I suppose every one knows this fear of getting “drawn in”—the moment at which a man realises that what had seemed mere speculations are on the point of landing him in the Communist Party or the Christian Church—the sense that a door has just slammed and left him on the inside.I had, I suppose, been viewing what Ronald Knox, in The Belief of Catholics, calls the 'shop window':
I had become a Christian as an adult, and an adult disillusioned with the offerings of the world. Christianity was an unknown to me, except through works of fiction, such as Sigrid Undset's incomparable mediaeval novels Kristin Lavransdatter and The Master of Hestviken. As a new Christian I had soon become Reformed - convinced, then, as I am now - that it represented a truer form of Christianity than did the popular evangelicalism in which I was first converted. Nonetheless, I had, for some years, felt seriously unfulfilled by Reformed Christianity. Through the writings of Jim Jordan and others I had come to realise that much of modern Reformed Christianity had narrowed itself unnecessarily, in a reaction against the Catholic Church. I had been excited to discover that much of what I thought of as Catholic - higher liturgies, a closer experience of God, the essential place of the Sacraments - was, in fact, perfectly comformable to Reformed beliefs. I had been gazing into the 'shop window.'I propose in this chapter to disentangle some of the various elements in the appeal of which I have been speaking. I have called it the Shop Window, because I believe that there is, I will not say a large body of people, but a considerable body of people, whom you may easily liken to a crowd of small boys outside a confectioner's shop, flattening their noses against the pane and feasting, in imagination only, upon the good things they see there--but they have no money to get in. Just so these Platonic admirers, these would-be converts, look longingly towards Catholicism for the satisfaction each of his own need; now and again, perhaps (it notoriously happens in shop windows) mistaking some accidental glory of the Church for a more perfect thing than it is. The elders, in hearing Helen's suit, must needs make allowance for the siren sweetness of her voice. So he who undertakes to investigate the claims of the Catholic Church is naturally on his guard lest his judgment should be biased unconsciously in its favour. At least we shall avoid unconscious bias if, from the outset, we tabulate the various attractions which the Church has for various minds, put them out (as it were) in the shop window, and take a good look at them. They talk of the "lure" of Rome; in this chapter, at any rate, the net shall be spread honestly in the sight of the bird.
My experience in Papakura, described in Mary, showed, though, that somewhere I was longing for ... something ... but I did not know what it was.
Until September, 1993, it had never occurred to me that the Catholic Church might itself be what I was longing for.
I wrote to Mark Shea in a terrible mixture of feelings: real terror, on the one hand, of what I was doing; unquenchable longing for what, if it could conceivably actually be true, I would go through anything to have: belonging to the actual Body of Christ and receiving His actual Body and Blood in the Eucharist.
I corresponded with Mark for a few days. I corresponded with others in Christia. I felt a great fear of being discovered by my Protestant friends, but I felt I could not pull back. I had to know if this were true.
I still have printouts from a few of the e-mails of those days. I asked Catholics on the Internet the usual questions: about Purgatory, about Mary, about the saints. I received answers that, so far, were plausible enough. For a week or two, I said nothing to anyone other than in e-mails to these Catholics on Christia.
One Saturday morning in early October - a pleasant sunny day in early spring - Susan and I were in the house together. With trepidation and a shaky voice, I spoke to her:
- Me: Uh ... um ... listen, there's something ... er ... something I need to talk to you about.
- Susan: (mistrusting wariness in her voice) "What?!" (she later told me she thought I was going to confess adultery - which, in a way, I was)
- Um - look, well, uh, could you come downstairs for a minute (to my garage-office, where I had been listening to my Scott Hahn tapes)? There's just something I want to show you.
- Uh - OK... But ... what is it? What is this about?
- (after showing her the Newman books and tapes) I, er, don't know how to say this, but ... I have been reading a lot, and listening to these tapes. I really don't know how to say this - but - well, I might (gulp!) have to become a Catholic!
- We'll have to move!!
That was Susan's first reaction. I know what she was thinking. "This crazy husband of mine is off after another wild hare. God knows where this will end. God knows, maybe we will actually end up being Catholics - but I am not going to drive past the Reformed Church every morning to go to Mass, knowing what those Reformed people are going to think of me!!"
She may correct me, but I think that is what was going on in her head - and it says quite a lot both about our relationship to one another - which was fairly oppressive on my part - and our relationship to the Reformed Church. Our marriage had, in fact, been troubled by a fair bit of ... well, of things not good. It was a deep awareness of this fact, certainly, but also, perhaps, a genuine gift from God, that prompted me to respond to this by taking her in my arms, and saying:
- Our marriage will never be the same!
I really didn't know what I meant by that, exactly. I believed it to be true. I think the 20 years since that date have validated that belief.