I grew up in Co. Kildare in Ireland and was raised in a Catholic family where God, religion and spirituality were rarely discussed. My mother often encouraged me to go to Mass, and sometimes I went, but most of the time I’d lie about going. Mass didn’t mean a whole lot to me because I didn’t understand what it was about. I remember being taught in catechism class in school that Jesus died for us on the cross but I never really understood what that meant and I’m sure many people are still in that same boat.
At the time, I was in the habbit of praying every night before bed, the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be. Nobody made me do this, I just did it because it seemed to be a good thing to do. So, I always believed in God. I don’t think I ever entertained the notion that life ends at death.
I have always been interested in the meaning of life and spiritual questions. Around the age of 15, I started taking an interest in philosophy and I found this to be very helpful in teaching me not to take things at face-value, but to dig a bit deeper and question previously held assumptions. Over the next 10 years or so, I started looking beyond my shaky Catholic faith to other forms of spirituality. I was on a search for the truth about God and the meaning of life. I moved from one world-view to the next, but never finding anything that struck me to the core of my being, as being the absolute Truth. I read heaps of books that dealt with the likes of:
Taoism/Daoism, I-Ching, New Age (chakras, kundalini, chi/prana, reincarnation etc) Astral Travel/meditation, Macrobiotics, Yin/Yang, Quakers, Buddhism, Yoga/Hinduism, Self-Realization Foundation (cult!)
One day, a colleague in work introduced me to a book called Autobiography of Yogi, by Paramahansa Yogananda. After reading that, I thought I had discovered spiritual truths that had remained hidden from most “ordinary” people. This philosophy teaches reincarnation, that the life we are reborn into corresponds to the degree of our spiritual advancement. We are born again and again until we learn the spiritual secrets (gnosticism) required to break free of the cycle of rebirth in order to reach a state called “Samadhi”, in which a person becomes one of the great Masters like Gandhi, Buddha, Jesus, or Krishna. It’s a philosophy that appeals very much to a person’s pride because it separates them from those who haven’t discovered yet Yoga. It’s also quite a selfish world-view because it’s very much about self advancement. It also teaches that the world is an illusion (Maya) and that suffering too is an illusion. Unfortunately, this doesn’t do anything to encourage compassion for other people. Shortly after reading about Yogananda, I joined the Self Realization Foundation and they sent me monthly lessons in their philosophy and information on exercises in breathing techniques used to attain enlightenment.
On the 17th of September 1999, my mother Marie (God rest her soul), happened to fly to Lourdes during a long battle with cancer. It was her dying wish to make a trip to Lourdes and towards the end of her life, her faith grew very strong. Before she departed this world, she asked to be brought to the famous grotto. According to my two brothers who accompanied her, she seemed to have a spiritual experience there which touched her very deeply. That very night, she passed away peacefully.
At this time, I was very much caught up in eastern philosophies and believed in reincarnation. I was also listening to a lot of heavy-metal and I was getting into heavier and heavier stuff (Death, Slayer, Sepultura, Testament etc). I was also becoming more anti-catholic at the time. If I had met a priest on the street, I wouldn’t have given him the time of day. I hadn’t been to Mass or confession for years and I had no intention of doing so again.
In 2004, my brother asked me would I be interested in a pilgrimage to Lourdes with the Oblates from Inchicore in Dublin, and I said yes. I was still very immersed in the yoga philosophy at the time and I remember trying to convince one of the priests on the pilgrimage that reincarnation was true, using specious arguments based on biblical verses. At the time, I didn’t understand that if reincarnation is true, then Jesus died an agonizing death on the cross for nothing and that Christianity is a sham! At this time, I held the view that either the Church was unaware of these secret truths or it had deliberately suppressed them to keep people in a state of ignorance.
As it happened, the Lourdes experience had a very profound effect on me and it was literally a life-changing experience. I honestly think it was a miracle what happened to me. First of all, I was very affected by the amazing sense of peace and good-will that is to be found in Lourdes. Every one of the volunteers who went on that pilgrimage gave up their free time and hard-earned money to go help the sick pilgrims. The sense of joy was so palpable and everyone there was there for the good of less fortunate people. The other aspect that impressed me deeply was the devotion and faith of the other pilgrims who went there. I’d never experienced this before and it left a very strong impression on me. It made me wonder what it was about their faith that brought such devotion to Jesus and his mother, Mary.
On the night before heading back to Ireland, I decided to visit the grotto, the place my mother visited 6 years earlier. I got down on my knees and prayed to God for guidance to discover the truth. I must have still had doubts in my mind about the path I was on. Maybe the Holy Spirit was prompting me.
When I got back home, I found myself in the remarkable situation that I had developed a sudden interest in learning about Christianity. I read everything I could get my hands on, the bible, theology, biographies of the saints, the catechism and lots of the old classics like The Imitation of Christ. I would describe what I discovered like finding a spiritual treasure chest. But the book that most amazed me was the Diary of St. Faustina. It’s a totally mind-blowing read and I highly recommend it.
On one very memorable day in 2005, I setup a little home altar with statues of Jesus and Mary, which my mother had given me. I got down on my knees to pray and shortly after, something very powerful happened. I can easily say it was the most emotional experience of my life. Almost like a bolt of lightning from heaven, God gave me what I call infused knowledge about four things. I didn’t hear any voices or see any apparition but I was given interior and certain knowledge.
First, I became painfully aware that I was a sinner and that I had offended God greatly by the bad things I had done. In fact all the big sins I had committed in my adult life played out before me like a film. It was a harrowing and humbling experience. Before this, I had no real understanding of what sin meant. The philosophies I had been studying told me that sin didn’t really exist, that it’s an illusion or a man-made concept. But I now knew with absolute certainty that sin is something very real. This knowledge hit me so hard, that I burst into uncontrollable tears knowing how much I had offended God. To this day, I still find it emotional thinking about it.
Second, because of my remorse over my sins, God let me know that I was totally forgive despite my multitude of sins. The parable of the Prodigal Son from the Gospel of Luke flashed into my mind and I became that son. I felt God’s love and mercy for me in a most powerful way. This brought on another flood of tears.
Third, God made me understand that all truth comes from God through Jesus Christ. The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life”, not “a way”, “a truth”, etc. We are told that there are many paths to God but I now knew this to be false. I finally understood why Jesus died on the cross for us. His death was necessary to bridge that gap between God and man caused by sin. It was also made known to me that the Catholic faith is the one and only true faith since the Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Christ and is therefore a divine institution, despite the many failings and crimes of her members.
Fourth, I became painfully aware that all the philosophies and belief systems that I had been reading about were all false and were in fact made to deceive people into abandoning Jesus. In response to this, I decided to burn all my non-Christian spiritual books, rather than give them to a charity shop (with the result that others would read and absorb the lies). The spiritual battle is real and only the sacraments and prayer can keep us safe and strong.
My decision to become a follower of Christ has had a massive impact on my life. It gives every aspect of my life meaning and purpose. I’ve learned that God’s grace is as essential as the air we breathe. I believe that we were created out of love and that the way we live our lives on this earth demonstrates our true character. i.e. whether we live according to God’s plan for humanity or we follow our own selfish desires.
I’ve learned that a life of prayer is absolute essential to keep us connected with God’s grace. I know from experience that if I stop praying, I start to slip off the wagon and stray from the “narrow path”. I’ve also had countless prayers answered in what seemed like hopeless situations, it’s just amazing.
Why am I writing all this? Basically I want to share the “Good News” with the world. We live in an age of deception. The bible warns about false messiahs and the fact that people would loose faith. We are constantly distracted from God by television, internet, gadgets, noise etc so we have no time left over for prayer. At the same time we are told that if we have the big car or house or look a certain way, we’ll be happy. So we chase things that have no lasting value and bring no lasting happiness.
On the other hand, we are being told that belief in God is childish and we should grow up and just live with the fact that life ends when we die. I don’t accept this at all. We are being sold a lie e.g. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. For anyone who cares to find out the truth, there is quite a bit of evidence for God’s existence. And there is also evidence that Christianity is the most plausible religion, e.g. evidence for Jesus’ resurrection (which is surprisingly strong). Not all religions can be true because they contradict each other. They are either all wrong, or one is true. e.g. reincarnation and judgement after death cannot both be true.
I’ll finish with this mini-biography with quote from St. Paul in 1 Corinthians:
“No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.”
God bless you, Noel.