The War within Myself

My Catholic faith comes from the Irish: from a country famed for faith conflict. I learnt of tough times from my parents and grandparents, who experienced the effects of great depression in Australia and were of large working class families.  Mum has always been very pious; dad was not involved in church other than some parish maintenance work. I was ambivalent about the faith.

Although I didn’t fully appreciate my faith education at the time, I am indebted to religious sisters and brothers who instilled a deep respect for God within me; such as bowing the head at hearing name of Jesus, and a love for Marian devotion. These religious were kind and honest people, and I thank God for their part in my faith development.

However, I found it difficult to find my place in the world. Torn between a mother with strong faith and a hard-working but absent father, I was influenced by an urban culture of excessive alcohol consumption and hard rock music. This alternate culture offered artificial joy and release; I could only see rigid rules and self-abasement in church. I now understand that the Irish were influenced by the heresy of Jansenism. I also recognise that my mother was emotionally traumatised by my father; and that this impacted me and my seven siblings.

I enlisted in the Australian Army at seventeen years of age. I think this was an attempt to be like my father, who was a decorated WWII veteran. I wanted my father to tell me that he was proud of me, something which I don’t remember as a boy. However, there was no war in 1981, except for the ‘war within myself’. I did not re-enlist upon expiry of my three year tenure as I had a no real direction.

Having witnessed many adult role models drink excessively, including my dear late father who probably had war neurosis, I drank excessively. I consumed alcohol to feel good, and sometimes to block out feelings altogether. With poor interpersonal skills and a limited God consciousness, my relationships were doomed to failure. However, I never stopped believing in God and I know He was watching over me as a loving father. I just didn’t believe in myself.

Emotionally unstable, I worked and moved in various fields searching for identity. I owned motorcycles, which became the centre of my life. Seeking fellowship, I rode with outlaw motorcycle clubs, the members of which were ordinary men/boys in search of fun excitement, regardless of consequences. I knew it was not the life I wanted when I witnessed the near death of a man and the degradation of self and others. I clearly remember picturing such acts as a sacrifice to the devil.

Between the ages of 25 and 30 I had some sort of revelation and I went to the Parish Priest and spent a couple of hours in Confession. I told him everything, and he said: “99 angels cried out in heaven”, and gave me a penance and absolved my sins. I served for a couple of years with the St Vincent de Paul Society, and I prayed the rosary constantly. There was a group of lay faithful with whom I would pray, and of course my mother would pray with me. Mum prayed me back to the faith.

Marian devotions enkindled my faith and sense of the miraculous. I will never forget praying with hundreds of the faithful during an open air Mass, when a Medjugorje visionary visited Australia. One night after praying the Most Holy Rosary with my mother, I told mum that I would meet someone. I met my wife that night. I have been sober for over 20 years through prayer and humility; devotion to Our Lady and acceptance of the AA 12 steps affords me freedom from the bondage of alcoholism. Returning to the faith and remaining sober, I now hold three University Degrees. However, it is a long way from the head to the heart and I know I need God. Our Lady teaches me the value of humility.

With the help of God and others, I am a stable person, married 14 years, in the same place of employment and a catechist over 10 years (CCD advanced trained).  I have a priest friend with whom I spend much time. Father Stephen gave me an old breviary and a motto: Fortes in Fides. He is a good Christian friend, from whom I have learnt much. Sunday Eucharist is the source and centre of my life; and when able, I pray morning and evening prayer of the church and practice Christian Meditation.

Seeking to share my faith, I attended Colloquiums on the New Evangelisation, PROCLAIM 2012 and have read several church documents. I established a men’s group at my Parish over two years ago, and recently started a prayer group at work. Last Christmas I took part in ‘Christmas in the Park’, inviting people to Mass using flyers developed from a CEC resource.

I am still subject to suffering and temptation, and there have been times when a drink seemed like a good idea. There have been major tragedies in my family. However, I have kept reaching out for help and praying to God. There is always someone to help if I am humble enough to ask (Mt 7:7). The devil can still get me if I fail to pray, meditate and keep my ego in check.

I tell my wife that I wish I had been awaked to the value of church service years ago, and she tells me that perhaps I may have burnt out if I started younger. My priest friend tells me of similar things occurring to others. I therefore call to mind the struggles which my forebears and I have contended with, and conclude with St Paul’s statement that: ‘in weakness there is strength’ (2 Corinthians 12:8-9a). I pray that I always see my need of God and act accordingly.

Fortes in Fides