Being a Catholic was entering a whole new world, and one that we knew nothing about. No doubt I had seen books about Catholic things before; I had as little interest in them as I would have in books about Zoroastrianism. Susan began bringing home books from the Pukekohe library about Catholic things, books that she thought might interest me. One that she brought home was about Opus Dei.
I was puzzled reading it. The author was a priest - an American Jesuit who had worked for years in, I believe it was, Chile. This man had pretty negative views about Opus Dei.
What puzzled me was that all the factual complaints he had about Opus Dei were about things which I thought positive from a Catholic point of view: they were intensely loyal to the Pope, were against the ordination of women, were 'traditional' (whatever that might mean) in their views on sexual morality.
There was other material that I could agree to viewing askance - except that it was all innuendo. I don't remember any details now, but there were facts about the popularity of Opus Dei in Spain during the Franco era - and, knowing very little about Franco, I was prepared to accept the generally negative view of his rule of Spain; there were facts about the amount of money that certain Opus Dei-sponsored organisations (of a political lobbying nature) had; there were facts about the practices of Opus Dei (such as the practice of corporal mortification by full members, made notorious by Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code) - a practice I knew to have a long Catholic pedigree.
I became curious - but, still, doubtful. I found Opus Dei's website. It looked very attractive - but I was very much aware of the way in which any organisation was able to make itself look good. I saw contact information on the website - with a certain amount of trepidation, I wrote a letter to the contact address.
There was no response.
One day, I think in July or August, 1997, I saw a glossy magazine at the back of the church (left there, as I found later, by Father Frank Roach, our priest at the time). The magazine was about Opus Dei.
I determined to try again to make contact. This time, I telephoned.
There was a response this time. The person I spoke to said that Father Joe Pich (it's a Catalan name, pronounced 'pick') was going to be in Auckland; he could meet me at my office if I wished. Would I mind meeting a man who was involved in Opus Dei first, to talk to him?
OK. But I admit I was uneasy. What was I getting myself in for? Was this some 'cultic' organisation which, once in, I would never get free of? Well, I had agreed to meet them. I would.
Peter - the man I met - was quite normal - deceptively normal? I thought. Was this simply the way they sucked people in? He seemed interested in sport (I wasn't). He was a lawyer, working somewhere in Auckland.
The time came for my meeting with Father Joe. I had in my mind the sort of person he would be:
- he would be tall (he was)
- he would be thin (he was)
- he would be dressed all in black (he was)
- he would be grave and saturnine (he was cheerful and light-hearted)
I was, if not captivated, at least very much drawn to him.
Opus Dei, he told me, was having a retreat for men coming up soon. Why didn't I come to it?