Tuesday, 17th June, 2003
Well, I am home at last. I have crossed the Jordan and arrived in the promised land—the land that, like Moses, I had until now only been able to see, but not enter. And I have tasted the milk and honey that flows from this land—the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It has been a long wait. At the beginning, I never had any assurance that I would be able to enter full communicant membership of the Church. But what I hoped and prayed for has finally come to pass, and all the faith that I put in God and in his Church has been vindicated.
Yesterday, at a Mass celebrated at the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour in Ringwood at 7:00pm, I was received by Father Anthony Fisher into the full communion of the Catholic Church. I had been to confession earlier in the day, to Fr Paul Grant at St Mary Star of the Sea in West Melbourne, and during the mass I received Confirmation and the Eucharist. Peter Holmes was my sponsor.
To tell the truth, I was feeling so unwell, I almost asked for a fourth sacrament: anointing of the sick!!!
The mass was attended by a goodly number of both Catholics and Lutherans. Still there is the thought with which I opened this journal:
You may think how lonely I am. ‘Obliviscere populum tuum et domum patris tui,’ has been in my ears for the last twelve hours. I realise more that we are leaving Littlemore, and it is like going on the open sea.
I have now crossed that open sea. The two intervening years between this entry and the last has given me time to travel. I have come to know the land at which I have arrived, and it has become my home in the meantime. There is still loneliness, though. Other than Cathy and the girls, not one member of my family (or Cathy’s) was present at my reception. It rubbed in the fact that this was something I was doing on my own. In time though, and already now, new relationships will grow.
But I need to fill in a lot of gaps. The last two years have contained ups and downs. We are still living in the unit to which we moved two years ago on 18th May. We attempted to buy a home, but our loan fell through the first time, and prices have soared in the meantime. The girls are growing up — Maddy will be five in October, and Mia will turn three at the same time. We have been looking at the local Catholic schools, and Maddy will go to one or the other next year. Mia has become an imp.
I worked for five terms at Thomas Mitchell Primary School, and to tell the truth, it was the best working environment and the most challenging work I have ever done. My efforts there were appreciated, and I got along with the staff famously. Sadly, I had to give it up, because I received another offer that I couldn’t refuse: the position of Executive Officer of the Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission of the Melbourne Archdiocese. In July last year, I began work in my office in the Cardinal Knox Centre adjacent to St Patrick’s Cathedral three day’s a week.
I have continued to work at Our Lady’s as music director. This job has been cut down to one day a week—mainly because the parish budget couldn’t afford any more and the primary school didn’t like the direction I was taking the children’s singing, but it continues to be a very fulfilling part of my life. Many of those who attended the mass last night were members of the music teams. Work there has kept me in touch with parish life from the grass roots point of view. Fr Greg has been a real friend and pastor. I regularly have lunch with him when I am there at work.
I have attended mass regularly—whenever I was rostered to provide music, which was three weekends out of four a month. The other Sunday, I would go with Cathy and the girls to St Paul’s. About once a month, they would come to mass with me at Our Lady’s. Of course, I was always aware that once I was received, I would be under the obligation to attend Mass every Sunday, but I will continue to worship with the girls whenever I can.
I adopted all sorts of odd customs to handle the fact that I couldn’t commune. At every mass, I would beat my breast three times while saying “Lord, I am not worthy; but only say the word and I shall be healed.” I would sometimes go up for a blessing, arms crossed, but less often towards the end. At the 1pm mass at the Cathedral during the week, I would sit in my self-designated “penitents corner”, behind the glass panel under the organ in the south wing. At the elevation, the words “The days are surely coming, saith the Lord” would be my spiritual communion. I never lost hope that those days would come soon.
I looked every night in the letter box as I came home, waiting for news from the tribunal. In fact, my news came relatively early. On 29th October 2001, I received notice that my annulment application had passed the “first instance” hearing, and was going on to the second. On the 13th of December 2001, Father Kerin of the Tribunal wrote to me that my first marriage had been annulled on the grounds of “grave lack of discretion of judgement”. Until this time I had held off asking Cathy to act to get her own marriage investigated, as I felt that there was no reason to put her to this trouble if my own first marriage was not declared null and void.
At some stage during 2001 we received the sudden and unexpected news that Rome had revised its judgement of the validity of Mormon baptism in the negative. Because Cathy's first husband had only ever been baptised as a Mormon, this opened up once again the possibility of Cathy receiving a dissolution rather than a annulment. So in February of 2002, Cathy began the process preparing for a dissolution application. Thankfully, her first husband was fully cooperative in this investigation. Just before Christmas 2002, we came home to find a letter from the tribunal in the letter box. Eagerly we opened it only to find that the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith had looked at Cathy’s file and decided there was not enough information on which to make a decision. So in January, we had to find two more witnesses who both agreed to be interviewed with regard to the case, and the case was resubmitted. Then the wait resumed.
This final time, from February on, became very difficult for me. I knew that the case was close to conclusion, but I had no way of knowing whether the file was being dealt with immediately, or whether it had gone to the bottom of the pile on the Vatican shelves again. Lent began, and so, in faith and hope, I began to prepare myself for a possible reception at Easter.
[continued 20th June 2003]
This meant preparing for first confession. I had been given permission via Anthony Fisher (presumably from the Archbishop) to begin going to confession around September last year (2002), and had long been intending to make a retreat and my first confession in connection with it. For whatever reason — whether because I just couldn’t make the time, or for the simple reason of attachment to sin — I didn’t make the retreat, and put off my confession. But with the arrival of Lent I realised that now was the time to bite the bullet and begin preparation in earnest. Another reason why I perhaps postponed my first confession is that I had not found a confessor. I had toyed with the idea of going out to Tarrawarra Abbey overnight and then using one of the monks for my confessor the next day (it seemed “safe” having a confessor who was locked away). Eventually though I found my confessor under my nose.
Father Paul Grant, of Opus Dei, came out regularly to help Father Pritchard with the confessions of school children, and stayed on for lunch afterwards. After several lunches together, I realised that here was a priest who was likely to be straight down the line and no nonsense, and also who was not a part of my social or work circle, nor a diocesan priest. I asked him and he was happy to take on the role (he said he would consult with Anthony first) and we set a date of Monday in Holy Week, the 14th of April.
I prepared for confession by reading through the moral theology section of the Catechism twice. The second time I wrote down my failings accordingly, onto a computer document which I saved on a passworded file. It ended up being many pages long. I worked on it, and edited it, trying to be as complete and as truthful as possible. Cathy was a little sceptical about the length that I was going to. During this time, she talked to Fraser about the whole business of confession, and he gave her several books on the topic, which in fact I found very helpful myself.
Lent was a struggle in many ways. In general, I learnt new strategies for dealing with sin, and I discovered that the most useful weapon in fighting sin was will-power. It won’t do it all on its own, but without it, there can never be any success in battle.
On the day after Palm Sunday (the second anniversary of the last day I served as a Lutheran Pastor), I fronted up at St Mary’s presbytery. Father Grant showed me into the front room, where he began by asking me to tell him a little about myself. After an hour of talking, we began the confession. I read from my written confession (which I later shredded). We were still at it at 12:30pm when I had to hurriedly bring my confession to a close because Father had to say Mass. I have since learnt that in confession, St Jose Maria Esciva’s advice is good: be contrite, complete and concise. Also, one should not leave one’s major sins till last.
In any case, Father Grant had to say mass at 12:30pm so we had to stop. He absolved me and imposed upon me a penance which was very pastoral and very appropriate. Since it was Holy Week, he suggested that I should consciously offer up to God everything I did for the rest of the week. The beauty of this penance is that it is impossible to allow oneself to slip back into mortal sin, when one knows that the sacrament depends upon the faithful fulfilment of such a penance.
I attended Mass afterwards, and then drove back to the office at the Cardinal Knox Centre. As I was driving back, I was overwhelmed by the fact that I was now “cleaner” than I had ever been since the day of my baptism. I had told Father Grant things that I thought I would never tell another living soul, things that I thought I would carry to the grave with me, and now they had all be dealt with. It was as a “newborn babe” that I went into the rest of the week.
Easter was, of course, a busy time. I cantored for Maundy Thursday, directed a small choir for the Vigil, and cantored again on Easter Sunday. But all this passed without any news from the Tribunal. Then, several weeks later, just before Pentecost, I received an email at work from Fr Fisher enquiring as to whether I heard anything about the dissolution. No, I replied; I was just patiently waiting. He then suggested that we should enquire directly of the Tribunal. I replied “What good would it do?”. He replied, “Take my hint and ask.”
So I told Cathy to follow it up. She rang one Monday, but of course, this was Fr Kerin’s day off. In the mean time, I attended the graduation Mass at the Thomas Carr Centre for Catholic Adult Education Melbourne (CAEM). Afterwards, I took a few minutes with Anthony. He looked at me with his knowing smile, and said, “So, how are you?”. I replied non-committally. He asked if we had heard from the tribunal, and again I replied “Not yet”. Then he said, without “telling me anything”, “How long would you need to prepare for a reception?” The implication was that there was something in the pipeline and he knew about it and he wanted me to find out for myself.
So, as soon as I arrived home, I asked Cathy to follow it up once more. This time, she sent an email enquiry. Within a day we had received a reply:
I think I have good news but I am a little confused because I have received a memo dated 3 May 2003 sent by Fax to the Archbishop which says the rescript for the case was granted on 14 April 2003 but we have still not received the document here in Melbourne. I have been holdng off contacting you because I felt that its arrival is imminent, but so far it has not turned up here. Yet we have this document faxed to the Archbishop that tells us of its existence. The thing is, there may be one or two conditions or instructions attached to the notification of it so until we see the actual rescript I can't predict what it will say. Sorry I cannot be an more definite about it than that.
Fr Tony Kerin
It didn’t take much to realise that this "fax" was what prompted Anthony to think something would be in the offing soon. I interpreted "rescript...granted" to mean the application for dissolution of Cathy's former marriage has been granted. I had no way of knowing what sort of "conditions" or "instructions" could be attached to such a rescript.
I must say that I felt a little disquieted by this news. The 14th of April was the day of my first confession, and had I had this news then, I would probably have applied to the Archbishop to be received at Easter, which would have been the third anniversary of my interior conversion and the second of my external conversion.
As it was, I wondered why in these days of electronic communication something could not have been done immediately to obtain a copy of the documentation in all its detail. If the Archbishop could be informed by fax that the rescript had been granted, why could they not fax a copy of the document through as well?
I told Anthony that it was all getting to be a bit much for me, and begged him to hurry the process along in any way that he could. I was almost on the verge of writing to the Archbishop and imploring some action on behalf of my poor benighted soul. Despite the fact that I had endured two years for this result, still, every day seemed to tax my faith just that little more. Anthony advised me to sit tight and wait. He would do all he could do.
Some days passed. The Queen’s birthday long weekend came and we went down to Philip Island for the first time since last October. I had a strong sense that I had returned once again to the scene at which so many decisions had been made, and I wondered if this were in some sense a portent of the things soon to come.
Sure enough, on Friday 14th of June (two months after the documentation was said to have been dispatched to us “in the usual manner”) Anthony rang me from his car phone on the way to work to say that he had a fax in his hands that would allow the whole thing to go ahead. Within half an hour I was in his office, holding a three page fax from Fr Gus Di Noia, the Undersecretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The second two pages were a copy of the Dissolution (in Latin). The first page stated that in answer to Anthony’s enquiries, the Undersecretary could confirm that the dissolution had been granted on the 11th of April and that papers we now had were a true copy of the document. The conditions were all straight forward and normal fine print.
Then began a frenzy of trying to find a date on which I could be received. Anthony was to go away in a week’s time, Peter Holmes (whom I had asked to be my sponsor) would then be away for two weeks after that, after which Father Pritchard would have the Guild of St Stephen conference, after which I would have the National Ecumenical Conference. The writing on the wall seemed to say (as Pritchard reminded me that our Lord said to Judas) “What you must do, do quickly!” So we set the date for Monday 16th of June at 7pm. Some could not be present that night—sadly and most notably, Denis Stanley and Helen Granowski—never-the-less, we went ahead with our plans.
The next few days were hectic, as I worked on invitations, service orders, the retrospective validation of our marriage, cooking cakes and buying drinks for the party. When Monday came, I was exhausted. I had not been well for about a week and a half, having caught a virus that was affecting my hearing and general energy level.
[21st June 2003]
I had arranged to meet Father Grant for confession at 4pm at St Mary’s. I arrived half an hour early and said both the Joyful Mysteries and the Mysteries of Light in the church before crossing to the presbytery. Again, we met in the front room (where it was quite warm). After a short chat and catch up, we began the sacrament. This time it was quite a short period, only about 20 minutes all told. We talked further and then, after completing my penance in the church, I went straight to Our Lady’s. Cathy had given me leave not to return home, so that I would be spared being a part of the hectic rush to get to the church. I had coffee with Fr Pritchard and then went into the church at about 6pm, just as Paul Taylor arrived to practice on the organ. John Nowakowski came with his violin, and before long Melissa had arrived as well.
The guests began arriving at about 6:45pm. I was a little surprised by those who came. Many parishioners of Our Lady’s, which was gratifying; and several work colleagues. Also, Pastors [A.], [D.] and [P.], and the Senior Pastor from St Paul's. A goodly number from our Lutheran small group, and another family from St Paul's as well made up the Lutheran contingent. Father Anthony was running late, arriving at 7:05pm, but Cathy and the girls only arrived at 7:10.
Then mass got going. We sat in the front pew, where Maddy and Jonny Westhorpe had fun trying to catch the clouds of incense (it was “mass with smoke”). I had the “white garment” on my shoulders — in reality, just a short white tassled stole that looked a bit like a Jewish prayer shawl! Father had also prepared a candle for me. Peter Holmes read the readings and acted as my sponsor. David Ducket read the intercessions. Melissa Batalla and Edmund Lobo cantored, and Paul and John played a Berthier arrangement of the Veni Creator Spiritus after the Homily. Fr Anthony preached well — it was a bit of a tight rope walk, I reckon, given that there were Lutherans in the congregation as well as Catholics.
When the time came for me to be received, the whole congregation joined in the profession of faith in the words of the Nicene Creed. I then made the following personal profession:
“I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.”
This was followed by an act of reception:
David, the Lord receives you into the Catholic Church.
His loving kindness has led you here,
so that in the unity of the Holy Spirit
you may have full communion with us
in the faith that you have professed in the presence of his family.
I then knelt to receive the sacrament of confirmation. Fr Anthony laid his hands on my head and said:
All-powerful god, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
by water and the Holy Spirit
you freed your son from sin and gave him new life.
Send your Holy Spirit upon him to be his helper and guide.
Give him the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of right judgement and courage,
the spirit of knowledge and reverence.
Fill him with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Following this, Peter placed his right hand on my shoulder as Anthony dipped his thumb in the chrism and made the sign of the cross on my forehead. As he did this, he used my confirmation name and said:
Joseph-Michael, be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.
And so I was made a Catholic. All that remained was for me to receive the crowing joy of communion. When the time came for this, I was so distracted trying to remember to genuflect, say amen, close my eyes and stick out my tongue, that before I knew it I had consumed the host, and was being offered the chalice. Again, I did not have time to think about what I was doing. I can clearly remember being a little surprised to see something floating in the chalice - and then I remembered the ceremony of co-mingling.
It was strange going through an action that I had been awaiting for so very long. After returning to the pew, Cathy and I took one girl each in our arms, and took them up for a blessing. I think Mia ended going up twice — as she went up again with a friend.
I can remember feeling as I watched my Catholic brothers and sisters communing: this is now my family. And since then, I have begun to think of the Lutheran Church as my “Church-in-law”.
There was good singing at the Mass. We sang “Tell out my Soul” at the beginning, “In you is gladness” at the Offertory, and “The day you gave us” at the close. The readings were from Jeremiah 31, Ephesians 4 and John 6. At the end of his homily, Father Anthony pointed out that the second reading contained the motto that John Henry Newman took as Cardinal: “Always speaking the truth in love”, and commended the same motto to me. At the end of Mass, Anthony acknowledged that the occasion was one of joy for me and for many others that night, but also an occasion for grief for some. He said, however, that anything that brought us (Catholics and Lutherans) closer together was a “good thing”. Kate Cleary commented later when she heard about the mass that “it was probably the most authentically ecumenical thing to have happened in Melbourne all year.”
After Mass it was all smiles on my part. Except when [D.] came out, he gave me a hug and said “Bye bye.” I thought at first that he was “farewelling” me as a member of the Lutheran Church, but then he explained that he had to be going home because of the kids. Afterwards though, I reflected that he may have meant me to take it both ways, as Cathy said he left with a tear in his eyes. So I rang up the next day, and we have made a time to get together next Tuesday. He admitted then that he was pretty cut up about it all.
Many stayed on for the supper in the presbytery, including many members of the choir and music team and other parishioners. The crowd thinned out noticeably after a couple of hours, but a small group stayed on and chatted until about 10:30pm. The girls were still awake at this stage and well into their “fifth wind”, as Cathy put it.
Since Monday night, I attended mass every day until today. Tuesday, I went to the lunch time mass in the Cathedral. Wednesday to the 8am mass also in the Cathedral. Thursday I communed at Our Lady’s, and again on Friday. Today, due to the Lutheran gathering, I was unable to do so, but I am looking forward to tomorrow morning which will be the first time that I will be communing at a Sunday Parish mass. Appropriately, it is the festival of the Body and Blood of Christ.
So, for now, that is the end of the story. There are sure to be other “trials and tribulations” still to come. In fact, Anthony explicitly warned me in his homily that this would be so. But this trial has been faced and over come. I began this diary three years ago. It was at least three and a half years ago that I began once again to contemplate conversion to the Catholic Church. It has been a lesson of patience and trust. It has been a hard time, and a time of blessing. Now, the past is behind me. I have crossed the Jordan but I have not yet settled in the land. My Grandparents wedding text applies to me now too—the words of Joshua as he declared his service for the Lord at the edge of the Jordan. “Hitherto hath the Lord helped me. So for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”