
FJM: What's your vision? What's your hope? Your desire for this ministry?
L: First, that the Lord will raise up male leaders, so we can have a group for men. Secondly, I would love the ministry to be offered in the community, because for a lot of people coming to the church is scary, so I would love for that to happen. And also that perhaps some leaders here would have it on their heart to take that ministry home.
FJM: Thank you so much to you Laurie, and to all of your family, thank you.
There are many important things to notice about this testimony.
Firstly, it is the action of the Holy Spirit that initiates it. The first action was the desire which came out of left field of a desire to find God. It was His work again that gave Laurie the restlessness in other places and the huge sense of peace in the pew at St Benedict's. His action again was in the urging to bring her children to the sacraments and to take the step to do Alpha.
What we don't have in this testimony is the story of how this grace was won for Laurie. Was it the answer to the prayers of a deceased holy grandmother? Did someone meet Laurie and commit themselves to praying for her? Was it the general prayers of the parishioners of St Benedict's praying for people to come and do the Alpha course? Maybe it was all of the above, and more.
Secondly we have a series of moments of truth, which could have gone badly wrong, but in this case were extremely positive.
Laurie had to get up the courage to find someone to ask about the process of getting her daughter baptised. The person she spoke to is unnamed, but this person was obviously approachable and helpful, and followed through and obtained contact details from Laurie and got them to the right person on the baptismal committee. This sounds like it may have bypassed the parish office, and if so, it was probably a good save because the average parish office receptionist is trying to juggle many things at once. However, the first point of contact for many people is the parish office, so any time invested in choosing warm, friendly people with hearts filled with the Holy Spirit's love in these positions is well spent. (NB. When you pray for your priests, remember to pray for the parish staff as well).
The baptismal committee member may have been given a brief description of Laurie from the person passing on her contact details. Every bit helps. Certainly it made a difference that the baptismal committee member could choose a time to phone when she wasn't stressed and had prior experience welcoming people into the baptismal program. It made a difference that this person chose to build a relationship with Laurie in preference to just giving her details about what to do and where to go for the program. It made a difference that this person was excited about what God had done in Laurie's life to bring her to this point, and that she was sure the priest would share this excitement – setting things up for a positive priestly interview. At the end of this conversation Laurie felt wanted and loved, and not like a number to be processed through a conveyor belt.
Fr Mallon was in to building relationships too, and listened to Laurie's journey. She was met with joy, welcome and genuine interest. Did you notice that he gave her three 'easy to remember' achievable goals? He didn't bring up annulments, he didn't bring up Alpha. He set her up for success knowing that if she could achieve these three things, she would give God the time and space to do the rest. At no point did she get the feeling that the priest was itching to get back to tasks he considered more important.
Laurie's whole story illustrates one of God's maxims, 'You just love them, and leave Me to do the business of converting them'.
Another thing to ponder is how long this conversion process took. It takes time to get from 'I need to find God' to 'I need to check out a church this Sunday'. It takes time to shop around for a church. It takes time to get up the courage to enter the doors of a Catholic church. It takes time to go from being a passive church attender to asking a question. It takes time to go through catechism classes, to go through an Alpha program, and it definitely takes time to go through an annulment process. So when God sends us someone it is right and just to acknowledge the workings of grace in his/her life that have preceded this new step along the journey of faith. Can this process be hurried along? Probably not. Although it would have been interesting if someone had noticed Laurie crying during her season of tears at Mass and did more than just pray for her from a distance.
Pope Francis has spoken about how we need to learn the art of accompaniment. The table helper at Alpha is one example of how to do this, and the daily inspirations emails from the divorcedcatholic.com website is another. Those daily inspiration emails filled a need that the parish at that time was unable to fill; they put Laurie in connection with others on the same journey of healing from the wounds of divorce.
Did you notice that St Benedict's had several options for outreach to people happening outside the church walls? The sushi restaurant; Alpha: prayer breakfasts, and hopefully the ministry to divorced persons too. Each was meeting people where they were at, and in non-threatening and non-scary locations.
Another lesson we can learn is to not despise small beginnings. If that first phone call from the baptismal committee member had not gone well, a whole family could have missed out on the transformation Jesus brings into people' lives.
May God bless and protect Laurie and her whole family as they seek to live out all that God has called them to be and to do.
St Benedict, pray for them. Amen.