Christianity continues to appeal to me despite the fact I no longer practice the faith. My family was nominally Roman Catholic when I was growing up. I remember attending Sunday mass regularly as a small boy and being enrolled in classes to prepare me for my First Communion when I was in first grade. I never completed these classes as they were interrupted when my father was sent to work in England for two years and my mother, myself and my siblings went along also. I remember learning about Jesus in those early years of my life, that He is the Son of God, that as a child He never talked back to his parents or fought with other children, that He accepted crucifixion for our sins and our redemption. At the time I really had no reason not to believe. I trusted that what my parents and teachers were telling me was true. The two years we resided in England my siblings and I attended a private Christian school, Berkhampstead, in Cheltenham. On the whole I remember this as a positive experience. We had regular religious instruction given in a way that was pleasant and seemed quite reasonable. The best part of school for me at that age was when the teacher read to us and Bible stories were as engaging as any other collection of tales.
As I grew older, my family gradually drifted away from Church attendance; we attended mass at Christmas and Easter or if my great aunt Olive, a nun, was visiting. Eventually, we stopped attending all together and neither myself nor my siblings were enrolled in classes for First Communion or Confirmation. In spite of this, what I had learned of Christianity in my early childhood resonated with me and at sixteen I decided to return to Church. I sought out the parish priest at St. Philip’s in Richmond, Ontario and told him I wished to undertake instruction for my First Communion. Father Gerald Joseph Gahagan was a good and decent man. He offered me the instruction I wanted in private sessions in the Autumn of 1977 and on Remembrance Day in 1977 I took my First Communion. I will add here that in all the time I spent in private with Father Gahagan, there was never anything inappropriate in his conduct toward me. While I was a student at Queen’s University I took the next step in preparing for my Confirmation. I enrolled in a program called the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) with a group of people, converts to Christianity and Christians who were converting to Roman Catholicism. I was Confirmed at the Easter Vigil in 1986 at St. Thomas More parish in Kingston, Ontario.
I was earnest in my effort to embrace Christianity and tried to be true to the faith, but looking back, I realize I never really experienced conversion. I genuinely enjoyed being part of a community of believers, particularly a community that welcomed me as a gay man. I spent ample time in prayer and contemplation, but in the end was never able to overcome the doubt that lingered. G.K. Chesterton commented on this noting
The mark of faith is not tradition; it is conversion. It is the miracle by which men find truth in spite of tradition and often with the rending of all the roots of humanity […] A century or two hence Spiritualism may be a tradition and Socialism may be a tradition and Christian Science may be a tradition. But Catholicism will not be a tradition. It will still be a nuisance and a new dangerous thing. (as cited in The Conversion Story of C.S. Lewis)
Conversion is an experience unique to each individual, sometimes quite dramatic as was the conversion of St. Paul on the road to Damascus, or in a more subdued moment as C.S. Lewis described his conversion:
You must picture me alone in that room at Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected convert in all of England. (as cited in The Conversion Story of C.S. Lewis)
C.S. Lewis was an educated man and pious atheist (having grown up in a nominally Christian family) before his conversion. He became a renowned apologist for Christianity following his conversion. He is best remembered for a series of novels for children he published, the Chronicles of Narnia, which are interpreted by many readers to be allegorical tales embracing Christian themes.
While I no longer practice Christianity, I maintain my interest in Christian theological studies. At university I read C.S. Lewis’ works on philosophy and theology. I share common ground with him in that I embrace the theory of universal morality known as Natural Law. As I understand it the universal command in natural law as defined by Thomas Aquinas is “good is to be done and pursued and evil avoided.” (Thomistic Philosophy Page) I use my ability to reason and the dictates of my conscience in discerning the natural law and in trying to do the right thing. I try to choose the course of action that allows for the greatest good and the least amount of harm. Neither have I embraced atheism. I am a Deist. Deism, in a nutshell, is defined as “belief in the existence of a God on the evidence of reason and nature only, with rejection of supernatural revelation (distinguished from theism).” (Dictionary.com) It may come to pass someday that like Lewis, I will undergo conversion and embrace Christianity, but as conversion is an experience particular to the individual only time will tell.
Posted by Geoffrey