I am pretty sure that God has always spoken to me although if I am being honest I have spent much of my life not listening, or more precisely not wanting to hear what he has been trying to say. As children my parents taught us to pray – it was a normal part of our lives as was going to Mass on Sundays. But when I left school I drifted away…more precisely a rapid slide! Within months I had managed to get caught up in all kinds of things and for nearly 10 years this was the pattern of my life. I did my own thing, lived for the “moment”, prayed when I was in trouble and rarely went home. Since then I have heard people saying that it’s all part of the painful process of growing up, discovering oneself and making sense of the world. Maybe that’s true but for me it was just about being self-centred – of course, at the time I didn’t see it like that, and simply “happied” myself with the thought that “I was a ‘good’ person and anyway everyone was doing it”. What a load of rubbish as evidenced by the befuddled trail of carnage I left behind me!
But it all began to change in August 1998 when I went, with one of my younger brothers, to a shrine to Mary, the Mother of God, in Eastern Europe. I had never heard of this place but it was here during the following week that my life was profoundly changed. I think I became aware that stuff was happening when we listened to a couple of young men (who lived in a community in the village) who told of their heart-rending life stories and how through prayer and hard physical labour they had been healed of their addictions. I was somewhat dismissive in my questioning; asking whether they felt as if they were escaping from reality in the community life that they had embraced. “Reality is where you are…..” came the direct response and by those simple words my heart was pierced.
In the following hours I came to realise that I was a self-centred wretch, my whole life was being lived without care for my actions and simply to satisfy my own selfish desires. It began to dawn on me that I needed to go to confession……. and there, one memorable evening standing in the queue, I was overwhelmed by grace – I came to know in those few moments with certainty that I was totally and unconditionally loved by our Heavenly Father, that I was a child of God. I didn’t hear a voice but I was totally convicted, I just knew it and a tear of joy trickled down my cheek.
Well that was the moment when I encountered Mercy Himself and life hasn’t been quite the same ever since – thank God!
Reverend Deacon Charlie Conner, Diocese of Leeds will be participating in the Hyde Park Vigil liturgy after the Pope has arrived.