I had come to believe, from the writings of people like Jim Jordan, that the Reformed faith had unnecessarily dropped things that the Catholic Church had believed, simply because the things were Catholic - but things that were quite true. I have talked about the importance of Communion, for example. The Reformed churches, by de facto making Communion a rite for adults, made it into a kind of acted-out example, whose principle purpose was to teach. Calvin had believed much more than that. In Communion we truly received Christ, he believed, although he did not accept the Catholic view of transsubstantiation. In theory we Reformed agreed with Calvin here; in practice, it was hard to see it.
In general I felt a longing for ... well, I didn't know what - something more.
Something happened to me during late 1992 or possibly early 1993 that I found strange, even at the time.
Every Saturday I worked at Archibald's in Papakura. Each Saturday evening I walked from his office to the 'bus stop - and my walk passed a Catholic Church.
At first I had not even known it was Catholic. But Saturday after Saturday I saw there were many cars there. I looked at the sign and realised it was the Catholic Church.
What were all these people doing there? This wasn't Sunday (I did not then know of Saturday vigil Masses)!
I was puzzled by something here. I had been a signed-up member of three churches in my Christian history:
- International Baptist Church in Honolulu
- The Reformed Church of Avondale
- The Reformed Church of Pukekohe
I had never really questioned the sociological reality of these churches: the membership of them was far more uniform culturally than was true of society in general. Perhaps I had just assumed that being a Christian made people all 'like us.' It is true that I had begun to complain, inwardly, and, occasionally, outwardly about the Reformed churches. I do not think I knew of any member of our Reformed church in Pukekohe who was not middle-class, middle-income, moderately well educated, and white. I do recall once or twice saying that membership in our church was so much based on intellectual ability that there was no way that we could accommodate semi-literate Samoan immigrants (for instance), or intellectually handicapped persons. Indeed, we had had one or two cases of moderately lower-class white families come to us for a few Sundays, then drift away.
Judging by the faces of the people attending this Saturday evening Mass in Papakura - and their cars - they were sociologically far more diverse. There were people of all skin colours. There were cars from all sorts of income levels. I did not have occasion to speak to any of those attending, but (I now know) I would have found them of all levels of literacy, intelligence, and education.
I was strangely moved by this. This, somehow, was what the Church of Christ ought to be: "all peoples, nations, and languages."
A completely irrational (that is, I knew of no rationale for it) longing arose in my mind towards this Church - and towards the Catholic Church, in general. I passed the church for two or three Saturdays and a fantasy grew in my mind: perhaps someone - a priest, a nun, I didn't know what sort of person - would come out, as I walked by, engage me in conversation - and, by some miraculous process, make me a Catholic.
I did something quite daunting to me - I wanted to pray the "Hail, Mary!" prayer - but I didn't even know it. I looked it up somewhere, and the next Saturday or two, as I passed, I did pray it. I wondered if something like my fantasy would occur. No such thing did, of course, and I began to feel guilty praying this idolatrous Catholic prayer, so stopped. The whole thing faded out. It was not long after that that my work at Archibald's finished. But I have always wondered if, somehow, that occasion was not the beginning of my becoming a Catholic. I was particularly struck, later, after I had actually entered the Church, when I discovered something I had not known at the time: the church is St Mary's of Papakura.